Congo Week: Day Two
Guest Post from:
Miss Congo Unity
This week – October 17 – 23 – Friends of the Congo is running its third Congo Week – Breaking the Silence – in a bid to raise awareness of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and help end the violence. All week I will be featuring blog posts related to the DRC from activists, academics and Congolese citizens.
Today – Miss Congo Unity talks about courage and what inspires her to keep advocating for change in the DRC. The views are her own. Global Citizen has done only mild editing for length and clarity.
My name is Kapinga Marie-Christelle Tshinanga. I am Congolese-American. To be specific: Congolese, as in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)…capital Kinshasa, not Brazzaville.
As a high-schooler, I was once asked which Congo I was from; I responded with a puzzled face. To help me, the inquirer threw in some multiple choices: “Kinshasa or Brazzaville?” and I replied quickly to hide the embarrassment: shouldn’t I have known there are two African countries dubbed “Congo”?
Maybe I should have. Then again, I was born in 1985 when the DRC was “Zaire.” For my first 12 years of being on Earth, the question “which Congo?” was non-existent.
I was born in Belgium, a fact which often leads to another problematic question: “when was the last time you went home?” As soon as I reply with “I’ve never been to the DRC,” I’m faced with a laugh from the interrogator who begins to tell me about myself “You are not Congolese then!”
But I am, and if the topic lingers long enough, I guide the conversation towards the ongoing crisis plaguing eastern DRC.
I may tell them about the 5.4 million deaths since 1998. I’m sure I would be closer to fact if I were to round up to 6 million deaths. However, I’ve learned to stick to 5.4 million so that I can cite the International Rescue Committee report as my credible source. I’ve learned that statistics and sources are important when raising awareness.
I may also tell them about the magazine feature I once read (actually—I’m sure I read it more than once) which mentions a Congolese woman’s experience of ongoing atrocities: a soldier forced her to drink his urine and eat her feces; her three children were killed before her eyes, as well as ten of her friends; she was gang raped to the point of developing severe vaginal fistula; plus she and others were forced to eat a cooked baby which had been forced out of its pregnant mother. I’ve learned that I am unable to forget this woman’s story.
While the above facts may arouse sympathy and concern, I have become aware that statistics and first hand testimonies run the risk of leaving us informed but still personally removed from the problem. That’s where mentioning coltan often changes things. How? The Congo holds anywhere from 64 to 80% of the world’s coltan, a mineral critical to the functioning of cell phones, laptops, and similar technologies. An economic war has developed as opportunists scramble to feed the supply chain for coltan to an industry naturally eager to capitalize on cheaper resources. As long as we do not compliment our consumer demand for these technologies with the pursuit of corporate responsibility, international accountability, a more informed market, and stability at the supply source, then we as the technology end-users continue to add to the problem….a reality we must all face.
If you’re now wondering, what can we do to put an end to these unnecessary injustices? Honestly, each of us must ask ourselves that question, and have courage to follow through with the answer however big or infinitesimally small our action step may be. Whatever falls in harmony with your talents, skills, resources, social connections, profession, local community involvement, etc.—have courage to act on that.
I repeat: have courage.
…Courage is a special thing which gives us the right to pursue success in the face of obstacles, personal weaknesses, and any other seeming lack and inadequacy. In the face of what looks like a hopeless situation, like this Congo crisis, courage is very important.
Courage is what helped me become the first Miss Congo Unity this past June 2010, giving me the opportunity to embody and spread the message of Unity amongst the Congolese Youth diaspora. Observing how readily the international grassroots movement is challenging injustice in the Congo, I look forward to encouraging Congolese youth to establish a united presence within this ongoing global effort.
My ultimate hope is to see the Congolese Diaspora actively contribute to the progress of our native land.
I am inspired by the vision of a Congolese doctor who finds a cure for the deadliest of world diseases; the vision of a Congolese philanthropist whose generosity is not limited to Congolese borders, but reaches out to other countries in need; of the Congolese environmentalist who wins a Nobel Peace Prize for taking up the cause of endangered plant species worldwide. I am inspired by the vision of a Congo which finally gets to share her children with the world without it being the result of a brain-drain or refugee-like exodus. I am inspired by the vision of a Congo which finally gets to graciously share of its treasures with the world, instead of them being greedily taken from her by violence and rape.
Courage is helping me hold on to this vision.
Even so, writing this has been a pretty uncomfortable process for me. Who am I to hope my story can inspire you to believe in the contribution you can make to the world, and to the DRC in particular? I mean, I’m pretty much tip-toeing on the fine line between sharing my journey and bragging about what I’ve done. If anything, I would prefer bragging about the great pair of jeans I recently bought; or how much fun I had at the Coldplay concert last year; or how committed I have been to living cash-only, minus the mortgage, since graduating from college.
Instead, here I am, the one who didn’t know “which Congo” she was from, the one who has never been to the Congo, going on and on about Congolese conferences, pageants, using your talent and treasure, and having courage. Trust me, I still laugh sometimes at my boldness. But I cannot deny that God—my source of courage—has planted in me the desire to manifest His love for us.
My prayer is that if any of us are brought to laughter at the thought of courageously pursuing love of neighbor, may ours resound as the laughter of Abraham’s wife Sara who giggled at God’s promise of a son in her old age. And may that very bold thought in us likewise give birth to that which seems impossible: justice, peace and prosperity in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
5.4 million deaths is enough.
Kapinga Marie-Christelle T.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kapinga Marie-Christelle Tshinanga was recently crowned Miss Congo Unity 2010, and will be working to mobilize Congolese youth for the sake of constructive change in the DRC, and supporting community initiatives to empower youth. She graduated from the University of Georgia, magna cum laude, with a dual degree in Accounting and Management Information Systems, and currently lives in Atlanta, Ga. For fun, she enjoys physical challenges, writing, good movies, dancing, and being with family and friends. She can be reached at email@example.com, or on facebook ‘MissCongo Unity.’ http://www.facebook.com/misscongounity