Since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ended her African trip, the news cycle has seemingly abandoned the women of Congo — women who soldier on despite overwhelming odds that make staying alive a gauntlet rife with terrible odds. But lives continue to unfold, babies are born, mammas die, and hope burns with a fire that even the rainstorms which pummel the plastic dwellings at the Mugunga I displacement camp cannot extinguish. Secretary Clinton spoke eloquently about her experiences at Mugunga I and she is a powerfulto the societal breakdown in eastern Congo.
The Mugunga Internally Displaced Persons Camp sits in a land of volcanoes and great lakes on the edge of Goma, a provincial capital in the eastern Congo. The camp is now home to 18,000 people seeking refuge from a cycle of violent conflict that has left 5.4 million dead since 1998. Chased from their homes and villages by armed rebels and informal militias, these men, women and children walked for miles with little food or water until they reached this relatively safe haven.
Thanks to the efforts of Emmanuel De Merode, director of Virunga National Park, there is now hope and opportunity for the Association pour la Promotion de la Sage Femme(APROSAF)midwives. 118 wise women (“sage femme” means ” wise woman”) form the backbone of APROSAF, which was created in the wake of the 2002 Nyiragongo eruption order to help families made homeless by the devastating lava flow that buried Goma. These traditional midwives of APROSAF are considered community leaders. The respect they garner results from selfless dedication as they transport pregnant women and rape victims, sometimes by carrying them on their backs, to get help. They do this without pay and subject themselves to rape and shootings along the way.
You are right in claiming that, by focusing on charcoal, we are neglecting some of the more pressing humanitarian needs. But we have to look ahead. Virunga’s forests cannot last more than 5 years with the amount of charcoal that is coming out of the park. When the forests are gone, Goma will suffer a massive energy crisis, and that will quickly become a humanitarian catastrophe: domestic energy is key to people’s survival. They need domestic energy for food and for their health.
On each and every one of the points that you made, we will try to help. But I want to emphasize something I said yesterday, when I spoke with the young people. Just as President Obama said in his historic speech in Ghana, the future of Africa is up to the Africans. The future, ultimately, of the Congolese people is up to the Congolese people. There have to be changes, politically. There have to be changes in the impunity. There have to be changes that only the people of this country can demand, and can help bring about.
Republished with author’s permission from Huffington Post.
Follow Georgianne Nienaber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/nienaber