For most of us, the word "Congo" brings up vague and murky images. Where is that again? Another corrupt African dictatorship? Lots of poor people in refugee camps? So sad.
Open your mind to a few myth-destroying facts:
The Congo is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is a democracy. The DRC's first democratic election in 40 years was successfully conducted in 2006. This year is a presidential election year.
The DRC is not small nor remote. With 71 million people and 250 ethnic groups speaking 240 languages, it is the 18th most populous nation in the world and the 3rd largest in Africa.
The DRC is rich in minerals, including cobalt, copper, petroleum, diamonds, gold, silver, zinc, tin, coal and coltan (used in computers and cell phones). It is home to the 2nd largest rainforest on the planet and 50% of all the forests in Africa.
The humanitarian crisis in the Eastern Congo is severe. More facts:
Since 1998, violent conflict, disease and poverty in the DRC have killed over 5 million men, women, and children -- more than any war since World War II. The leftover human condition is displacement, overflowing refugee camps and millions of people without the chance to earn a living.
The DRC, one of the poorest countries in the world, ranks 176 out of 182 countries on the UN's Human Development Index. Just one indicator: only 51% of children complete primary school.
The world is full of tragedies, large and small. Who cares about the DRC, of all places?
Cue from stage right: enter Ben Affleck (actor, writer, director; high octane humanitarian advocate) and his gifted interviewer Laurene Powell Jobs (human rights activist; wife of Apple's Steve Jobs).
Pictured here at the 10th Annual Global Philanthropy Forum, Jobs interviews Affleck (photo credits: Mona T. Brooks):
As Affleck passionately and intelligently reports, the Eastern Congo Initiative is repairing the ripped lives of the Congolese people. Rape victims (in some areas, 2 out of 3 women have been raped or maimed), young child-soldiers, health-deprived communities, stagnant economic development, -- these are the human wounds of war and the Congolese people for whom Affleck has raised his voice.
Critiquing his ambassadorial duties in Paris during the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin remarked, "We are all actors." I believe he meant that change agents and advocates for humankind create new scripts and new realities -- oftentimes a vision of justice not yet imagined -- and do so with the winking entertainment of an actor.
When Ben Affleck channels Ben Franklin, his knowledgeable, understated conviction bespeaks a man on a mission. With a disarming smile, he reminds his audience with one word, repeated over and over like a theatrical refrain, that brutalization, injustice and suffering on a continent far away matters.
Brutalization stopped. Brutalization reversed. Brutalization repaired.