The scale and horror of the ‘African World War’ that took place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is beyond comprehension. With 8 neighbouring countries embroiled in a conflict that lasted 5 years, the death toll exceeded 5 million.
The shadow of such human, social and economic destruction extends years afterwards and today affects those who weren’t even born when the war formally ended in 2003.
With the country covered in lush jungle that makes overland travel extremely challenging, MAF has been assisting isolated communities in the DRC since 1961. The collapse in infrastructure that stemmed from the war has made our role increasingly vital.
MAF’s vital role
Combined with limited access to clean drinking water and effective sanitation, the DRC has in recent years experienced outbreaks of Ebola, malaria, cholera, measles and TB.
‘People of the DRC have suffered so much in terms of poverty, conflict, malnutrition and lack of opportunities. The diseases, including HIV/AIDS, only make life harsher and explain in part why the average adult life expectancy is still in the mid-40s,’ explains missionary doctor Bill Clemmer.
‘It’s particularly frustrating when we have the means to diagnose and treat such diseases, but lack access to vulnerable populations – and that of course is where MAF plays a critical role.’
Bill’s comments are echoed by Dr Makuma Booto Baudouin from the DRC Ministry of Health: ‘Each year MAF transports vaccinations for around 40,000 children in the Bandundu region alone. I thank God for MAF and their partnership now and into the future.’
The country’s current problems go far beyond poor medical provision. Blessed with abundant mineral wealth, the DRC has enormous economic potential, yet ownership of these resources is a source of significant and continual conflict.
Rival militias, particularly in the country’s volatile east, compete for control of tin and gold mines, as well as the rare elements which are vital for many modern electronic products. Any exports out of resource-rich areas such as Kivu in the east would, however, need to transit through east Africa, rather than the DRC’s main economic hub of Kinshasa, 1,000 miles to the west.
Because of this, the country’s neighbours have more influence over events in eastern DRC than its politicians in the capital. Included in that neighbourhood is Rwanda, a country whose genocide in 1994 resulted in armed gangs streaming into the DRC, subjecting innocent victims to rape, extortion and brutality.
MAF therefore regularly flies Christian NGOs such as Flame International into the region, to oversee a ministry of biblically-based reconciliation.
Despite UN attempts to keep a practically non-existent peace, local residents have lost faith in international diplomacy. In late 2012, a relatively new and particularly well-organised rebel group called M23 (named after a failed peace agreement signed on 23 March 2009) seized control of the strategic eastern town of Goma. UN soldiers watched on, seemingly powerless to prevent the takeover.
The situation resulted in riots in Bunia, another eastern town whose inhabitants felt that the UN had signalled its unwillingness to stand up to the rebels. The orgy of violence and lootings that followed was all too familiar to the region, and explains why MAF staff based there remain on standby to evacuate those wounded by gunfire.
‘Longevity in any area of ministry is difficult to achieve,’ says John Boyd, President and CEO of MAF USA, as he reflects on the organisation’s decades of service in the DRC. However, as the physical and spiritual needs continue, the day when MAF is no longer needed there seems very distant. ‘Serving in the DRC is a calling that MAF takes seriously and counts as a privilege,’ John concludes.