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Student activist focuses on Congo
"See those trees," Musavuli might say randomly to a friend. "They were imported from the Congo."They weren't really. But that's how Musavuli's mind works -- always finding a way to talk about the Congo.
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In the past decade, nearly 6 million people have died in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That's more casualties than Iraq, Afghanistan and Darfur combined. It is the deadliest conflict since World War II. Close to half the casualties are children younger than 5 years old. The causes for such bloodshed could take an African history professor an entire semester to try to explain. But at the heart of it is the scramble for the country's vast mineral wealth: diamonds, gold, copper, tin and coltan, a metal used in cell phones, computers and pagers. The Congo produces 80 percent of the world's coltan. Congolese people are exploited -- even dying -- for these minerals.
It's Musavuli's mission to spread the word about the atrocities there. Because if he can get enough people to care, then maybe it will instigate change.
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What can one college student do to change a nation? Well, if that student is Kambale Musavuli, it's simple: Get the word out. By any means possible.
Musavuli, an intern for the advocacy agency Friends of the Congo, visits local and state politicians to talk to them about the Congo. He asks their support to create a Congo Caucus and fund more humanitarian aid efforts. Earlier this year, he attended Unity, an annual conference for Asian, black, Latino and American Indian journalists. He asked journalists there why the media doesn't cover the Congo as it does Darfur.
The U.N. estimates that about 500,000 have died in Darfur since the conflict began in 2003. The New York Times reported in January that about 45,000 people in the Congo die each month.
"Figuratively, Darfur happens in the Congo every five and a half months," Musavuli often says. At that rate, the population of Greensboro would be wiped out in less than six months.
In September, Musavuli attended a press conference in Washington to bring attention to the Congo conflicts. There, he met Danny Glover and Al Sharpton.
All of this leads to Break the Silence Congo Week Oct. 19-25.
Musavuli started working two years ago to get A&T students involved in raising awareness about the Congo. Earlier this year, Musavuli organized a successful cell-phone boycott to call attention to the exploitation and deaths of Congolese people for the coltan used in cell phones. It's an easy way to get people engaged because it involves simply turning your phone off. Organizers encourage participants to explain the reason for the boycott in their voice-mail greetings.
The concept for Congo Week grew out of the cell-phone boycott. Musavuli now heads an international team of college students organizing Congo Week events on their own campuses. Students from Brazil to Belgium, Australia to Thailand and throughout the U.S. are hosting panel discussions, film screenings and prayer vigils. Locally, Musavuli works with students at UNCG and N.C. A&T. The schedule includes film screenings at both campuses, interfaith prayer vigils at local churches and a six-hour cell-phone usage boycott.
Many Congo Week organizers are non-Africans, such as Nate Houghton. The 19-year-old Cornell University sophomore leads the group Cornellians for the Congo. Congo Week events there will include a film about revered Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, and a charity basketball tournament.
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