UPDATE: The full collection of photos from the event is now posted. Here they are as a slideshow.
Yesterday, my colleagues at the Enough Project and I had the great honor of participating in a special briefing co-hosted by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sam Brownback (R-KS) on the illicit minerals trade and epidemic of sexual violence in eastern Congo. The all-star panel included Run for Congo Women founder and author Lisa Shannon, Pole Pole Foundation’s Dominique Bikaba, Enough’s John Prendergast, and Kimberley process experts Rory Anderson and Corinna Gilfillan. The panelists touched on lessons learned about how to combat “blood diamonds” through the Kimberley process, how the war in eastern Congo is being fueled by a multi-million dollar trade in minerals essential to our electronics products, why the U.S. Congress needs to act, and personal stories from the ground.
We were pleased when Senators Wyden and Brownback both ducked out between votes to join us and provide their insights on the importance of advocacy efforts and pending legislation that would help make the trade in eastern Congo’s minerals more transparent. As it exists now, the trade in conflict minerals generates an estimated $183 million each year for armed groups in eastern Congo. Those minerals eventually end up in the electronics that we buy here in the United States. In his remarks, Senator Wyden emphasized that “it would be fundamentally wrong if the U.S. Congress looks the other way…We want to be sure that Americans are aware of where their dollars go.”
Of all that was shared, I was most taken by activist and author Lisa Shannon’s remarks. As someone who has worked on the RAISE Hope for Congo campaign since it was launched in 2008, I have been an avid follower of Lisa’s work to raise awareness about the conflict. Over the last couple years, I have heard many stories of survival and activism, but Lisa has a very compelling way of weaving together the stories of survivors she has met in a way that makes the audience feel hopeful and empowered to take action. In a video played for the first time at yesterday’s briefing, Lisa shared the story of her Congolese sister, Generose.
Lisa Shannon – the Human Cost of Conflict Minerals
After showing the video of Run for Congo Women’s first run in Congo, Lisa said something that moved me. She described how painful it must have been for Generose to run on one leg, and she said she asked Generose why she did it. Generose told Lisa, “If I can run on one leg, everyone will know that they can do something to help.” And, that’s true. Whether you have one minute or five, you can do something to help.
Senator Brownback told us yesterday, “What I love most about my job is when I get to help save somebody’s life. I look at this issue as one that has potential to save a bunch of people’s lives.” He’s right. There is hope, and there is the potential to save lives. Learn more about how you can get involved at www.raisehopeforcongo.org.