A heart for the world
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) lies in the center of Africa in the Great Lakes Region and is bordered by nine other countries, affording frequent border disputes. If it isn’t an actual boundary issue, the problems arising may be due to armed rebel groups crossing the border into the DRC to escape national armies of the bordering countries.
A prime case of problems arising from loose borders ensued directly from Rwanda, one of DRC’s neighbors. Even by 2008, that conflict is still wreaking havoc in the area. “I have no doubt that the first and major cause of conflict is the presence of the Rwandan militia called Interahamwe on Congolese soil,” Lewis Kilongo says. After the 1994 genocide, “Hutu fighters and Rwandan soldiers, fled into the DRC.” There they reorganized themselves into the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and the Congolese army formed alliances with them—or against them, “depending on which way the political wind is blowing or which way the money is flowing.”
Inside the DRC, the Hutu militia had rearmed after what Lewis describes as “exploiting the region’s rich resources.” They attacked Tutsis living in the DRC. In defense against the collusion between the Hutu militia and the Congolese army, a Congolese Tutsi, Laurent Nkunda, formed an armed resistance, supported by Rwanda, carrying the two countries to the brink of war. The worst part, according to Lewis, is that all of these armed forces have “committed unspeakable atrocities upon the civilian population.” A recent flare up displaced 700,000 people in Lewis’s neighboring province.
Lewis’s family has been victimized several times, including the kidnapping of his father for seven months. “Tens of thousands of women and girls as young as five have been raped,” Lewis says. Hundreds of people have been tortured, shot to death, or forced to leave their homes. Families who have lost loved ones to a militia attack often join the opposing group to get revenge, perpetuating a cycle of violence and a retreat into tribalism. There are 450 tribes in the DRC, each with its own dialect, culture, and territory and no concept of tolerance. Additionally, corruption plagues the judicial system, so people must handle disputes in their own way.
Lewis entered the college in his district, the Universite Officielle de Bukavu, very near the border with Rwanda. Besides his regular church and choir attendance and soccer during his first year he became a class representative, then the Provincial Students’ Representative the next year and then Provincial Secretary General of the students’ representatives. Lewis used his clout in this position to launch a project that would bring about collaboration among the youth of the area, Rwandan and tribal youth included. He sought and received the necessary support from academic and political authorities. Various activities for the project included “Soccer for Peace,” a drama on HIV/AIDS, and music. The results proved “a great success,” and subsequent friendships developed among the participating youth, including the Rwandan delegation.
In 2005 and again in 2006, Lewis was invited to a lunch with the governor of the province to discuss “important realizations” in the province. During that time, he participated twice in election observation training. Also in 2006, he became executive secretary of a Christian youth association dealing with peace and development in the African Great Lakes region, directly experiencing opportunities for peace-building through conflict resolution. He relies on management skills and accommodating different viewpoints to achieve reconciliations. Lewis coordinates another Christian student organization to combat HIV/AIDS. The following year, Lewis added an ongoing internship first in administration and then in the direction of the American humanitarian NGO Food for the Hungry.
Lewis is not shy about his ambition to contribute to breaking the cycle of conflicts consuming communities in the DRC, the African Great Lakes Region, the whole of Africa, and “later on” in the world by specializing in resolution of international conflicts that lead to international cooperation. He considers HSI a great opportunity for “a poor African guy who has great ambition and a heart for the world.”