Easter is a time to commemorate and celebrate how God transformed an old story involving separation, violence and death, to a new story of reconciliation, love and eternal life. It’s a powerful story that empowers the faithful around the world to bring about wholeness, forgiveness and peace.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) needs a new story. The story of DR Congo feeds the status quo of media messaging. All the elements are there…isolation, conflict, violence and death. This story demonstrates the aim of showing human flaws rather than human potential; part of a corporate takeover of media that has diminished journalism and replaced it with images and stories to reinforce materialism, survival of the fittest and scarcity.
After reading David Van Reybrouck’s book, The Congo: The Epic History of a People, one can’t help but come away with an appreciation for the power of story- telling. That’s because Van Reybrouck chronicles the history of DR Congo in a way few have before. He interviews a number of octogenarians to get a rare and unique perspective into the complex history and stories of people who actually lived through the last 120 years. He begins with the Congo of antiquity…how early inhabitants lived by foraging, later hunting and then becoming part of the first people on the planet to cultivate crops. Early Congolese could send messages by drum for hundreds of miles through the forest centuries before the telegraph was invented. There was no tribalism, but cooperation and trade among all who inhabited the vast reaches of the Congo River basin. The Congolese people can choose to build on this aspect of their history to become more self-aware, and strengthen a moral ethos that can challenge the corruption that has plagued the country for decades.
Very few places in the world can honestly say they were better off 60 years ago. Beginning with the Arab Slave Trade in the 1800s, then the atrocities of king Leopold and repressive Belgian colonial rule, the last 150 years has been turbulent and tragic. Independence in 1960 was followed by brutal dictatorship, kleptocracy, and in the last 20 years, a war claiming an estimated 6 million lives emanating from the Rwandan genocide and opportunism by DR Congo’s neighbors to pillage its immense natural resources. Conflict is the dominant story one hears in relation to DR Congo. Yet, two years ago a surge by UN and Congolese forces against the primary rebel group, the M23, has brought some stability to the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu.
It’s time to shift the story from conflict in the east to the debilitating poverty that grips most of the nation. By shifting the story we can shift resources from swords to ploughshares - literally. The Equateur Province is a place where poverty and the effects of climate change can be witnessed. Recent flooding from the Congo River and extended dry seasons have ruined crops,
damaged homes, and in some areas, claimed lives. Yes, there are still conflicts in the eastern part of the country, but right now what impacts the entire country more than conflict is poverty.
Another obstacle to shifting the story to poverty is the likelihood that the constitution will not be respected in the DR Congo elections this coming November. President Kabila’s refusal to indicate whether he’s pursuing an unconstitutional third term is now feeding the old story. Kabila is one in a long line of current African leaders refusing to step down or prolonging their presidency. Western countries and international institutions are withholding investment and aid until after the elections, further constraining the assistance needed to help address poverty.
Thankfully, a new story is being developed that features DR Congo’s opportunities and assets, not just its challenges and needs, to address widespread poverty and climate change. The creation of this new story centers on the strong faith and personal power of the Congolese people to shape their own future. The Communaute Des Disciples du Christ Au Congo (CDCC), an indigenous faith-based institution based in Mbandaka in the Equateur Province is helping to write this new story. This new story is the opposite of the old one because it’s about establishing a movement of nonviolence and peace. Michael Nagler, with the Metta Center for Nonviolence, promotes a roadmap for nonviolent social change that uses the method of peace. The elements of peace featured in the roadmap are occurring within the actions of CDCC.
• The CDCC is a community of faith that knows there are connections between combating poverty and protecting the rainforest, between democracy and social justice, and economic development.
• The CDCC is actively replacing the worldview the media has propagated with a constructive program of peacebuilding by ending hunger and increasing the availability of nutritious foods.
• The CDCC is educating young people in peacekeeping by preparing them to embrace their collective responsibility to engage in solutions now, not just in the future.
• The CDCC is establishing a network for peacemaking through conflict resolution, promoting cooperative economics and creating associations to improve health and access to clean water.
It’s been said that DR Congo may be too big to govern. It’s true the vast territory at times has proven difficult to manage, but that doesn’t stop cell phone companies operating in DR Congo from reaching more customers each year. It’s also been said that DR Congo’s mineral wealth is its curse. The mineral wealth would be a blessing to many if only a few were not attempting to steal or control it.
New stories, like the old ones, are passed along. All of us now have the ability to become alternative media by communicating stories of nonviolent resistance and social change. By doing so we throw off and confound the old stories that would have us fear and distrust one another.
The story of Easter reminds us that we can follow God’s example through Jesus Christ to rewrite the narrative by once again making love for humanity the center of the story.