Africa’s “First World War” Continues Today

by Bailey Allegro ‘14 | Guest Writer

Although it is tragic, it is no surprise when you hear about recent deaths due to gang violence, or the killing of a normal citizen on the news today. We have heard so many stories like these that we are becoming immune to them.

When was the last time you heard a news report about the struggles of many African countries? Unless a celebrity has decided to adopt a new baby, we rarely get any insight on other horrific situations in these countries, other than starvation and poverty, such as families being displaced from their homes, the rape of women and children, boy soldiers, or genocide.

It has come to my attention that even though we all know about the largest documented genocide today called the Holocaust, which targeted many different social and religious groups, the largest being the Jews, a majority of people would be utterly shocked if I told them that events like this are STILL going on today. Africa’s third largest country, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been in a state of war and strife for the past 12 years. The situation in the DRC has sometimes been called Africa’s First World War. At one time, this conflict involved seven neighboring nations and was declared the planet’s deadliest conflict since WWII. Today, more than 5.4 million people have died as a result of this war, 2.7 million of those being children.

Sean Carasso, founder of the organization Falling Whistles, a campaign for peace in Congo, has worked to promote awareness about the use of “whistleblowers” and using OUR voice as THEIR weapon. On his trip to the DRC he met with five boy soldiers who had been rescued from their rebel groups by the National Army. They showed utmost excitement and relief when they were rescued from the rebel army that they were kidnapped by and forced to be a part of. But once they were rescued they were imprisoned in a jailhouse where they experienced brutal beatings every night and nearly starved to death. These boys told Carasso all about their experiences and explained to him the “whistleblowers” who were young boys too small to carry a gun so they were simply given a whistle. In his journal entry Carasso wrote,

“Their sole duty was to make enough noise to scare the enemy and then to receive –with their bodies—the first round of bullets. Lines of boys fell as nothing more than a temporary barricade. Those who tried to flee were shot at from behind. The soldiers called it “encouragement” to be brave. Without a gun to protect themselves, the smallest boys were placed between the crossfire of two armies – forces fighting for reasons far beyond their ability to understand.”

After many struggles, Carasso, with the help of global relief organizations like the United Nations and UNICEF, had the five boy soldiers released from custody of the merciless guards at the Congolese Army’s Titu compound. Like the five boy soldiers Carasso met, there are many other boys starting from ages as young as 7 all the way up to 18 year olds, who are captured from their homes, handed a gun, and forced to kill. The process to try and get these boys back to their normal state is long and can take years to fulfill.

Just to add on to the injustice given to the Congolese people, every day women and children live in fear with the constant threat of being physically mutilated and raped by rebel militias. More than 200,000 women and girls have been a victim of rape or sexual violence. In a short video by New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof, he captures the story of a 9-year-old orphan whose home was attacked by a Hutu militia consisting of remnants of those who committed the Rwandan genocide and later escaped to the Congo. They killed her parents, and kidnapped her sisters. She fled to her aunt’s house, but after only being there for two months the same militia attacked her aunt’s home and held everyone at gunpoint. She and her aunt were both raped and her uncle was slaughtered right in front of them. The militia kidnapped her aunt’s two daughters and left her and her aunt tied up, not to be discovered until three days later.

When the reporter asked a townsman how much a normal bride was worth he replied, “20 goats.” When asked how much a raped bride was worth he replied, “2 goats, if that.” Once a woman is raped, it is hard for her to feel accepted in the town. Women are often rejected by their husbands, and rape victims have difficulty marrying.

Tragedies like this occur every day in the Congo. The rapes and killings have been going on for so long now that it is hardly considered ‘news’ anymore. The world itself has become a bystander, and now that we have the knowledge of their suffering we need to stop the ignorance in the making, and do what is humanly right to stop injustice and bigotry. How much louder do they have to cry for help for us to actually take action?

Frontiers of Justice is a club at McNamara, run by Mr. Monohan, which works to promote awareness to social injustices. They plan events, such as the presentation by the organization Invisible Children, to inform students about current acts of bigotry and other unjust events. Not only does it let students know about cruel acts, but it encourages students and peers to work together to take action, because what we do matters. If you are interested in learning more about these topics, or doing something to help, please visit the club.

 

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