Conference on strife-torn DR Congo seeks to raise awareness

With some 45,000 people dying every month in the Democratic Republic of Congo – five million since 1996 – two sisters wanted to raise awareness of ongoing atrocities there. To that end, Barbro Ciakudia, a York International Bachelor of Arts student, and Nancy-Josée Ciakudia (BA ’08) are organizing the second annual How Much Do You Know About the DR Congo? conference at York featuring prominent speakers and performers.

The conference takes place Thursday, March 12,  from 11am to 8pm in the Winters Dining Hall, 001 Winters College, Keele campus. In addition to a lineup of speakers, there will be performances – dancing and singing – as well as an art display.

Left: Barbro (left) and Nancy-Josée Ciakudia

The goal is to make people more knowledgeable about the illegal exploitation of natural resources, the war that continues to rage in the Central African country, as well as genocide, says Barbro. She wants everyone to know they have the power to do something to help prevent the violence in the DR Congo.

Close to one million people are the victims of internal forced displacement and over one million women have been sexually violated, according to international aid officials. In addition, some three-quarters of the African forests and two-fifths of the world’s forests are in the DR Congo, resources that need to be protected, says Nancy-Josée.

The conference will bring together Congolese people, students, academics, business people, politicians, international organizations and institutions, non-governmental organizations and artists.

Several speakers have been lined up for the one-day event, including Washington, DC author, poet and actor Omekongo Dibinga (right), who will talk about “Artivism for the Congo: Using the Arts to Influence Change” from 1:25 to 2:10pm. Dibinga has shared the stage with Les Brown, Willie Jolley, Sonia Sanchez, Amiri Baraka, Black Thought, The Last Poets and OutKast. Internationally, he has performed in South Africa, England, Congo-Kinshasa, Tanzania, France, Cuba and Canada.

Washington, DC attorney Carrie Crawford, co-founder and chair of Friends of the Congo, will speak from 2:30 to 3:15pm.

Award-winning internationally acclaimed gospel recording artist Kay Morris (left) will perform and speak on “HIV/AIDS in the Democratic Republic of Congo” from 3:20 to 4:05pm. Morris is president of the Kay Morris Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting primary health care in Africa.

Theodore Ngoy Ilunga Wa Nsenga (right), a lawyer, an elected member of parliament and the pastor of a church in the DR Congo, will speak from 4:40 to 5:25pm on “The Congo in the Shadow of the Rwandan Genocide”. Nsenga has been regularly arrested and put into prison in the Congo without right of trial or an attorney, and says the Congolese government was behind the burning of his church, home and office in 2007. Currently, he is in exile in the UK.

Justine M’Poyo Kasa-Vubu (left), the daughter of the country’s first president Joseph Kasa-Vubu, will discuss “Globalization and the Congo” from 5:55 to 6:40pm. She is a former minister of civil administration and a former ambassador of DR Congo in Belgium. In addition, she worked as the program officer of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva. In 1998, Kasa-Vubu and her husband founded Funds President Joseph Kasa-Vubu in memory of her late father, to respond to children and women in need. She is also the leader of the Democratic Movement in Congo and was a candidate in the 2006 presidential election.

Reverend/Professor Julien Ciakudia (right), an international lobbyist, president of Union des Patriotes Résistants (Patriot’s Union) and chair of the Freedom Flag Foundation, an NGO based in Norway, will speak about “The International Criminal Court and the Congo” from 6:45 to 7:30pm. Ciakudia has worked toward the liberation of the DR Congo for over 20 years.

Registration for the conference begins at 10:30am. The conference will take place from 11am to 8pm. For more information, e-mail, call 416-727-4057 or visit York’s Centre for Human Rights Web site.

The conference is sponsored by York’s Centre for Human Rights, Winters College, York University’s Black Students’ Alliance and H20 Congo.