“I used to feel lucky to be born in Congo. Now, it’s a problem to be born in Congo.” Arsène Lumpali, human rights lawyer from South Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has seen the country of his birth, which he describes as “beautiful with extraordinary potential,” go down a dark path.
“As a child growing up in the 1980s, it was a peaceful time. The climate was pleasant, and we had an abundance of local produce like cassava, sweet potato, sorghum, bananas, and other fruits. Rice arrived, which we liked, although it never really became part of our food culture. Foufou, a Congolese starch staple made from cassava and corn flower, was available all over the Congo but most prevalent in the west. People performed traditional dances at weddings and to celebrate the birth of a child. Kids would invent and play all kinds of games. It was a great time to be young. And then the war came.”
That war, known as Africa’s first world war, and the continued violence and unrest that followed, constitute a sad and stark contrast to Arsène’s fond childhood memories. But it’s exactly those memories that help him, and other brave human rights defenders like him, to stay vigilant in the work which Arsène hopes will eventually help restore some of the peacefulness he remembers so vividly.
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Photo credit: Bebe Blanco Agterberg
This interview is part of a series of change maker stories that I wrote for the Dutch non-profit organization Justice & Peace Netherlands.