By Georges Budagu Makoko, Publisher

Since 2019, Maine has welcomed a significant number of newly arrived asylum seekers from DR Congo. Many of them are housed at shelters and motels in the greater Portland area. Some have made their way to Lewiston-Auburn and other municipalities, where they are trying to integrate into life in Maine. These are asylum seekers who crossed numerous countries in search of a safe place to live. Many arrived in the U.S. through the southern border. 

We are no longer a disconnected world, but rather a global village, where what happens on one side of the world affects us all, both directly and indirectly. We must do our best to solve global disputes before they escalate war, with its terrible consequences. We can work across the aisle on this. Those who complain about immigrants should understand that most are here because of the continued effects of colonialism, and because of superpower policies, including those of the U.S. 

Added to outside influence, DR Congo suffers from bad governance, corruption, the absence of the rule of law, and systemic injustice. These have weakened public institutions and left power in the hands of a tiny minority of Congolese who hold key positions and grab the resources of the country for themselves and their families and friends. And because systems are broken, the people who commit atrocious acts and devastate the country do not fear justice. Instead, they blithely carry on causing havoc and inflicting pain on millions of people’s lives. 

August 13 was the anniversary of the 2004 Gatumba Massacre, where 163 people from the ethnic minority Banyamulenge community were killed in Burundi, and more than 200 others were wounded. Following the massacre, the U.S. settled more than 10,000 refugees from the Banyamulenge community in over 45 cities and 30 states. For the last 18 years, the community has commemorated the Gatumba massacre and has called for justice to be served. The first commemoration was held here in Portland in 2005. 

Survivors of the Gatumba massacre who live in the U.S. have formed Gatumba Refugees Survivor Foundation (GRSF), in collaboration with Mahoro Peace Association – the organization that oversees all the Banyamulenge in the U.S. These two organizations hosted a commemoration August 11-13 at the Sheraton Hotel in South Portland, where people from different states gathered to remember their loved ones. The theme of this year’s event was “Justice denied is a denial of human rights.”  

I talked to Adele Kibasumba, President of Mahoro Peace Association, and survivor of the Gatumba massacre, who expressed her deep dismay about the lack of justice in DR Congo:  “19 years of waiting for justice is way too long. We must not give up until justice is served But what is even more disheartening is that our people continue to be killed.” 

In October 2011, I lost my cousin, who was killed in a brutal attack along with seven other humanitarian workers at the hands of the Mai Mai Yakutumba, an infamous rebel movement in southern Kivu. Since that time, my family and community have been advocating for justice to be served, but to no avail. Unless a person has faced injustice and discrimination themselves, they can never fully experience the pain of injustice and discrimination felt by those who experience it firsthand. But they can try and imagine how it feels. And they can work for a better world. Sitting back and hoping that someone else is going to do the work of justice – while talking about its importance – is hypocritical. 

I left Congo at the age of 21, and this year marks my 21st anniversary of living in Maine. I have never had a chance to return due to safety concerns. Most of my adulthood and professional life have been here, and I am raising three Mainers. I pray for peace here in Maine and in the U.S. in general. At the same time, I advocate for justice for the millions of people around the world who suffer so much.

To all the victims of corruption and tyranny around the world, I hope that you will someday live in a country that is relatively free of injustice and violence. I have been lucky enough to do so.