Congo Week Reflections: My Congo Is…
My Congo is a place of beauty. My Congo is a place of beautiful people. My Congo is what I fight for. My Congo is a place where peace will prevail. My Congo is, and all that that implies.
My name is Nehanda Sankofa-Ra. I am a proud African American, mostly proud of the African part. In 2001, I legally changed my name to an African name to honor my ancestors who were forced to change their names and to affirm my African pride. Since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to travel to Africa. It was a place from which my Ancestors were forced, and in my heart I’ve always wanted to return and bring them back with me.
One day I learned about my Congo — yes, I said my Congo — that one out of five African Americans came from the Congo. Despite never having had my DNA traced, I’ve always had an infatuation with Patrice Lumumba and the Congo; I claim it as I claim all of Africa. When I discovered the atrocities that were taking place there, I was horrified, shocked, and embarrassed that my people could inflict such terror on the innocent. I started my own campaign to educate people about the six million who had died since 1997 and the 500,000 victims of rape.
When I found out that many Western mulit-national companies are involved in the purchasing of conflict minerals, minerals causing the death of innocent people, I felt like I needed to do something. So I organized marches, contacted my government, started petitions, spearheaded letter-writing campaigns, sponsored Congolese children to go to school, and helped to provide micro-loans for rape survivors. My life and my children’s lives have been threatened as a result of my work with Congo. That is when I really figured out how serious this matter is and that there are forces that benefit from this genocide.
In December of 2013, my health began to fail, so I closed down my nonprofit. I could no longer tolerate the stress that came with my fight for the Congo; not just the Congo, but for my people everywhere. I decided to give up on my Congo. I know that sounds horrible, but I gave up on helping altogether and decided to focus on things that made me feel good and happy, such as my children, planning my retirement and traveling. But in my heart I knew that this was not possible. In September of 2011, I traveled to Goma and Bukavu, DRC. I was scared to death; I gained weight and was a nervous wreck before the trip. I did not know what to expect — would I encounter rebel rapists or horrible, mean and bitter people? But what I found was something I could only hope and pray for. I found humanity and love. I found people who were survivors and were not ready to give up; people who still had plenty of love in their hearts and land that was so vastly beautiful. I had to ask myself how a land so beautiful could harbor so much rage. I met lifelong friends and people I refer to as family; people who came from near and far to tell me their stories. I remember thinking, “How could so much beauty fall into such a tragic story?” A land cursed by the very thing that makes others rich.
For the next few years it was their strength that kept me going. Who am I to give up fighting for them? I felt energy leaving my body when the word “Congo” was even mentioned. I would think about the suffering of my Congolese family, and then nightmares would start. When The Africa Channel contacted me, I passed this information on to others. I wanted nothing to do with it, but this morning one of my Congolese brothers sent me photos from murders that occurred last week — pictures that you will not find on any major news channel. Pictures they have sent me many times; bloody pictures of murdered helpless children and people. Pictures I have forwarded time and time again to news sources and to people in Congress and nothing is ever done. Pictures that have stolen my soul and pleasant dreams and replaced them with nightmares and many sleepless nights. I was foolish to think that I could ever turn a blind eye to what is happening in the Congo. It is not only my duty as a human being and an African, but as a daughter of The Almighty. The Congo story is infused in my DNA, and it is far too late to stop having these nightmares; the only way they will stop is if I stay involved.
This is a global problem, but it starts with us. African people, we cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening in the Congo; they are our family. We need to stand up and yell at the top of our voices until we are heard! Join me in aiding organizations that are helping, such as my favorite, African Focus Inc. Contact your government and let them know you want help for the Congo.
“If you put kittens in an oven, they don’t come out biscuits.” Malcolm X