Eyewitness: Democratic Republic of Congo

Nadine Lusi 27 November 2008

Three things about myself: I speak with a muddled Anglo-American accent, I have dread locks, I grew up on a mission station in the north east of Congo.

My childhood was somewhat idyllic. Our idea of an adventure was to go hiking with an air rifle and a loaf of bread for days at a time, taking dug out pirogues to a log cabin raised on stilts in the middle a sticky rainforest on the Ituri river – a tributary to the River Congo.

We would fly to and from our tiny boarding school of 40 students in a little six-seater plane, hands clenched, yawning and swallowing to pop our ears and keep from throwing up.

It was at this self sufficient school, whenever a cow was killed (to be used in its entirety from the meat, to the bones, to the hide), we would clamour to be given the eyeball to use as a super-ball.

Though some might think this would lead to the raising of a highly unbalanced individual, I would say we were in paradise – and no, never did we find it odd to be bouncing a cow’s eyeball around for fun.

Even if you aren’t a Guardian reader, most of you will have been unable to miss the news coverage of the recent events in the DR Congo.

Two weeks ago marked the 100 year anniversary of the removal of the DR Congo from King Leopold and its being handed over to be a Belgian Colony.

This date passed largely unmarked in the face of the press foray into the continuing conflict in this country. Reports of over a million displaced people, pictures of children separated from their parents, crying and people starving. In contrast, you see the newly uniformed rebel groups proclaiming this a freedom fight – freeing the Congolese from an ineffective national government (here represented by an ill-equipped National Army), with all sides carrying out atrocities against the civilians.

In the face of all this, an outpouring of aid and pressure from all sides to strengthen the UN peace force in the country has brought to our TV screens and newspapers yet more pictures which are now so accepted when describing situations in poor countries experiencing internal conflict.

This very fact, and understandably so has produced a public feeling of apathy and fatigue towards continued pumping of money into humanitarian relief.

As well as “donor fatigue,” what is bred from this is a negative stereotyping of poor people. What is not reported is news about the innovators and initiators of change and progress.

There are those who provide care and support, safe houses, counselling and continued medical education in the absence of infrastructure.

The Congolese have ebullient sense of style, with “Sapeurs” who emerge from the slums impeccably dressed and coiffed, to dance for the joy of kwasa-kwasa-ing along to the world famous “Ndombolo”.

Consider the female doctors, with superb senses of fashion, doing their rounds in four-inch heels. Visit the rain forests, home to endangered mountain gorillas. Check out the fantastic modern art and film making scene, with yearly film festivals in a town still under 2 metres of lava. Attend High Solemn Latin Mass in a Cathedral on the shores of Lake Kivu, where Congolese and French and Americans and Pakistani Catholics can all pray together in the ancient lingua franca of the Holy Roman Church.

Nadine Lusi