Congo Week speaker highlights conflict complexity

November 3, 2015

Students, professors, faculty and members of the surrounding community piled into Cheray 101 Thursday, October 29 for a lecture by Jason Stearns to conclude Saint Michael’s College’s fifth annual Congo Week.

Stearns is an American author who worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo for 10 years writing his book Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa. His lecture, entitled “Hope for Congo?” attempted to explain Congo’s 19-year conflict, saying it is “cursed by complexity” – it has suffered by the fact that it is very far away and hard to understand, so it’s harder for people in the U.S. to care about.

The war in the Congo was sparked by the genocide in Rwanda and is between many different armed groups who are all fighting for power and are fueled by the Congo’s valuable mineral resources. These armed groups use rape as a weapon of war; tens of thousands of women have been victims of sexual violence by the men who are supposed to protect them. Violence has continued even though the war has technically been over since 2003, and — as Stearns said — some people are calling it a “post-conflict period” with Congo hosting the world’s largest peacekeeping mission,

The Saint Michael’s student club “SMC for DRC” works to bring awareness to this conflict as well as work to put an end to it, and organized Stearns’ visit to Saint Michael’s because of his deep involvement with the Congo.

SMC for DRC President Jessica Bachand ’17 thinks that although the conflict in the Congo is something that’s very hard to mentally and emotionally wrap your head around, people shouldn’t be scared away from the topic, but should instead get involved and talk about it.

“As humans we have a responsibility to care for the other humans in the world, no matter where they live,” Bachand said. “As students at a small liberal arts school in Vermont, it can be really hard to think about places like the Congo – it’s not something that comes across our media every day, but as human beings we have a duty to care for them.”

After his lecture, Stearns was willing to stay as long as needed to answer all of the questions audience members had, and even answered several in French to better accommodate the asker.

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