Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ben Affleck Changing Congo

The DR Congo is home to millions of people who have been devastated by war since 1996. As I mentioned in an earlier article - Africa's First World War: The Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the conflict is one of the deadliest conflicts the world has ever seen. It has left more than 5 million (and counting...) people dead, over the past 12 years and analysts say it is the biggest humanitarian crisis on the planet. Unfortunately, the world is yet to understand the gravity of the conflict. It is with little doubt therefore that it took actor and activist - Ben Affleck many years and a couple of trips to the DR Congo to fully understand what the Congolese have to endure.

Do you have any idea about what's happening in the Congo? You probably don't care because you're not directly affected. Right?

The fundamental human rights of millions of people in the DRC (a country the size of Western Europe) are being violated with impunity, while the world quietly watches. A few months ago, everyone was talking about Haiti - Are the lives of Congolese people less important?

As one of my 10 favorite CNN anchors - Christiane Amanpour rightly pointed out - "it often takes high-profile people to remind the world of a massive injustice". Unfortunately, not many high-profile people have stood up for Congo, but Ben Affleck has refused to be silent. He is using his star power to shed light on the gravity of the humanitarian crisis in the Congo and is working to bring change to the region.

Now, let me be clear - prior to Ben Affleck's move to making a change in Congo, I was not a fan. I'm not a movie freak and therefore not impressed (with due respect) by big screen performances. However, when actors [individually] use their star power to do more than entertain, they win me over. No doubt, I became a fan of Isaiah Washington because of his role as chief of the Mende people of Sierra Leone; not his role as Dr. Preston Burke in Grey's Anatomy. In the same vein, Ben Affleck's commitment to help victims of rape in the DR. Congo just earned him one more fan.

On Monday, Ben Affleck launched the Eastern Congo initiative to help the Congolese people rebuild, after more than 14 years of armed conflict. His goal is to empower community-based organizations in Eastern Congo (the hotspot) - working to help victims of rape and to help child soldiers make a smooth transition to civilian life.

The human rights violations in the Congo are unprecedented - abductions, forced labour, sexual slavery, forced labour, the worst forms of child labour and the unspeakable war crime - rape as a weapon of war.

Talking to CNN's Amanpour, Affleck highlighted the story of a woman he met in Eastern Congo:
"They, in her words, treated her like an animal and a slave. She was a bush wife to six men who raped her. She became pregnant. She eventually escaped by asking basically permission to take a bath and making a mad run for it..."
According to Ben Affleck, a lot more can be done by the international community to help the Congolese people rise from the rubble.

For more on Ben Affleck's initiative for changing Congo, visit The Amanpour blog.

My Masters thesis - Forced Labour in Armed Conflicts: Special Case of the Democratic Republic of Congo, also dwells on the conflict in the DR Congo. You're welcome to read it and be inspired to take action. The people of Congo need your help.

Remember, "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

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