In the world premiere of Eve Ensler’s “In the Body of the World” at the American Repertory Theater last month, the author/performer powerfully conveyed both her experience of cancer and the horrors experienced by women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the women of Congo she found a strength that helped her survive. What could be happening in this central African country that has had such a visceral impact on this brilliant artist?
Until the 16th century, the Kingdom of Kongo was a major international trading crossroad. With the takeover by colonial powers, its history shifted—to one of oppression, assassination, exploitation, and war. The country’s ivory, rubber, and minerals enriched corporations and countries throughout the world. When Patrice Lumumba made his first speech as Prime Minister of the newly independent nation in 1960, he declared that Congo’s wealth would now stay in the country to be used for the benefit of the Congolese people. That assertion led to his assassination, a tragedy from which the country has yet to recover.
For the past 20 years, the Democratic Republic of Congo has been at war. Fighting has devastated the eastern part of the country—the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II, it has claimed more than 6 million lives. Rape is a pervasive weapon in this war; as many as 2 million women and girls have been raped. The United Nations has called eastern Congo “the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman.”
A prime cause of the fighting is the pursuit of mineral wealth. Eastern Congo is blessed—and cursed—with vast deposits of mineral wealth. Essential components of cell phones and other digital items, these minerals provide profits that finance and perpetuate the war. Militias fight over control of Congo’s minerals using murder, rape, and other atrocities as a strategy to intimidate and control communities.
The people of Massachusetts now have an opportunity to take action against the Congo conflict minerals trade. The federal Dodd-Frank financial services law requires that publicly traded companies take steps to trace the origin of conflict minerals from Congo (tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold). S1682 An Act Relative to Congo Conflict Minerals, currently before the Massachusetts legislature, will prohibit companies that fail to comply from contracting with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
The Commonwealth must continue its tradition of providing international leadership in the protection of human rights. Forty-eight local, national, and international organizations have endorsed S1682 (among them Amnesty International USA, Africa Faith and Justice Network, Congolese Community of Massachusetts, Physicians for Human Rights, and Our Bodies Ourselves).
Urge Senate President Rosenberg (617-722-1500,[email protected]) and Chairwoman Spilka (617-722-1640, [email protected]) to advance S1682 so that the bill can be enacted during this legislative session. Together we can make a difference in the lives of the women, children, and men of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Jamaica Plain resident
Chairperson of Congo Action Now