How do you tackle Conflict in the Congo? “The same way you eat an elephant – one bite at a time” – Jim McDermott.
On Saturday, October 22nd, Theo Chocolate hosted the collaborative event “A Stand Against Conflict in the Congo” with Congressman Jim McDermott's office. A panel, including our own Joe Whinney, discussed the sources of conflict, the challenges in addressing the issues the people of Congo face, and hopes for the future.
A Brief Overview of the Problem:
The conflict in the DRC has become one of the deadliest and most violent in modern history, and estimates show that between 800 and 1,100 people are murdered each day in the country. Instability stagnates economic development and opportunity for its people. The civil war and violence among armed militia groups is perpetuated and funded by the control of mines that produce valuable minerals like tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold, as a large part of the funding for these armed groups comes from the sale of these minerals. With millions of dollars at stake, militias and military units use rape and torture to disrupt the social fabric to keep control of these mineral-rich communities.
While there is no easy answer to this complex issue, each of our panelists expressed their ideas to bring stability to the region. Congressman McDermott, who served as a U.S. Foreign Service Medical Officer in 1987 stationed in the DRC, is pushing the Dodd-Frank bill that aims to regulate conflict minerals. The bill will require companies to verify that the minerals they buy are conflict-free.
Theo Chocolate has been working in the DRC for the past 18 months, meeting with farmers, and developing a plan for cocoa crop quality improvement in partnership with the Eastern Congo Initiative. Theo plans to purchase cocoa beans from the DRC within the next few months. Interestingly, cacao offers Congolese farmers a more secure investment because militias do not steal the crop during raids since it requires time and fermentation to become valuable. “When farmers have hope, that’s when change starts to come,” said Joe.
John Bradshaw is the Executive Director of the The Enough Project whose Raise Hope for Congo campaign is working to demand more transparency to ensure companies do not create products with conflict minerals.
Wemba-Koy Okonda founded Seattle-based OkoNGO in 2009 to teach newly resettled Congolese refugees and asylum seekers English and technical skills.
Wilonjda Muyoma was born in Bukavu in eastern DRC and is now 17 years old. In 2005, he was forced to flee to neighboring east African countries. He was resettled to the US as a part of the unaccompanied minor refugee program in 2009. Wilondja is currently a senior at Franklin High School, interns at Microsoft and has developed a business plan for Save Congo from Hunger, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting malnutrition in Congo.
What can you do to get involved?
- Write to your senators and representatives about the issues in the DRC and encourage them to support the Dodd-Frank bill.
- Take the time to understand the supply chain for products you buy/consume. Support products that are conflict-free, organic and fair trade certified (like Theo Chocolate!)
- Support non-profits who work with and for the Congolese people (i.e. The Enough Project, OkoNGO, Eastern Congo Initiative).
- Stay knowledgeable on current events in DRC and US policy.
- Tell your friends!
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead