Neema Namadamu: Architect for Peace in the Congo (Part 1) by Roxanne L. Scott 7/5/13
Meet Neema Namadamu. She is founder of the women’s peace organization Maman Shujaa. Through Maman Shujaa and other projects she’s created, (including a media center for women to tell their stories) she has a vision for a “New Congo.” We hear of the stories of assault and rape on women in the Congo. Through the efforts community building and amazing women, like Namadamu, the Obama administration assigned a special envoy to the Congo. From an excerpt of our interview below, find out the extent of the US’ role in the Congo as well as why Namadamu believes that the US needs to be more “human” in their humanitarian aid.
1) Thanks to your efforts the Obama administration has appointed a special envoy to the Congo. Why was it important for you to make the US more aware of the war in the Congo?
It wasn’t our intent to make the US more aware, but to urge the US President to put actions behind his words. President Obama said in a speech in Accra Ghana in July of 2009:
“As for America and the West, our commitment must be measured by more than just the dollars we spend.…the true sign of success is not whether we are a source of perpetual aid that helps people scrape by — it’s whether we are partners in building the capacity for transformational change.”
The US leadership is well aware of our situation in Congo. The US funds a third of the cost of UN presence in East Congo – the largest United Nations presence in the world – to the tune of $3.5 billion so far. The US leadership is well aware that the UN has named East Congo the worst place in the world to be a woman or girl. They are well aware that over 5 million Congolese have died since ’96 – making Congo’s continual conflicting situation the deadliest since World War II. There have been too many studies to quote identifying that a woman is 134 times more likely to be raped at least once in Congo, than in the US, at a rate of 1152 per day.
The U.S. is involved in Congo. Every year it’s a few hundred million dollars here, another hundred million there, and just last night President Obama pledged $7 billion toward electrifying sub-Saharan Africa, perhaps talking about the Grand Inga Dam; the hydro power project for which President Zuma signed a partnering agreement with DR Congo in November of 2011; a project said to be able to provide power to 500 million of Africa’s 900 million people who currently live without electricity.
My point is that the U.S. has and continues to invest billions of dollars in DR Congo, but has not $1 in real return. The Maman Shujaa of Congo are encouraging our powerful friends to invest their influence, their experience, and their wisdom. We’re asking them to put the “human” into their humanitarian aid. We don’t want to need aid. We, the Maman Shujaa of Congo, would love to be able take our future into our own hands; all we need is peace. That is what our Petition is about – Peace; asking our influential friends to help establish a process, an environment (along with the United Nations Special Envoy and the African Union) wherein true Peace can be achieved.
We thank Ms. Namadamu for her time. The petition she mentions is here: http://www.change.org/congowomen.
Neema Namadamu: Architect for Peace in the Congo (Part 2) by Roxanne L. Scott 8/9/13
We continue our conversation with Neema Namadamu, founder of the women’s peace organization Maman Shujaa in the Congo. If you haven’t read the first part, go back and read it here. In the second part of our interview, Neema speaks with us about the difficulties of community organizing in a place like the Congo, and how to channel the emotion of anger to that of love and action.
2) You’re leader of the Maman Shujaa, and have spearheaded other projects. What are some challenges in mobilizing a community in the Congo?
The biggest challenge is a lack of peace, or downright insecurity. We can hardly move around. It is a big challenge to get funding. We can hardly get out of the “pilot” or “feasibility” stage of things because full blown implementation is not possible without peace.
Not only is it risky, but the only way to get to some places is by walking, and going a hundred kilometers or more by foot creates a big challenge to connect people, especially with insecurity. Some areas are sodesperately cutoff from not only the world, but from the whole of Congo. There used to be a road 376 kilometers long that stretched from Lake Tanganyika to Mwenga Center, for which there has not been a vehicle able to pass since 1967. Imagine what opening that road might mean to the hundreds of thousands living where the rule of law is enforced by mostly unlearned and unprincipled men, where maternity care is incredibly scarce, where 100% of the children that go away to further their education don’t come back to the area to live and invest their acquired capacity. Imagine the energy and jobs just having that road would create; the opportunity for security, commerce, and to simply connect with the rest of their countrymen.
3) Many of your life circumstances would leave another person cynical and angry. Including having a handicap, seeing violence consistently in your country, and the assault of your daughter. Despite all of this, what gives you your “love of country?” Secondly, how would you suggest a person channel the energy of anger to that of love?
My country is like my mother, and it’s people like my sisters and brothers. I got polio as a toddler. I don’t blame my mother or brothers for polio. The problem afflicting our country is like a disease. Greed is infectious. Licentiousness with impunity is evilly contagious. And many have been infected. But there is a cure. In fact, the cure is so powerful it is spreading faster than the disease. Health has come over us and immunity to these ills has taken hold in our midst. The cure was light; the light of love. Love for one another has opened our eyes and built us up with a profound strength. Love for each other has caused us to respect each other’s community. Love and respect for each other’s community has bound us together in hope, in possibility. Love and respect for each other’s community has given us a passion for our country, and a vision for its people.
When my daughter was beaten by soldiers, I was at a loss. Revenge wanted its way, but somehow I could see that the way of revenge only brings about more avenging. I wanted to break the cycle. I wanted my daughter to heal, to be in health, in life. I knew there was no life, no peace, no satisfaction in anger. And as that realization came over me, I let all of those negative things go. When I did, the most amazing thing happened. Love filled my heart and consciousness. Love for all, including those who would be my enemies. I went and met with those soldiers. I told them I was their mom and I expected better of them. They asked me for forgiveness and begged me to come visit them often. I realized that love is the most powerful weapon of all, especially coming out of the heart of a mother.
We, once again, thank Ms. Namadamu for her time and will continue with Part 3 of the work she’s doing in the Congo.