Congo is losing a generation to war over diamonds and other minerals in the country’s eastern regions, the president of the nation’s bishops’ conference has said.
“We are losing a generation. That’s true,” Bishop Nicolas Djomo Lola of Tshumbe, Congo, told the American Catholic News Service. “A lot of children have not gone to school because of that. It’s terrible.”
However, while peace is being sought for eastern Congo, Bishop Djomo said he prefers a non-traditional approach.
“We don’t think that negotiating directly with the rebels right now is something which is useful,” he said. “We are asking to negotiate also with the neighbouring countries. Some of them are backing the rebels. It’s very important. The rebels are instrumented [supplied] by some countries.”
The bishop did not name those countries, but Rwanda and Uganda have denied international charges that they supported the rebels in eastern Congo. In the past, Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe have backed the government.
Bishop Djomo (pictured) was in Washington as part of a tour of Western nations, during which he hoped to generate support for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, which began in 1996. While in Washington, he met congressional members and staffers, officials of the State Department and the National Security Council.
The bishop told Catholic News Service that the effects of the war were readily visible.
“We have two million displaced people. Two million people fled the villages without any possibility to cultivate [land]. And the international community is not able to feed all of them. People in camps don’t have [enough] food,” he said.
“At the same time, the education system doesn’t work,” Bishop Djomo added. “Imagine the children in this area. They are not able to go to school. That’s terrible for us. For the last 15 years, women are raped and they are not able to be in security.”
Issues of human rights and poverty are connected to the war.
“The Catholic Church is questioning the government so that human rights will be respected, and we spoke to the government … asking to make things more transparent,” Bishop Djomo said. “We have even met with the president over that. So we know that without respecting human rights, it’s very difficult to end the war, the instability.”
He added: “We need our military to be more respectful of human rights and the justice against the corruption. That is a very, very important issue for the Church and we are working hard.”
Poverty, according to Bishop Djomo, is “a huge challenge. Fighting the armed groups, it’s absolutely necessary to work for development – to support development in that area, because poverty is dangerous. And it’s engendering the violence.”
While Congo needs the development money that overseas investment can provide, foreign firms have shied away because of the ongoing war, he said: “Without investment, there’s no way to create jobs. Most of the people are unemployed.”
About half of Congo’s 72 million population is Catholic.
“The Catholic Church is playing a very important role in the Congo because we are running 40 per cent of (the) schools and 45 per cent of [the] medical facilities. So we are working with [the] grassroots, the population. Our parishes and our Christian communities are scattered everywhere in the Congo. We have the possibility to work for peace for that.”
The Church also helps where it can to give aid to displaced Congolese.
“Through our Caritas we are collecting aid through the Congolese Catholic people,” Bishop Djomo said. “Through our parishes we are receiving the child soldiers to keep them involved in the new life,” he added. “We are dealing with street children, too. We are dealing with raped women, especially in the … eastern part of the Congo.”