Lisa Shannon Shares Her Fight To End Atrocities In Congo

March 17th, 2011

Author and activist Lisa Shannon spoke to a Grand Rapids audience Wednesday night at the conclusion of the 16th Grand Rapids Community College Diversity Lecture Series.  Shannon delivered a compelling lecture on the triumphs and struggles of creating her non-profit organization, Run for Congo Women, and her experiences in the Congo that left her everyone in the room astounded.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo was thrust into conflict after the 1994 Rwandan genocide.  Ethnic Rwandan Hutu militias fled to Congo in search of refuge, resulting in Rwanda invading twice to eliminate the militias.  Since 1998, the conflict has drawn in multiple African armies, displaced 2 million people, and 5.4 million have died.

Even more appalling is the ubiquitous nature of rape as a weapon of war in the conflict.  Rape is used in war for several purposes, such as intimidation, humiliation, obtaining information, rewarding soldiers, spreading HIV/AIDS, and ethnic cleansing.  Since the beginning of the conflict in 1998, it is estimated that 3 million women have been raped, resulting in an increased prevalence of HIV, reproductive health issues, unwanted children, and early deaths in girls and women.  Shannon told the story of a friend, Generose, who had a Hutu militia show up at her house, demanding money.  She gave them everything she and her husband had, but the militia began to beat her husband.  She cried out to alert her neighbors, and as a punishment, they killed her husband, cut off her leg, and forced her children to eat the leg.  When her son refused to eat his mother’s leg, the militia killed him.  After passing out from the extreme pain, Generose was gang raped.

Despite being called the deadliest war since World War II, it goes widely unnoticed by the international community.  On the lack of response by the United States and other governments, Shannon said, “We are sending a powerful message by not doing anything about this conflict.”  What most Americans fail to realize is that we can do something.  The conflict is fueled by our electronic purchases; minerals that are found in cell phones, lap tops, and other electronic devices are made with tungsten, tantalum, tin, and gold.  These minerals are mined in the Congo, where armed groups finance themselves through the illicit trading and selling of these minerals.  Shannon lobbied heavily for Congress to pass the Conflict Minerals Trade Act, which regulates the importation and trade of minerals found in electronic devices, and continues to push tech companies to use conflict-free minerals in their products.

At the end of the night, Shannon invited everyone to do something to end the conflict.  “Most people don’t do anything not because they don’t care, but because they’re afraid they’ll stumble.  But stumbling your way through something is better than doing nothing.”  For more information, you can visit, or
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