Return to Congo? A connection to Canada.

During the days in Nyarugusu, one question burned in my mind: why can’t people return to Congo? The living conditions and lack of hope found in the refugee camp would surely cause people to seek other options.

On Saturday, as we ate a meal lovingly cooked by my new sisters, I asked my father-in-law: “so, can people return to the Congo now? It’s been so long in the refugee camp.” “In theory, yes. They can leave,” he answered, “but many return to Nyarugusu because they find their land has been taken over by others. If you return and try to claim your land, people will kill you.”

Further discussions with community members revealed other hurdles to returning: people have no savings to support their resettlement in Congo; no guarantee of a job, therefore no means to support basic needs (food, housing, education); and many young families were born in the refugee camp and have never even lived in Congo. They identify more as Tanzanians than Congolese, but are denied Tanzanian citizenship due to their refugee status.

On the surface, the main barriers to returning appear financial. But digging deeper, I have discovered some interesting connections to Canada and Nyarugusu.

Connection to Canada: Coltan, a rare heavy metal, is heavily mined in DR Congo. It makes almost all electronic devices work by holding a Child Miner Coltan strong electrical charge. It is found in cell phones, laptops, camera lenses, hearing aids, video cameras, Xboxes, Playstations, Nintendos, In fact, 60-80% of the world’s coltan is found in Congo, and men, women and children are forced at gunpoint to mine coltan that is then shipped out of the country at huge profits. The Canadian government states that there are major Canadian investments in the Congo, particularly in the mining sector. So, our demand for new technology is deeply affecting the conflict in Eastern Congo.

 Connection to Nyarugusu: Coltan is mined in Eastern Congo, where almost all Nyarugusu refugees come from. Although the situation in DR Congo is very complex, the mining of coltan and the international demand for it plays a role in the violence in the Congo, and is another barrier for many Nyarugusu refugees to return home.

Being a solution-focused Westerner, I ask myself: so, what is the answer? One short video presents one approach. Also, as we speak, the Canadian parliament is also addressing this issue through the Conflict Minerals Act, which would ensure that Canadian companies do not support human rights abuses and illegal armed groups through their mining of coltan (and other minerals). Paul Dewar, Foreign Affairs Critic for the Opposition, has tabled this act and it needs much more support before September 17 to pass. He has launched a petition and calls to your local MP will also put this issue on the radar. These actions are important, since we are clearly connected to the Congo.

Thinking further, I also ask myself: what approach will allow Congolese to define their own solutions, instead of believing that external countries know what’s best for Congo?

I am amazed at how much the Congo is connected to my life: first, through my wonderful husband, and second, through my consumer habits. Every time I look at my cell phone (or husband!), I am reminded of the relationship I now hold with this African country and the complexity of its current situation.

Recognizing this complexity in DR Congo, I keep asking myself: so, what is the answer?

Please comment.

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