Exorcise the Ghost; AGENDA Bishop of Birmingham David Urquhart Sets out a Vision for Saving Congo from More Suffering

The Birmingham Post (England), January 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Exorcise the Ghost; AGENDA Bishop of Birmingham David Urquhart Sets out a Vision for Saving Congo from More Suffering


Byline: David Urquhart

For more than 120 years an area the size of Europe has been known as the African Free State, the Belgian Congo, Zaire, and today the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Stretching from the Atlantic coast to the borders of Uganda and Rwanda and Tanzania in the east and Sudan and Angola to the north and south, this nearly ungovernable territory is hometo a multitude of tribes and languages, huge potential of human talent, intelligence and imagination and vast natural resources.

Why, then, is such a wonderful part of God's creation the subject of Joseph Conrad's ominous novel The Heart of Darkness (1899)?

The even more crucial question is why over a hundred years later, as Andrew Mitchell MP reported in this Agenda column on November 28, is the Eastern DRC still "a humanitarian catastrophe"?

When I want to know more about people in society andwhat we as leaders are to say and do in our generation in response to such painful questions, I usually start with the history books.

Even though as an 18-year-old in Idi Amin's Uganda, I had lived less than a hundred miles across a closed border from the DRC town of Goma, which we have seen with its tragic flows of displaced people on the autumn TV screens, I had not appreciated the culture of violence which was particular to the 19th century Free State and its 20th century successors.

Adam Hochschild documents a story of "greed, terror, and heroism" in King Leopold's Ghost (Macmillan 1999) reminding us that the Congo was the only African colony held personally (1877-1908)and explaining howtrade in ivory and rubber was at the expense of brutalised, unpaid, forced local labour.

The visionary journalism of ColGeorge Williams (1889) and the determination of shipping clerk turned campaigner ED Morel (1897) brought what we would now call human rights abuses to the world's attention.

Tragically the suffering of Congo was reinvigorated at independence (1960) under the autocratic rule of President Mobutu Sese Seko.

"There has never been a better example of the curse of natural riches," writes Michela Wrong in In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz (Fourth Estate 2001). Copper, zinc, cobalt, diamonds, gold, coltan (a metallic ore) all abound, "even the slag heaps could yield a fortune".

Tangled up in the Cold War between Russia and the USA, the other curse of such a large country is the interference of neighbours far and near.

Since the Rwandan genocide of 1994, refugees, militias and roving armies have ravaged Eastern DRC. It is as if every cross-border commander, even from as far as Zimbabwe, wants his own lucrative mineral deposits.

I have been privileged to visit DRC regularly since 2003 when I became President of an indigenous community directed health non-governmental organisation L'Institut Pan-Africain de Sante Communitaire (IPASC)which had been founded by an intrepid CMS missionary Dr Patricia Nickson.

The tragic history above is the background to the establishment of IPASCs health-worker training that built up steadily from 1986 In recent years the story is a contemporary parable of the endurance of hope and faith amidst devastation and destruction.

In 2002 the hospital and training centre at Nyankunde were over-run by tribal militias. Staff, students and patients fled into the forest and walked for 10 days to the relative safety of Oicha and Beni or made their way to Bunia.

During the fighting at Bunia and Nyankunde, IPASC lost five students and hundreds of relatives, friends and colleagues from other institutions.

Later that year church and civic leaders gave permission for IPASC to be re established in the small town of Aru 350k away, the only place where all ethnic groups could study and work together. …

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