As I entered the scene, it felt like I was standing on sacred ground. A paradox, like so much of life in this part of our globalized world. There lay a woman, motionless and blanketed by the compassion of her counselor. Her integrity had been desecrated only the day before by a group of militia men she had stumbled upon while farming in her field. They raped her and tore up her body with a foreign object. I later learned that she had been seven months pregnant at the time and become a widow a few months earlier, when her husband was shot by another band of rebels. Her baby was delivered prematurely through Cesarean section, an intervention that also allowed for the repair of her fistula.
Dusabe’s story is but one of the many horrifying experiences that women and girls as young as 14 years old shared with me earlier this year, while I was accompanying PC(USA) partners in eastern Congo. Other accounts include the kidnapping of children for use as sex slaves and child soldiers by armed groups. This is an area where the people should be thriving, for it harbors some of the world’s greatest mineral riches. Instead, their lives are cursed with conflict, destitution, and hunger – the symptoms of deeply-rooted inequities.
Milestones of Presbyterian Campaigns
From the time of individual explorers through European colonialism to our current era of elusive boundaries and evasive accountability in global trade, the Congolese people have been subjected to outside forces that dominate the fate of their country for its wealth in human and natural resources. While Christian churches have often been ambiguous regarding their position on Western interests in the Global South, Presbyterians in the US actually do have a significant record of advocating for social and economic justice in Congo.
As early as 1891, when the American Presbyterian Congo Mission was established, the first missionaries catalyzed a campaign against the exploitation, maiming, and killing of Congolese rubber gatherers for the Belgian trade of this commodity.
Our missions and ministries are nowadays shaped by collaborative models, and PC(USA) policy is increasingly drafted by constituents raising concerns on behalf of their international partners. These initiatives and policy pieces are centered around phenomena such as the so-called “paradox of wealth” and “resource curse” experienced by people in resource-rich countries like Congo. Let’s be honest, for a country with an alleged $24-trillion worth of unearthed minerals, including 30% of the world’s diamonds and 70% of its coltan, one would not and should not expect Congo to rank among countries with the world’s very lowest Human Development Indices, a composite statistic that measures development by combining indicators of life expectancy, educational achievements, and income.
This is an area where the people should be thriving, for it harbors some of the world’s greatest mineral riches. Instead, their lives are cursed with conflict, destitution, and hunger – the symptoms of deeply-rooted inequities.
Following the approval, in 2006, of a Resolution on Just Globalization about the impact of global commerce on the integrity of creation, trade justice, and human rights, the General Assembly of 2008 agreed to join the Publish What You Pay coalition, which works to make the revenue management from oil, gas, and mine extraction transparent through legislation. This year, commissioners will have the opportunity to take these earlier established policies a step further by adopting Overture 068: 11-12. The proposed policy, which was submitted by the Presbytery of Boston and endorsed by the Presbyteries of Chicago, New Castle, and Giddings-Lovejoy, will help further a number of denomination-wide campaigns for the sake of our Congolese brothers and sisters.
Campaign to End Sexual and Gender-based Violence
The PC(USA)’s new campaign, End Violence Against Women and Children, spearheaded by World Mission’s Reconciliation Catalyst, Shannon Beck, resonates with the realities in Congo. Our denomination is affiliated with two entities that address rape in the mineral-rich conflict zone of East Congo: the women’s desk of the Church of Christ in Congo (ECC/DFF), the national umbrella organization for 60+ Protestant churches, and the Interchurch Medical Assistance, World Health (IMA). The latter has a stake in Ushindi through a $16.5 million USAID-funded project that was launched when rape became a weapon of war by armed militia, and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) took epidemic proportions. Survivors of rape receive various forms of support, from psychological to medical, socio-economic, and legal assistance to remedy the multifold trauma they endure from their ordeal.
Yet, resonating the concerns of all PC(USA) partners in Congo, ECC/DFF Director Rev. Bertha Nzeba points out that foreign governments and companies associated with the extraction and trade of Congo’s wealth have a hand and therefore responsibility in the suffering generated and perpetuated by the mining sector. Autocrats and militia, be it Congolese or foreign, have been playing cahoots with the industry to enrich themselves or finance their conflict at the expense of the Congolese population.
