“Our people have to walk 50 miles to buy an aspirin and pregnant mothers have to walk 100 miles for pre-natal and medical care in birthing,” Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) told reporters and students here at Emmanuel College as part of a tour to raise international awareness of the re-emerging war on its borders.
The bishop, one of several religious leaders visiting the United Nations, Washington DC, Toronto and European cities, said many of those mothers “die on the way to the medical clinic.” His country, the DRC, has been at war for some 16 years, he said, killing 5.4 million people. His mission is to stop the redevelopment of war largely over “conflict minerals”—especially coltan, a mineral used in cell phones and laptop computers.
From meeting basic medical needs to negotiating with militia, Bishop Ntambo has worked at multiple, interrelated levels to build sustainable peace in the Katanga province. He organized care for street children, helping to reduce recruitment of child soldiers. He built brick churches and fishponds, helping the people of Kamina to stand firm, not flee, in the face of approaching rebels.
But now, he and other religious leaders, including Danisa Ndlovu, former president of Mennonite World Conference, think it is time to take their case to the international community, believing that the lack of international pressure on belligerent parties allowed the 1998 war to devastate their country.
In mid-September they presented a petition on behalf on millions of Congolese citizens to the United Nations and met with members of the U.S. Congress, members of the White House staff, and in the same week with government officials in Ottawa.
Having exhausted efforts by their churches, the leaders, in their petition, want the West, through the UN “to help the Congolese army to stop once and for all the invasion of their country, the plundering of her resources and the Congolese women violations.”
They are calling for the arrest of all war criminals whose names appear in the different UN reports and the arrest and trial of all those who have committed war crimes in the DRC and neighbouring countries.
They reject Rwanda’s running as a candidate to be a non-permanent member of a UN organization due to recurrent violations of the UN charter.
And they are applying, without delay, all of the UN decisions in favour of peace in the DRC.
When asked what sustains him in the pursuit of peace for his people, Bishop Ntanda says it is the “quest” that drives him despite all the odds for suffering. “If we have peace, we can help the children. If we have peace, we can save the women.”
Professor Raymond Mande Mutombo of the University of Lubumbasi and an interpreter for the group, reminded his western friends that, unlike them who don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from, his people face each day not knowing if they will have a meal or not.
“What do you tell your people?” asked a student. “It’s easy to bring Christ’s message to happy people,” said the bishop with a smile. “But what do you tell people in distress, who have nowhere to turn for help, for food, for medical help?” he asked rhetorically, his face darkening with sadness.
“I give them the message of hope. I tell them that God is with them in their suffering, that they should not turn bitter and against each other, but rather they should forgive each other, live in love.”
He spoke with authenticity and grace from his own experience of facing down fear of the Mai-Mai militia who had killed a Roman Catholic priest and eaten him when that man of the cloth tried to meet with their leader. At a time when even the governor would not meet the Mai-Mai leader, Bishop Ntambo invited Chinja Chinja to dinner in his home, a powerful gesture of welcome. Reducing the “otherness” of the Mai-Mai, he made it clear that they were also “children of the community” and first and foremost human beings.
With such fearlessness and yet passion for peace, it was not difficult to understand that Ntambo was asked to facilitate reconciliation during a crisis in 2005 in the United Methodist Church in Nigeria. In 2007, he was asked to be a senator in the Congolese Parliament of Katanga province.
His final words, carrying the weight of experience and convictions, is: “stop it”—to the militias that are now converging again on his country in a fight over minerals. This time, though, he is enlisting the help of the international community to get involved in the “fight for peace.”