Congolese plead for Canadian help

By 
  • December 3, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO - Despite another horrendous humanitarian crisis in Congo — 250,000 made homeless by renewed fighting in a war that has killed at least six million since 1996 — the Congolese don't want or need more aid money from Canadians, said a Congolese-Canadian who has for years lobbied Canadian governments to intervene on behalf of peace and demanded that Canadian mining companies cease operation in zones of conflict.

"They don't need material things. They need you to be there for them," said Erik Mukandila, a doctoral student studying immigration at the University of Toronto.
Pouring money into a war zone is pouring it into a bottomless pit, said Mukandila.

"It's not about money," he said. "Sending money will not stop it."

Instead Canada should use its diplomatic muscle to push for a peace process in Congo, limit the flow of arms into the region and stop mining companies from paying militias and local army units for protection, he said.

"The best aid package we can send these people is a sense of hope, a sense of a better tomorrow," he said.

It was a similar message delivered on Parliament Hill by a delegation of Congolese church leaders Dec. 2.

“The situation is dire,” Bishop Fridolin Ambongo told a luncheon information session on Parliament Hill attended by MPs. The luncheon was organized by delegations from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.

We are suffering and need your support,” he said.

To meet the immediate needs of people in eastern Congo the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace has launched a national appeal. Since late October Development and Peace has funnelled $60,000 to Caritas Congo.

Eastern Congolese are caught between the forces of General Laurent Nkunda and the national army loyal to President Joseph Kabila allied with a Rwandan Hutu militia known as the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda). Caritas Congo is trying to feed and temporarily house 90,000 people displaced by the fighting in North Kivu, a mineral rich region near Congo's borders with Rwanda and Burundi.

Mukandila was at Sacre Coeur parish in downtown Toronto with a small congregation of Haitians and Congolese gathered to pray for their war-torn homelands. The Celebration pour les blessures des gens du Congo et d'Haiti on Nov. 28 was an opportunity for people to pray for peace and in solidarity with suffering that has continued through generations.

In Congo's case, the constant bloodletting since the end of Belgian rule in 1960 reflects generations of neglect by the world community and a pattern of violence handed down from colonial times, said Mukandila.

Through the Cold War, the Western democracies maintained friendly relations with the brutal, self-declared emperor of Congo, Mobutu Sese Seko — who ruled what was then called Zaire by terror and posing to the world as a bulwark against Soviet influence. Through all these years the only effective voice in opposition to Mobutu, Laurent Kabila or his son Joseph Kabila has been the church, said Mukandila.

"From the beginning Christians, both British from other colonies in Africa and the Protestant and Catholic missionaries, they put pressure on (King Leopold) to stop the killings," said Mukandila.

Trying to get action from the Canadian government, or even honest answers from Canadian mining companies with operations in Cong,o is a mugs game, said Mukandila.

"They say, 'We're monitoring the situation very closely and the Canadian government is very concerned.' It stops there," said Mukandila.

Members of Parliament have advised Mukandila that his time would be better spent trying to lobby the U.S. government.

As for the mining companies: "They will not talk to you," he said. "The PR person will tell you the story they want you to hear."

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