Therefore, the monetary influence of US tax payers alone will not address the illicit mining and trade of the natural resources at the root of the violence and sexual brutalities with which the armed groups haunt the populations in eastern Congo. In order to do the latter, our Congolese brothers and sisters also need our political influence as constituents of legislative and diplomatic decision-makers in the US as well as our commercial influence as consumers of goods that contain conflict minerals from Congo. It is therefore important for the PC(USA) to take a stand for the elimination of conflict minerals from the supply chain of manufacturers. Doing so will help remove the incentive to wage war and will thus contribute to ending rape, sex slavery, and recruitment of child soldiers in Eastern Congo.
Campaign for Transparent, and Conflict-Free Resource Extraction and Trade
When our denomination joined the Publish What You Pay Coalition, the Presbyterian constituency became informed, inspired, and equipped to deal with the issues at stake. A critical mass of Presbyterian transparency campaigners in over 70 presbyteries was mobilized to advocate for legislation at the level of the US Congress. The legislation that was passed tasks the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to develop a framework of rules for a twin legislation in the Dodd-Frank Act, whereby (1) extraction companies registered with the US stock would provide detailed reports on payments to host authorities for the exploitation of oil, gas, and minerals (Section 1504) and (2) US-listed companies manufacturing consumer goods containing tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold (3TG, for short) would disclose the steps they take to track the origins of 3TG in their supply chain and ascertain that those tracing back to Congo are free from minerals that are mined or traded in illicit ways that support warfare (Section 1502).
In principle, with the information eventually provided through these two provisions, investors are able to better assess and mitigate risks of resource extraction in politically unstable environments, such as Congo; DRC citizens can hold their government accountable for its budgetary decisions; its government enjoys the political stability needed for nation-building through infrastructure to spur economic growth and social investments in agriculture, health care, education, sanitation and development; and local communities stand a better chance of experiencing sustained peace and improved living standards. The added value for Presbyterian consumers in the US is a greater enjoyment of our purchases in the knowledge that we have contributed to global peace and fuller life for our Congolese brothers and sisters.
The SEC, though, has been dragging its feet to provide the rules for this legal framework. They have been met with much resistance from the industry, including political maneuvers from companies’ lobbyists and even lawsuits questioning the extent and legitimacy of mandatory disclosure in light of the Constitution. Initial reporting on Section 1502 indicates that to date, only 5% of the SEC issuers reported a determination as to the conflict status of their 3TG sourced in the DRC. Continued pressure is necessary, and item 11-12 would clear the way for a conflict-mineral-free movement within the PC(USA).
One could imagine Presbyterian congregations signing on to a “Conflict Free Pledge”, monitoring and supporting conflict-free manufacturers when purchasing computers, mobile phones, and other electronic equipment, and bringing their membership to commit to similar consumer choices.
What would a Presbyterian conflict-free movement look like? Expanding on the national PC(USA) Earth Care Congregation Program where churches take an “Earth Care Pledge”, one could imagine Presbyterian congregations signing on to a “Conflict Free Pledge”, monitoring and supporting conflict-free manufacturers when purchasing computers, mobile phones, and other electronic equipment, and bringing their membership to commit to similar consumer choices. Youth groups could approach other youth associations in their town to urge the city council to pass a resolution, and student bodies of PC(USA) affiliated colleges, universities, and seminaries could do the same to make their campuses conflict-free.
Campaign for Education
All that said, a greater commitment by the Congolese government to reform itself, including good governance and accountability, should accompany international measures so the Congolese people can truly benefit from the transformation of the extractive sector. Access to resources has been a hindrance to progress, but corruption and indifference also prove to be major obstacles. One of the sectors held back in this regard is education.
