Mennonites increase assistance to war-torn eastern Congo

By agency reporter
November 16, 2008

The leading Mennonite inter-church relief and development agency is providing US$280,000 in aid to people affected by war in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where escalating violence is driving hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is working with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada to provide food to more than 20,000 displaced people in Congo's South Kivu province. The project is expected to start in December - writes Tim Shenk.

Eastern Congo is one of the deadliest places on earth at the moment. Millions of civilians are caught between various armed groups battling for control of Congo's vast mineral resources. An estimated 5 million people have been killed over the last 12 years through two regional wars and ongoing fighting among rebel groups, UN troops and the Congolese Army.

Recent rebel attacks have led to fears of expanded warfare on the scale that Congo experienced during the 1990s, according to Deo Namwira, an MCC international grants manager who is originally from eastern Congo.

"The whole east may catch fire, and that's something we would regret," Namwira said.

Eastern Congo's conflict has many causes, including ethnic tensions related to the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda. However, Namwira said that armed groups are primarily fighting to reap profits from Congo's mineral resources, such as gold, tin, diamonds and coltan – a metal used in laptop computers and cell phones.

"I think the West needs to look into that very closely and see how that could be stopped," Namwira added.

MCC is undertaking a variety of projects in Congo related to relief, advocacy and peace-building.

In October, MCC sponsored a trip to build relationships between people in eastern Congo and Congolese Mennonites, who live primarily in western Congo, with the exception of one Mennonite church in eastern Congo.

Four Mennonite leaders from Kinshasa, Congo's capital, visited people in displacement camps in South Kivu from Oct. 2 to 9.

"Everywhere we went, people were so pleased and surprised that we would come to learn about what they are doing and to share our love and concern," said Christine Kalume, a member of Congo's Mennonite Brethren church.

The other three leaders were Hélène Milolo, Bernice Kanama and Ruth Ndombe, who are provincial women's group presidents from the Mennonite Brethren Church of Congo, Evangelical Mennonite Church of Congo and the Mennonite Church of Congo.

MCC is also supporting the Church of Christ in Congo, a national council of churches that includes Congolese Mennonites, in helping Rwandan militants disarm and leave eastern Congo. The militants are among the thousands of Rwandan fighters who fled to eastern Congo after the Rwandan genocide and whose presence is seen as contributing to the conflict.

MCC is providing $15,000 to purchase food for 320 people, including militants, family members and other refugees, who are choosing to leave the conflict zone and return to Rwanda.

The Church of Christ in Congo is also providing food and supplies, such as soap, mosquito nets and cooking pots, to several hundred displaced people in eastern Congo with funding from MCC.

Financial contributions for Mennonite Central Committee's work in Congo should be designated "Congo emergency assistance." They may be made online at or through any MCC office.

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