Humanitarian Crisis in Congo Demands Media Attention: VOA Panelists

The humanitarian crisis, including rape, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) demands continued attention by the world’s media, participants on a VOA panel said yesterday.

The panelists, who spoke at an event, “Covering Congo: Who’s Listening?,” also said international media play an important role in delivering news and information to the people of the DRC because local media are not free and independent, for the most part.

Ferdinand Ferella, a VOA correspondent, said fighting in the region has long been described as “one of the forgotten conflicts.” Ferella is host of Aujourd’hui l’Afrique Centrale (Today in Central Africa), a daily program that marks its 10th anniversary this year. The program is aired by VOA’s French-to-Africa service.

Since 1997, some estimates have put the number of dead from attacks, disease and malnutrition in eastern Congo as high as 5.4 million. Additionally, some 1.5 million people have been displaced the fighting.

Bryan Mealer, former Associated Press reporter and author of the recently published All Things Must Fight to Live: Stories of War and Deliverance in Congo, said fighting in the Congo stems in large part from the desire to control the country’s minerals. The current fighting also involves strife between ethnic Tutsis and Hutus. The conflict has roots in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda when Hutus killed more than 800,000 Tutsis. The Tutsis ultimately gained control of Rwanda, but many Hutu fled to DRC, where violence between the groups had persisted.

Mealer was particularly critical of the use of rape as a tool of war both by ethnic militias and government forces. “Nobody has brought these people to justice,” he said, adding rape victims in DRC are often stigmatized for seeking treatment. Ferella said he once interviewed a 77-year-old woman who had been raped.

Fidele Ayu Lumeya, a Congolese who has worked with internally displaced persons and is a consultant on humanitarian issues, urged media to seek answers to political questions so that ultimately a peaceful solution can be found to the conflict.

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