Editor’s Note: Student leader Carly Rosenfield helped organize the “Congo and Conflict Free Campus Initiative” event at Georgetown University on Wednesday night, where she spoke about the activities Georgetown’s STAND chapter has underway for the fall semester. She wrote this guest blog post about the event.
The women of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who suffer from some of the highest rates of sexual violence in the world, call our Secretary of State “Mama Hillary.” As Fidel Bafilemba, the Congo field researcher for the Enough Project, explained at the Raise Hope for Congo Conflict-Free Campus Initiative event at Georgetown University on Wednesday, they do so as a sign of respect, in recognition of the fact that it is women who have the ability to give life. In the midst of an epidemic of rape, Congolese women hold on to the hope that the United States will keep its promise to help bring peace to their country.
The panel discussion, co-hosted by the Georgetown African Studies Department and Raise Hope for Congo, featured activist and actress Robin Wright, Fidel Bafilemba, and Enough Project Co-founder John Prendergast. The focus of the discussion was the need to reform the minerals trade in Congo and the role that we as consumers of electronics products that contain conflict minerals from Congo have to play in ending the illicit trade that has contributed to over 5 million deaths and the deadliest war since WWII.
A large part of the problem, Robin Wright explained, is the difficulty of feeling a deep connection with a stranger on the other side of the world. Most Americans, she continued, simply do not and will not ever know the extreme insecurity that many Congolese feel. We do not wake up every morning and wonder if our deepest vulnerabilities will be exploited, our human dignity stripped away until we are left with a certain kind of nothingness that we cannot even fathom. Wright described that moment that she felt the human connection that had been lacking from simply reading about the violence there.
Responding to recent criticisms of the conflict minerals advocacy approach, Bafilemba explained that the mining industry sustains not a real economy but a war-time economy, which does not contribute to the construction of roads, public transportation, and other vital infrastructures. He described the slave-like conditions that miners work in: men, women, and children work in terrible conditions, carrying 50 kilos of minerals on their back for days and earning only $1.50 per day. What we need, he stressed, is a reliable and monitored certification and tracking system to create a fair trade of these minerals to undermine the economic and psychological control exercised by armed groups. By formalizing the minerals trade, we have a hope of ending the exploitation of the Congolese people, and of returning the profits to the communities who should be benefiting from their rich natural resources.
All three panelists stressed that hope lies in student activism and in a willingness to think creatively and push the established limits of imagination.
The Conflict-Free Campus Initiative, a campaign that I am a part of at Georgetown as a member of STAND, is aimed at targeting electronics companies to clean up their supply chains, while also pressuring the U.S. government to take a leadership role in organizing an all-encompassing certification process for Congo’s minerals. John Prendergast explained that one of the primary reasons for success in the struggle against “blood diamonds” in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Angola was the diamond certification process, or the Kimberley Process, which incentivized peace by “taking the profit out of blood.” Tackling the conflict minerals issue in Congo will catalyze other necessary reforms in Congo.
Ultimately, we must all take responsibility for our role in perpetuating this cycle of violence in Congo. Our cell phones and our laptops are daily reminders of our complicity in the conflict. Yet, as Bafilemba stressed, this campaign is not about blame, but about realizing what we are all capable of doing to change this tragic situation. Prendergast emphasized the influence of young voters, which has perhaps never been as powerful as it is at this moment with the 2012 presidential elections quickly approaching. The time to pressure the United States government to act strongly and effectively has never been better, and every moment is the right one to protect the rights and dignity of our fellow humans. After all, as Wright said: “We are all one. It’s an unspoken truth that we can’t deny.”
To learn more about what you can do as a student to bring peace to Congo, visit www.raisehopeforcongo.org.
If you want to bring the Conflict Free Campus Initiative to your campus, contact Alex Hellmuth at ahellmuth[at]enoughproject.org
Carly Rosenfield is a sophomore and a member of STAND at Georgetown.