Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Singing soldi...children

Do you ever feel like you have reached such a high level of cynicism, that the world holds no more wonders, no more shocks, no more surprised? I ofen do. But today, for the first time in a long time, I was speechless. I know there are child-soldiers in my country, like in many other places in Africa. An unfortunate and reprehensible state of affairs, really. And I was aware of the attempts that were made to make these kids reintegrate society, in the least traumatic way possible. Having partially lived through two of the wars in the region, I had little hop that it could be achieved; another sacrificed generation, I often say. And then I found this:
Songs from Aveba reintegration camp

(from Save the Children, UK)
Suzanne Fisher, a journalist with Save the Children, recently traveled to the Aveba disarmament camp, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The camp helps children who have been associated with armed groups begin the process of returning to civilian life.

Suddenly a group of children started to sing.

They were not members of a choir and had no formal musical training. However they knew the same songs and performed them in perfect five part harmony for Suzanne, who had basic recording equipment with her.
If you click on that Save the Children link, you can hear short recordings of those little kids singing... I nearly cried - and that is not too easy for me. I was hurt, saddened and uplifted by the pure unadulterated voices of these little kids, singing songs that I remember from my childhood, almost as if to show that the purity in their hearts and their young minds was not lost, despite the vile atrocities that adults had made them commit. Song and music have always been a catharsis in Congolese society, and one historian, Elikya Mbokolo, once told me that if there was more singing in Congo, there would certainly be less greed, and less war. It is a utopian view, but listening to the beauty of the sound of these kids, and the perfect harmony they reach, I cannot help by wonder: is it not about time that we sing OUR song of harmony? When I see the sacrifice these children have unwillingly made for the sake of my country, and then I see the politicians bickering and politicking in Kinshasa, and absorbing much of the country's resources' revenues into pet projects, personal bank accounts, and personal militias (often made of child-soldiers), I keep asking myself if our leaders (both those in power, and in the opposition) are even human? I wonder whether they even have the most remote consideration for the lives of the people they purport to lead. I wonder if they see us as anything more than pawns to be manipulated at will to suit their own purposes, regardless of whether we live or die.

Our leaders act like a "federation of worse oppresors, than the last batch of oppressors" (Lord of War feature movie). They have adopted, and perfected, the dividing tactics of their colonial (and neo-colonial) Western mentors, and they have a blatant disregard for human life, outside their immediate family. They always ask sacrifices of the people, but they never share in the sacrifice... The only time they are in danger of reprisals, is when one of them wants more power than the others, and starts a witch-hunt, so they keep each other happy. This is the reality in many countries around the continent, but nowhere in Africa has it been more perfected than in my beloved Congo. And what does the people do, you say? The people is either very poor, or very weak, or starving, or underpaid, or endoctrinated into numbness and lethargy, or all the above. They are kept under-educated by poor eduaction policies, and they are kept intellectually sedated by an overbearing influence of churches, those famous "ministries of prosperity" that promise them castles and riches through their particular church. Meanwhile, their actual riches, that of their land, gold, coltan, diamonds, uranium, copper, oil, are being smuggled away by national and multi-national companies, with no benefits whatsoever to the Congolese people. And what does the "International Community" do, really? There are many among Westerners that care deeply for human life, regardless of its race of origin, and those are there in the country, working hard to try to change the situation, and I more than grateful to them.

But even among these, you have a few that would like for the situation to carry on, so they can have an assured and very lucrative position, for the long-term, in wartorn Congo. Outside Congo, Western - and some African (Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe etc) - governments seem to think that their interests, and that of the Congolese people are irreconcilable. The Westerners play games with us, as they always have, giving us an inch, then taking two. They keep on reminding us of the amount of money they have "poured" into Congo to help us, but they do not realize that the phone they are calling us on could not be manufactured without our Coltan; that their cities and/or countries would not exist today, in all their splendor, without our (Congo's and Africa's) gold, our diamonds, our timber, our riches, and the slave-labour of our stolen cousins in the Americas. The depth of the human capacity for ingratitude just boggles me...

And then people will wonder why people like Hugo Chavez, and Fidel Castro, and Patrice Lumumba, are heroes in Congo, and in the third world. They are far from perfect, in fact I would not want to live in Cuba, because I cherish my freedom of opinion, movement, association, etc. But these were people of low means, of poor backgrounds, that dared to challenge the mighty Western world, and its domineering model, that people all over the world are sick and tired of. Today, our politicians cower to the West, and De Beers, Anglo-American, Aramco, Exxon, Total, to ensure themselves a political future. And those that do not cower - i.e.:Mugabe - go waaaaaay too far the other extreme way, and remain dictatorial. Who pays for all these games of the West, the elites, and our well-endowed ruthless rulers? My countrymen and womenm, average people trying to give their children a better life than their own, me, my parents, my family... and those kids, singing so harmoniously on those recordings. Sometimes I wonder how I wake up every morning, and I do not succumb to that recurring urge to go buy a gun, and put a bullet in my head, so I would not have to feel so hopeless, and helpless as a Congolese man. Maybe it is my inherent sense of optimism that tells me that somehow, somewhere, we will find a way to rise again... I don't know. I am still wondering...


Lorraine M. Thompson said...

They are incredibly moving. Do you know about the Peace Concert/Songs that were done by children in eastern congo. You can hear them at www.sfcg.org/programmes/drcongo/drcongo_cd1.html

TheMalau said...

I just did, thank you for letting me know about them. I am having very mixed emotions, and thoughts right now (as you can see in the post). That country is everything for me. Not by blind patiotism, or anything like that. But simply because it is where the homing beacon would take me, if it existed. Because that is where my family lives, where I have my roots. To see it bludgeoned by a conglomerate of multinationals, and of ruthless Congolese people, just makes me want to scream... Maybe I am like this because the anniversary of the genocide next door is coming up. I was living there you know, I lived part of it... And that is celebrated and pandered to, while my people dying, no one cares...I mean with a few exceptions of course ;)

Brian said...

I've thought that those who recruited and exploited child soldiers were the lowest of the low. People truly vacant of any shred of humanity. This partly explains my particular hatred of Charles Taylor, for having introduced the world to this scourge.

I've also had a link to War Child on my (general interest) blog since almost the beginning.

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