Friday, May 1, 2009

DC Groups Talk Congo Action

Last week on Friday, April 24th, the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) and Friends of the Congo (FOTC) co-hosted a Congo Social at Crepeaway at 2001 L st. NW. A well-attended event, the gathering comprised various activists committed to bringing peace and justice to the turbulent state in the DRC. Introductory words about the conflict were offered by representatives of UNA-NCA along with Carrie Crawford (Chair) and Maurice Carney (Executive Director) from FOTC. The history and nature of the conflict in the DRC became a topic of conversation as attendees reflected on the most urgent and immediate points of action--from trying to implement the Obama-sponsored bill (S.2125) to promote relief, security and democracy in the DRC to ways to become more conscious consumers of "conflict coltan." Of course there are plenty of skeptics of the latter argument that coltan mining is fueling or prolonging the DRC unrest (such as Jack Ewing of BusinessWeek in this Der Spiegel article). During the social, some voices inquired whether there was hope in organizing a divestment movement away from manufacturers of coltan-based technologies, to which Carney responded there were plenty of other routes to pressure the industry short of a full-on boycott. Interventions came from various sources including the always-animated and charismatic former Clintonite Jan Hartke who now heads EarthVoice. Evidently he brought the greetings and blessings of Wangari Maathai, Kenyan and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Under normal circumstances, this wouldve been extremely motivating to say the least, but surprisingly none of the attendees reacted--perhaps out of skepticism! We were then privy to the reflections of several Congolese gentlemen in the audience who offered their views on the conflict and how to address it. This also led to a frank discussion about whether the Joseph Kabila government had done enough to propel the DRC forward or to quell the violence. There were conflicting views on this issue with some acknowledging the holding of a free election as reason to commend Kabila while others implied he was completely ineffective in protecting DRC's sovereignty. However, the golden comment of the night comes courtesy of Vijaya Thakur who Twitters on the Congo under the alias Thakuraine. On the topic of resource exploitation, she stated the always elusive commonsense--that Congolese control of national resources assures local responsibility for its use and abuse. Bingo! I will bite my tongue for fear of sounding like a Chavista on the DRC!

For a slideshow from the event, see our event Flickr album (photos by Nathalie Fatuma kalala).

Photo of child mining coltan above courtesy of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
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