Congo: a forgotten war
We interviewed the Congolese biologist, Pierre Kabeza, trade union member, a family man who, three years ago, had to leave his city in the Great Lakes region, and who now is at Sophia University Institute.
Why did you have to go on exile, leaving your wife and daughters? Bishop Munxihiwa, bisop of Bukayu who was killed for his battle for justice used to say: «At times there are things we don’t unde stand or see clearly, if not with eyes that have cried.” After his death we were all discouraged but Mons. Kataliko arrived, and decided to follow his footsteps, to speak out in the name of those who have no voice. Kataliko dried the tears of a population which was no longer heeded. On 24 December 1999 he wrote a message denouncing the unjust war, the occupation of Congo by the nearby countries, the exploitation and plunder of mineral resources. This was why they stopped him from doing his pastoral work for 7 months and 20 days. The bells no longer rang. We did sit-in protests every day until he returned to the Diocese. Muslims and Christians of Bukavu, went together to the cathedral where Bishop Kataliko offered mass and forgiveness for those who had made him suffer. He died in Italy a few weeks later.
To continue the work of our bishops – defence of the truth, battle for justice and liberty – a new group, the “Dauphin Munzihirwa Kataliko” (DMK) was formed. The initiatives to fulfil these aims irked their enemies. As head of the DMK, I was involved, together with the group in the field of education, to start with the education of children. The teachers in fact, were not paid by the State but financed by the parents. We took the steps to make the Congolese government assume all its responsibility for the country, and I spoke even to the President of the Republic, reminding him of article 43 of our constitution which recognizes the obligation for children to attend elementary school. He listened but sad to say, up to now nothing has changed. Because of my commitments however, I was threatened, arrested and tortured. My house was attached twice and they destroyed everything. This is why I had to leave to save my life.»
A forgotten war, 6 million dead and 2 million women and children escaping from their villages and cities. What else can you recount?
Yes, also Maria Voce, President of the Focolare said that it seems as if the dead in the “lands far from the Western world” are given less value in terms of humanity and “less political importance, thus weighing less on the conscience of the International community. This is the case of Congo. Our dead are of no interest to the international community because we are at the outskirts of the world. And yet, today, war is a common enemy for all. Mandela taught us that “we were born to be brothers.”
In Europe little is said of the war in Congo, and then without saying the whole truth. It is not only an ethnic war. It’s true that we have many problems in Africa, but I wonder: why is the fire lit only in the rich countries where minerals and oil abound? The situation is always fiery in places where we find coltan, gold and diamonds. And where do all these minerals end up? They are used for smartphones, air bags, navigators and so on. It is estimated that for every kilo of coltan extracted in Congo, two children die. Others are obliged to become “children soldiers.” It would important to let our children know that on using a videogame another child in the peripheries of the world loses his life.»
What does this intellectual and human experience at Sophia signify for you? What are your expectations for yourself and for the wellbeing of your country?
«Sophia was one of the gifts I received in Italy, I think it would have been better if I had made this experience before committing myself as a union member because I now understand the importance of fraternity. I think that the failure of our Congolese society lies in the fact that we have forgotten the principle of humanity, a force that unites us all, and excludes no one. Today I understand that the other is part of me, that his problems are my very own. Political commitment should help us understand that we are responsible for one another. We are equal but different and if mankind exploits this wealth, all would benefit. Sophia has taught me also to discern the path of dialogue. True dialogue which makes room for the other, where there is always a part of the truth.»