A picture is worth a thousand words, or so the saying goes.
In the world of advocacy, there’s a similar sort of calculus. For us at MCC, it’s the voices of our grassroots partners around the globe that give weight to our own work here in Ottawa. Their stories speak volumes.
More meaningful than any letter or brief we write on our own to the government, when MCC partners speak directly about the structural and systemic injustices they face, their words paint a picture far more vivid than any we can hope to create on their behalf.
This is all the more true in a context as complex as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Last week, as part of a longer visit with MCC staff, constituents, and policymakers in the U.S. and Canada, Sabine Muhima Bintu and Joshua Bulambo Lembelembe—two representatives from the Church of Christ of Congo (ECC), an organization with which MCC has partnered in DRC since 1960—came to Ottawa to talk with civil society groups and government officials about the urgent issues taking a toll on their country.
Just over a year ago, I had the privilege of travelling to the DRC as part of an MCC advocacy delegation. For two intense weeks, we journeyed through Kinshasa and the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu, hearing first-hand stories from MCC staff and partners. While on the road, we gained a window into both the beauty of the country and the stark realities confronting the Congolese people—poverty, sexual violence, civil unrest, armed factions, and a legacy of deadly struggle over the country’s vast mineral wealth.
These aren’t easy stories to hear, but they need to be told.
This recent delegation to North America was an extraordinary opportunity for our partners to share a deeply-informed perspective on the DRC. Reverend Bulambo—Director of ECC’s Refugee and Combatant Repatriation Program in South Kivu—and Mama Sabine, past Director of ECC’s Women’s Department and former Parliamentarian for Walikale District in North Kivu—came equipped with stories about the ongoing conflict in the eastern Congo and the regional dynamics within the Great Lakes Region more broadly.
It’s a rare event that partners are able to come to us. And considering the dearth of successful visa applicants from the DRC, their arrival in Canada was no small feat!
During their brief time in our nation’s capital, we met with a range of actors on a variety of issues, from resource extraction and conflict minerals, to sexual violence against women, repatriation of ex-combatants, and Canada’s policies towards Africa’s Great Lakes.
Joined by Jean-Calvin Kitata, an exuberant Congolese colleague working with MCC in Quebec, we gathered with dedicated civil society folks working for Publish What You Pay (PWYP), Partnership Africa Canada (PAC), L’Entraide Missionnaire, World Vision, and Nobel Women’s Initiative (NWI). In addition to these advocates, we met with a number of officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) representing West and Central Africa; Humanitarian and Refugee Affairs; and Democracy, Commonwealth, and Francophonie issues. We also had the good fortune to meet with a sympathetic and engaged parliamentarian with both interest and experience in the Congo.
We covered a lot of territory.
These meetings provided an invaluable opportunity for mutual learning—a time to share perspectives and discuss opportunities for mobilizing change. And, as Mama Sabine and Reverend Bulambo reminded us, to do this well we need all hands on deck.
There’s no shortage of work to be done so that the Congolese people can build a more peaceful future. Last year, the DRC topped the charts on the Failed States Index—ranking as “critically failed,” only to be surpassed by Somalia, Chad, and Sudan—while coming in dead last on the UN’s human development index.
It sounds dire. And yet, this isn’t the whole picture.
This visit was an inspiring reminder that while the Congolese state may be in critical condition, the heart of DRC’s civil society still beats strongly. Passionate, resilient, and dynamic people are dedicated to navigating their way through the complex maze of issues in search of sustainable solutions to cure what ails their country.
MCC partners like Mama Sabine and Reverend Bulambo are proof of this.
Jenn Wiebe, MCC Ottawa Office Policy Analyst