I have never heard of her before; and it is fair to assume that many more would wonder if they were asked who Leah Chishugi was.
Nonetheless once my eyes landed on the TV screen where the BBC anchor Stephen Sackur was interviewing her for the program HeardTalk, they could no longer tune off. Her voice was melodious and controlled, covering up a story of misfortunes and trials, of tragedy and hatred, a story of indifference and outrage. She has a beautiful face, enlightened by the vigor of her still young age, and a smile that majestically hide the brutality of her story. The tone of her voice also revealed her abiding faith in the responsibility of all humans when injustice or crime occurs somewhere.
I had to sit in my sofa after a gloomy day where the last thing anyone would welcome is a call to attention. I had to listen to her story and she powerfully rendered the sufferings and distress that Congolese women are going through in that tormented African country. A brutal war has been recently waged by a slate of rebel groups led by the Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda and the Congolese regular army.
What makes her story poignant is how it shed blinding light on the indifference of the world, its inconsistency and ultimately incapacity to learn anything at all from History.
It is no secret that the seeds of this current conflict were planted in the 90’s. Then, the Rwandan conflict- which resulted in the massacre of nearly a million Tutsis- dramatically shook the stability of the whole sub-region. Millions of people were displaced including a substantial number of Hutus- the perpetrators of the genocide- who found refuge in North-East Congo after they lost power in Rwanda. Though there is still reason to be satisfied with the halting of the genocide, the powers in place and the international community did not do much to secure a lasting solution.
I remember the outpouring of dismay and shock as the evidences of the mass murder were revealed to the world to see in late 1994. The scope of the evil was beyond grasp and the leaders around the world engaged in a procession of hardly contrite confessions of failure. The two leaders who had much to say and certainly could have used their leverage to make a difference and stop that nightmare were Francois Mitterrand and Bill Clinton.
The former was during that shameful period president of France, a country with historical ties to Rwanda as former colonial power. As such this country had the capacity to interfere in local affairs to protect human rights and human life when the local state failed to do so. Moreover the very concept of “Humanitarian interference” was invented and championed by a French doctor and activist. He was appalled by the world’s indifference and lack of solidarity with the victims of the Biafra war in the aftermath of which he created the organization “Medecins sans frontières”. It has taken Mitterrand numerous verbal contortions to explain his apathy but he never convinced anyone; there could be no justification in failing to prevent that genocide.
Bill Clinton had a responsibility as large if not bigger than Mitterrand’s in what had happened in Rwanda in 1994. If there are valid reasons to doubt he preeminence of the US in world geopolitics today after its latest foreign policy blunders, the squeezing of its economy and its fading moral authority worldwide under the leadership of George Bush, there should be no doubt that in the nineteen’s America stood alone as the world de factor super power after the collapse of the Soviet Union. As president, Bill Clinton had the unique opportunity to put his weight behind a committed world community to stave off the evil doers in Rwanda and deny them safety in crime.
They failed miserably and so did all of us whether we are in position of power or not, because the responsibility should not be limited to decision makers alone.
Often times, we see how touched we seem to be when we witness human tragedies from afar, how we are keen to open up our wallets to give money to charities collecting the pieces after drama has struck, how we are ready to attend concerts for humanitarian purpose where stars for a moment made themselves the voice of all people left behind in the world and left to die in loneliness and powerlessness.
That needs to change.
As I watched her calmly recounting the atrocities she has gone through and how she could not just settle in the comfort of London and see her sisters being raped, killed and displaced in Northern Congo, I began to picture the situation, vividly.
She reminded us of the women of the Kivu region (North of Congo), being raped, displaced and killed. Those women deeply believe that they are forgotten; and no one beyond the green hills of their immediate horizon care about their daily ordeals. That is why they were so grateful and thrilled to see her brave multiple dangers to bring them hope. She was the first person from "the outside world" to reach the villages, thanks to her ability to blend in with locals and able to speak 15 local languages. But let us agree on this: she is not the ONLY one in “the outside world” capable of reaching the same place. The difference is plain simple: she made a choice.
What is asked of us ultimately is not to stand up, take our weapons and fight wherever it is doomed necessary. Instead what should be legitimately expected of us is merely to pay attention; and let it be known that what happens thousands miles away from home and its safety matters to us as long as humanity is involved. That should never be understood as wishful thinking or naïve idealism. In fact it is in our own interest as the consequences might reverberate to reach our lives or homes directly or indirectly. As we speak, what is going on in the coasts of Somalia where pirates now decide the fate of more and more ships is a reminder of what could happen if we fail to act? We have been watching this country crumbled for years without realizing that as remote as it is it remains an integral part of the world. And now we see the consequences of negligence as lawlessness and impunity rule. No one can dispute the fact that there plenty of similar situations around the world.
Paying attention and hearing the numerous voices yearning for justice around the world should no longer be the prerogative of leaders but of us all. I came to that conclusion after watching and hearing Lea Chishugi. She has no agenda of her own, she is not promoting a film or a book or an album and wants to draw attention on her own person. Indeed she made it clear in her own words during an interview with The UK Guardian “I am not a politician but I want to let the world know what is going on” December 5th 2008.
The reason I am so absorbed by this voice is simple- her outcry is genuine. In her eyes one feels the horror she saw and her determination to fight it; should it be with bear hands and alone against the world. I want to let her know that she is not alone.
I would rather listen to that voice and react to its call than line up for a concert designed to raise funds and build schools for orphaned children from that region years from now.
I would rather follow her now and act now than filling up a petition sent by Amnesty International technocrats or fund raisers from Red Cross or any other organization for that matter. We have a choice; either we are more concerned by the survival of those organizations that solely thrive in the misery, destruction and despair of the unfortunate, or we make the pledge to render them less relevant and needed.
Already the European Union has indicated its reservations regarding the likelihood of an armed intervention to stop the conflict even though some member states such as Spain, Belgium and France have available and ready combat troops to carry that mission. What stopped that possibility to materialize is political considerations or said differently what is it for the Europeans to gain? Nothing!
The alternative has been to seek escape and cover by urging the deployment of African and some Asian troops well aware of their inability to carry properly any mission. They lack training and material and experience.
Denmark is so far content with formal and uncompromising statements of pure diplomatic character. Basically no one cares. Yet we know how devastating it is to revisit the horrors of Slavery, the Holocaust, of Bosnia, of Palestine, Rwanda and the list can never be exhaustive. So let us try in this Christmas season to hear Lea voice and recognize in it the voice of all those who yearn to reclaim their due place in the concert of Humanity; whether they hail in Congo or Gaza, or anywhere in this world.
I hear you Leah!
Aziz Fall -December 19, 2009
to see video posted on guardian.co.uk of Leah Chishugi (correspondent)