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Campus concerns and Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo is miles away from their dorms and lecture halls, but students on college campuses across Maryland are increasingly interested in the central African country that Jan Egeland, the former U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, calls "the killing fields of our generation." At Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 50-60 students gathered last Tuesday to see a film about the journey of a young Congolese rape survivor and hear a panel of experts discuss the war there. That same night, Towson University hosted another event, and this week, Loyola College and Howard Community College are holding similar programs -- to get the word out about the atrocities taking place in Eastern Congo.

My name is Makeda Crane, and as a member of The Baltimore Sun's editorial staff, I'm guest blogging in this space today about the Congo, which I recently visited. It's not surprising to me that college students in Maryland would be hungry for information about this country. The tragedy under way there is enormous -- nearly 6 million people have died since the conflict began in 1996, and hundreds of thousands of women have been raped and tortured in the warring scramble for Eastern Congo's geostrategic minerals.

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In 2006, then-Sen. Barack Obama sponsored a bill addressing the situation in Congo, and he said, "If Africa is to achieve its promise, resolving the problems in the Congo is critical." He's right because its resources are so abundant and its location, bordered by nine other countries, is so central that a peaceful Congo could help provide and uplift Africans throughout the continent.

At both the Towson and Hopkins events, panel members debunked a major myth about the conflict in Congo -- the notion that the root cause is based on ethnicity. They unanimously agreed that the crisis in Congo is a battle waged by Rwanda and Uganda (with support from the U.S. and Britain) and foreign multinational corporations over who will control Congo's vast mineral resources of coltan, cobalt, copper, tin, tungsten, gold and diamonds. These key minerals are used in the military, aerospace, cell phone, electronics and computer industries.

Resolution of the conflict in the Congo won't occur by military means. The international community must exert political and diplomatic pressure to free the Congolese from this violence.  Students in Maryland should make their voices heard.

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