In the Newsroom

December 3, 2008
Giving a human face to Congo’s conflict

Displaced children in eastern Congo. Photo: Michael J. Kavanagh

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.

The Virunga rangers are the bulwark keeping armed groups from completely overrunning the park; over 100 rangers have been innocent casualties of the fighting over the years.

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

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Comments

10 comments

#10

[...] an introduction, a reminder by journalist Michael [...]

#9

This is a complicated story and a complicated war. The costs to individuals like Pascal, Vestine and a million others today (`1.1 million displaced in North Kivu) is incalculable, yet the business doesn’t stop. Without stories, the lives of people in the US will go on without thinking about Pascal and Vestine in ways that might urge them to pick up their phones and call their representatives…enough that the representatives will listen and act. Peace is possible, but not without huge international pressure on Congo’s government and those of the neighboring countries. Business is making too much money to quit quietly.

#8

Michael…came across this on facebook…keep up the good work. Too many people here are so uninformed. Be safe buddy!

#7

[...] introduzione, un promemoria del giornalista Michael Kavanagh: Faccio il corrispondente in DRC da cinque anni ormai, e non [...]

#6

[...] an introduction, a reminder by journalist Michael Kavanagh: I’ve been reporting on DRC for five years now, and there’s [...]

#5

The world has seen these images over and over since 1994 when the Mobutu regime was toppled by the Rwandan backed coalition. What the people of COngo are experiencing now is the remnants of the deals that were made then by the Clinton Administration to the Rwandan Patriotic Army led by Mr. Kagame with the blessings of the British government of Tony Blair. This not news any longer, the really news will be to take MONUC out of CONGO and to sanction any country that has profited from these atrocities. Any concern citizen of the free world knows exactly what is happening in the Congo;this is economic occupation by the Rwandan government and a vaccum of leadership on part of the congolese government as simple as that. The really issue is the lethargy of the international community to address the pressing points to end the butchery of innocents civilian and the destruction of the fabric of the society, like that future teacher. For crying out loud why can’t we take the courage to report on really issues by denouncing the perpetrators of the mass cleasing going on in Congo. It amaze me to see people reacting on this forum by applauding this report as superb, what is so superb about it if the really issues are not brought to light.

#4

Ryan - I appreciate your point. I hope we can find a way to do that. Thanks for writing. michael

#3

I just watched it and I thought it was superb - intelligent,
coherent, focused, and deeply moving.

#2

Congratulations!!! The piece on the Congo was excellent. In fact the entire program on Dec 3 was one of the best…and the Congo piece (and
the website treatment and links) was superior. You managed to tell a story about hundreds of thousands of people through the eyes of a few of those involved…maintaining a wonderful balance of the breadth of the horror and how individuals and families are affected by the horror.

Martin

#1

I know that the ‘family filter’ was the easiest way to tell a story of great inconvenience and pain, but now that there have been updates to the camp, since the rebels took it, we really must see how it’s affected Pascal’s family in order to understand the big picture. It means that you have to find Pascal.

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