Michael J. Kavanagh is a journalist with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. He recently reported on the crisis in eastern Congo for Worldfocus: The story of Pascal and Vestine. Here, he writes about his experience covering the conflict.
The conflict in Congo is too complicated to explain in a five-minute video, so we’ve left most of the context out in order to focus on Pascal’s story. For more background on the recent fighting, check out my Q&A on history, rebels and crisis in eastern Congo.
I’ve been reporting on DRC for five years now, and there’s nothing that frustrates me more than the dismissive comments I often get about how conflict in Africa is endemic.
Violence is rarely irrational — it almost always has root causes that can be addressed. We’re often just too busy or lazy to learn enough about a situation to figure out how.
Given the extent of the outside world’s involvement in Congo over the last century, I am of the school that says we owe it to Pascal, Vestine, their two children and the millions who are suffering in Congo to try.
As Taylor Krauss and I filmed in these camps, people were saying they hadn’t eaten in days and they hadn’t received food aid from humanitarian groups in months.
And then there’s the violence. It sometimes seems that every other woman you interview is a victim of sexual violence (we’ll air a piece about this in the coming weeks); an equal number of men have been tortured, killed, or forced to fight in armed groups.
These conditions make reporting in eastern Congo extremely difficult — read Taylor’s account of our detention by Congo’s notorious secret police.
We couldn’t have done our work without the help of many brave and generous Congolese citizens, United Nations staff and humanitarian workers. The International Rescue Committee — in particular, Danielle de Knocke van der Meulen, Lia Pozzi, Fidel Bafilemba and Elinor Raikes — were hospitable and patient with the sometimes burdensome requirements of television.
IRC is one of the few aid groups that consistently sends aid workers into the most dangerous places in the world, even when the danger is most acute. They save hundreds of lives every day.
We also need to thank the people at Virunga National Park who gave us the footage of the fighting in Rumangabo. Virunga is home to an extraordinary array of wildlife — from gorillas to gazelles to hippos. It’s also one of the main centers of war.
When the war ends and Virunga is again a naturalist’s paradise (it seems crazy even to write about that possibility at the moment), we’ll have the rangers to thank for preserving it.
– Michael J. Kavanagh