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Ben Affleck launches initiative for Congo aid

March 23rd, 2010
07:49 PM ET

By George Lerner; Producer, AMANPOUR.

(CNN) - Actor Ben Affleck on Monday launched a grassroots initiative to assist communities ravaged by war in one of the most troubled places on earth, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Affleck, who just returned from a trip to the DRC, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour that he had long heard about the crisis in Congo, which has left more than 5 million people dead over the past 12 years, but only came to understand the scope of the humanitarian crisis after repeated visits to the country.

"The more I traveled, the more I was struck about it, the more I fell in love with the people, the more I was horrified by what was happening. And the more I did, I started to develop this idea of partnering with the Congolese people and wanting to empower community-based organizations there that were doing extraordinary work," Affleck said.

Affleck on Monday announced the launch of the Eastern Congo Initiative, an effort to support community organizations working to help rape victims and to rebuild from a decade of war.

"There are folks who are working to protect those who are suffering from gender-based violence, who help child soldiers to advance the educational needs of the citizens there." Affleck told Amanpour. "There are people who live in the communities, who are from there, who understand the relationships there, who are Africans finding solutions to African problems. And when I was there, what I saw was that those were, in my view, the most effective folks at meeting those goals."

One of those groups, Affleck said, was an organization known as LAV, the French acronym for "Let Africa Live," which taught practical trades, such as carpentry, auto mechanics and textile production, to reintegrate both former soldiers and victims of the violence back into society.

Affleck cited the case of one woman whom he met on his trip last week. She had survived a horrifying ordeal at the hands of a militia in Eastern Congo.

"They, in her words, treated her like an animal and a slave. She was a bush wife to six men who raped her. She became pregnant. She eventually escaped by asking basically permission to take a bath and making a mad run for it," he said. "She barely escaped with her life. She walked for a week and made it back to the city. She was homeless, pregnant, and destitute in the city. She was discovered by folks from (LAV). They took her in. They brought her into this community."

Through the work of LAV, the woman is now attending to law school, with plans to practice and teach law, Affleck said.

"She's an extraordinary woman, and (LAV) was the kind of group that we want to partner with and support so that we can broaden their capacity to do more."

Congo analyst Jason Stearns, who worked in Eastern Congo's war zones with the International Crisis Group and the United Nations, said the problems in Congo could be traced to two sources: the ongoing after-effects of the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the collapse of the Congolese state.

"We're not going to have a solution to the problem - and to the rapes, for that matter - until we have a Congolese state and army that serves the people, rather than preys on the people," Stearns said. "Four billion dollars is currently the amount the international community gives to the Congo for various things, and they've done a great job in emergency stuff, in feeding displaced people, but really a very poor job in reforming the state institutions that would prevent such a crisis in the future."

Congolese human rights attorney Sylvie Maunga Mbanga said the government needed to focus attention on ending a culture of impunity towards rapists, especially when those rapes are committed by members of the Congolese army.

"We need to punish the perpetrators of sexual violence against women," she said.

Eastern Congo may have received far less international attention than the crisis in Darfur, but Affleck called on Washington to do more to address the humanitarian situation in the DRC.

"The United States really needs to develop a comprehensive policy towards Congo as a whole, much in the same way it did toward Sudan in late 2009, which it doesn't have toward Eastern Congo, despite what a sort of mess the place is," Affleck said.

Filed under:  1 • Democratic Republic of Congo
soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. kraigen atamin

    Among dozen of questions that I may ask Ms Amanpour, one is " What was your original Persian name? and then what the prospect of chosing Western name of Christiane was for you? and why you chose an original Persiki name for your son – Darius?

    March 25, 2010 at 7:47 pm | Reply
  2. linny

    I'm baffled by the world's most respected journalist devoting so much air time to Ben Affleck demanding policy changes in Africa, and Jolie lecturing the world on Haiti. Why wasn't she asked about hijacking Namibia in the biggest publicity stunt ever perpetrated on Africa?

    March 27, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Reply
  3. kelsey s.

    Thank you for drawing attention to the crisis in the DRC. Too little is known about one of the world's most horrific and prolific conflicts, where an estimated fifteen hundred people die per day, and rape as a weapon of war makes the Eastern Congo the most dangerous place in the world for women. I applaud stars like Ben Affleck for using their celebrity to affect change through both grassroots and policy levels. However, while Mr. Affleck showed a deep understanding of and commitment to the issue, he failed to consider an essential linchpin that continues to fuel the conflict: war profiteering through the sale of illicit conflict minerals. These minerals wind up in cell phones, laptops, digital cameras etc of the biggest name brands and in turn, millions of dollars wind up in the hands of the biggest killers and perpetrators of the violence. I implore you place more influence on a holistic approach to ending violence in the Congo, by shedding a dire light on this issue.

    March 28, 2010 at 10:17 pm | Reply
  4. Jules Kitoy

    Dear Ms. Amampour:

    First of all I would like to thank you for having the courage to talk about Congo (Zaire) on CNN in a mammer that relate to these congolese as human lives dying by million.

    Since the resolution of Congolese problem is known and it is relatively simple compared to Irak or even Sudan, I woulk just like to make the following comments:
    Congo, former Zaire, has a subtantial number of informed and educated people in te USA, very fluent in English, who can help a lot in explaining very succintly the way to start addressing the horror that is ravaging the former Zaire, country that used to and still represents hope in Africa.

    Some of us can be instrumental in offering your production services with Congolese names and their political inclinations (affiliations) so that you have a poul from which to draw a number of people who can productively be part of your forum in the futur.

    Once more congratulations for having the courage to bring Congo-Zaire out of its burial site to the living world to inform people that there is a huge country, as big as the western europe combined, that is decaying silently to the total indiffderence of he humanity.

    Thank you much, Christian.


    March 29, 2010 at 11:00 pm | Reply
  5. farhat rawji kara

    Completely agree with kelsey s. She has said exactly what I wanted to say. Thank-you Ben Affleck for your understanding and whole hearted effort to bring AWARENESS and HOPE to my beautiful birthplace DRC.

    March 30, 2010 at 9:40 pm | Reply
  6. patrick mboma

    Dear Ms Amanpour, i followed one of your interview with the Presindent of Rwanda Mr Paul Kagame and you particularly ask him one question related to what actually is happening in the D.R.C, and he answered that i can't be blame for what is happening and ask a question where are the congolese?

    you see when ever this issue comes up any one who abord this topic always try to point fingers but do not try to figure out what can be done?? instead to stop such atrocity. and i saw the message posted by the Secretary of state Mrs Hilary and i was kind of disapointed. for her to say that the state condemn such crimes, but all over the world such crimes is no to entertain. but my real question is with her political influence what have she done? i simply don't like to see such report when live of millions of people are on the line, people like you ,her or me. well i am from CONGO and like the courage and step that Ben took simply because he is an activist. now i would want you Ms Amanpour to hold the same interview with the President of Congo and ask him what is he doing?or done towards that matter with nine neighbouring country, forgetting about political interests but only for the sake of humanity i honnestly fail to understand how 10 president of nations of Africa can't stop that war.

    patrick mboma

    April 6, 2010 at 9:06 pm | Reply
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