Fighting in the Congo between the ‘M23’ rebels and FARDC government troops reached Goma on the border with Rwanda today. The city of almost 400,000 people, almost the size of Bristol, has so far escaped direct fighting.
Hundreds of thousands have already fled their homes in the East of the country this year trying to escape from the rape and pillage associated with war. My sister, Anna, working in Goma for the last 2 years, emailed to update our church this morning after being one of the lucky ones to be safely evacuated across the Rwandan border.
War in a failed state in the middle of Africa can seem a long way away, but fighting in the Congo is closer than we think.
European cycles of conflict
The unbroken cycles of conflict that have blighted the Congo for over hundred years were started during the European’s ‘scramble for Africa’ at the end of the 19th Century – around the time my grandparent’s grandparents would have been born. Fuelled by greed for raw materials and armed with guns Britain, France, Italy Germany, Portugal and, in Congo, Leopold II of Belgium rode roughshod over local people, their demands enforced by the barrel of a gun.
In the horrors of Leopold’s personal fiefdom an estimated ten million Congolese were killed. As Andrew Marr recently pointed out in his ‘History of the World’ some of the most barbaric practices that we associate with war in Africa – amputation and use of child soldiers were begun in this period, by Europeans.
Not far away
It’s easy to say that the British never resorted to the excesses as Leopold of Belgium, but the truth is that the material prosperity and home comforts we enjoy today rests at least in part on our wreckless pillage of a continent in the late 19th Century.
Indeed, our hunger for iphones and computers fuel the conflict that reached Goma this very morning blighting so many lives. We turn a blind eye as corporate giants buy the cobalt and other precious metals on our behalf necessary for our technology from the militias and warlords of the Congo. (link to pdf)
The hundreds and thousands losing their homes and fleeing in fear of violence today are ordinary people placed into extraordinary circumstances. They have friends, families, faults and virtues. Some are generous, some close minded, some visionary, some on a cliff on helplessness.
Congo’s violence is closer than we like to think.
It’s difficult to know what to do in such a situation, but one appropriate response is a lament. Approximately 40% of the Psalms can be categorised as lament – a figure not reflected in our own repetoire of songs on a Sunday morning. A lament is a way of engaging with the complexities of our world, recognising that we are not simply passive unconnected recipients of news from a far away land.
Psalm 77 says:
I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands,and I would not be comforted.
I remembered you, God, and I groaned;I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.[b
You kept my eyes from closing;I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about the former days,the years of long ago,
I remembered my songs in the night.My heart meditated and my spirit asked: “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favour again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
But most of the laments are ‘and yet’ psalms. They hold out hope in what seems a hopeless situation.
Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”
Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles;you display your power among the peoples.
With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
Anna finished her email to our church this morning:
“With God, everything is possible, and we trust in his goodness and his justice. We don’t know when it will happen, we don’t know how; but we know that there will come a time when He WILL reign in this area.”
Sometimes we reach too quickly for the ‘and yet’ but in this we stand alongside her and the people of Goma and Eastern Congo and say Amen and Amen.