Through Presbyterian World Mission, a Community of Mission Practice (CMP) is focusing on education in Congo. This CMP is composed of the PC(USA)’s two Presbyterian partner denominations in Congo, Presbyterian Mission participants across the US, members of the Presbyterian Congo Mission Network, Presbyterian World Mission Co-workers, and other Presbyterian Mission Agency staff. They have helped shape PC(USA) current policy on Congo, which urges the Congolese Government to
- Provide adequate funding for the education of all primary and secondary students; and
- Institute free primary and secondary education for all students.
This year, item 11-12 adds a call for the rebuilding and strengthening of Congo’s educational system “as a necessary condition for economic growth, political stability, and effective democratic participation within the nation.” The efforts of the Congo Education Excellence Program feeds into the denomination-wide initiative to provide quality education for 1,000,000 children by the year 2020, led by Poverty Alleviation catalyst Frank Dimmock.
A recurrent theme in my conversations was the government’s failure to pay teachers’ salaries, which makes life very hard for the teachers and their families and places an additional burden on parents in already poverty-stricken communities.
A personal story may help illustrate how significantly our education efforts in support of our partners’ ministries can build on the transparency campaign, while still relying on political will of the Congolese government. Last March, I spent several days in the rural Bandundu Province, accompanying the leadership of the women’s desk of the Presbyterian Community in Kinshasa (CPK). As the CPK has extensive educational ministries in Bandundu, I tacked a few school visits onto my program, as well as an interview with the CPK’s provincial education coordinator Rev. Jean Paul Mbokuba. A recurrent theme in my conversations was the government’s failure to pay teachers’ salaries, which makes life very hard for the teachers and their families and places an additional burden on parents in already poverty-stricken communities.
Like other denominations with educational ministries, the CPK and the Presbyterian Community in Congo (CPC) have an agreement with the government through the ecumenical Church of Christ in Congo that if the Church provides the infrastructures and teachers, the government will pay for teachers’ salaries. To receive teacher salaries, a given school first needs to be recognized by the authorities, then registered with the Ministry of Education, and finally budgeted by the Ministry of Finance. These processes tend to get held up at the level of these two Ministries, and it results in teachers going unpaid, often for years. I asked the Bandundu Coordinator to write down where all schools under his supervision are in the process. Back in Kinshasa, I did the same for the national Coordinators of the two Presbyterian denominations.
Working with these partners and mission co-worker colleagues, I was able to retrieve data from two-thirds of the nearly 1,000 state-recognized Presbyterian primary and secondary schools and establish that 236 schools, or more than a third of those did not receive teachers’ salaries. “No money” is the response the church gets from the authorities, despite the fact that, according to the UNESCO policy paper, Turning the ‘resource curse’ into a blessing for education, revenues from the exploitation of the country’s abundant natural resources should easily meet the educational needs.
We, as Presbyterians, are blessed to be organized into a nationwide denomination that lives out its mission as a connectional Church. Rooted in the Reformation and characterized by lay responsibility, the PC(USA) incorporates an ideal network of channels to spread the Word, and mobilize our constituencies into a critical mass to create, by the grace of God, a momentum for societal transformation.
As we accompany our Congolese partners to address multidimensional social issues, we need synergetic initiatives across program areas of the Presbyterian Mission Agency to inspire, inform, equip, and mobilize a broad Presbyterian constituent base – and to build coalitions beyond our church into society. When we do that collectively as a church, we are bound by our denominational policies, which means that overtures like item 11-12 are crucial for our continued witness and ministry.
AUTHOR BIO: Christi Boyd and her husband Jeff have served as PC(USA) mission co-workers in Africa since 1990. Working with the Presbyterian Hunger Program and accompanying Cameroonian Partners through Joining Hands, Christi enabled the processes for the PC(USA) to become member of the global Publish What You Pay Coalition. Currently based in Congo, Christi facilitates partner initiatives and campaigns on behalf of women and children in Congo, Rwanda, Niger, Madagascar, and South Sudan, who are impacted by root causes of violence, poverty, and hunger in a globalizing world.
Read more articles from The Road to Detroit: Issues of Social Justice Before the 221st General Assembly!