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Clarkston celebrates Congo Week October 16-22


Clarkston celebrates Congo Week October 16-22

Michel Lubala Mungereza, on left, and Leon Shombana stand with the Democratic Republic of Congo flag during World Refugee Day at Refuge Coffee Co. in Clarkston on Sunday, June 27. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Clarkston, GA — The city of Clarkston proclaimed October 16-22 to be Congo Week at the city council’s regular meeting on Oct. 4. Congo Week is an internationally coordinated event intended to focus attention on the conflict which has claimed millions of lives in the region since 1996 and to educate the public about the region in general.

People from the Democratic Republic of the Congo are the second-largest group of refugees entering the United States in the past year, and Clarkston’s well-known status as a city that welcomes refugees means there is a significant Congolese presence in the area.

“As the most diverse city per square mile, it is important to recognize our various community groups that make up Clarkston.  Acknowledging Congo Week brings awareness to the millions of lives lost and the ongoing suffering of the Congolese,” said Clarkston Mayor Beverly Burks.

Dede Ntumba is president of the Congolese Community of Atlanta. “We have a long history of being in DeKalb County, as probably the largest refugee community in Georgia,” said Ntumba. “This is a place where we can practice our values.”

He said that DeKalb provides opportunity and access to preserve Congolese culture while connecting with other refugee communities and the larger Atlanta community.

Ntumba said that events like Congo Week provide an opportunity to talk about both the positive potential of the DRC and its troubled history. It’s the largest country in central Africa, with immense wealth in minerals including lithium and cobalt that make modern technology possible.

“Electric cars, TVs, smart phones, all of that comes from Congo,” said Ntumba.

That wealth has enriched outside interests, from the King of Belgium in the 19th century to modern international corporations, while frequently driving tragedy and conflict in the region.

“I think it’s about time we start talking about the DRC. We need to tell the story,” said Ntumba.

Ntumba said that between ten and twelve million people have died in the DRC since 1996, due to invasions from neighboring countries and civil war.

Conscription of child soldiers and other atrocities are common.

“Sex has been used as a weapon of war. International corporations know what is going on, but they just close their eyes,” said Ntumba. He said that many members of the refugee community are women and girls whose male family members were killed and who have experienced sexual violence. Because of their experiences, they need mental health services and other resources beyond just material support.

Burks said that according to the UN Refugee Agency, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remains one of the most complex and long-standing humanitarian crises in Africa, with some 5.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 526,370 refugees and asylum-seekers as of December 2021.

“Recognizing Congo Week in Clarkston helps our residents to learn more about their neighbors and also lets the Congolese community know that the city supports them,” Burks said, adding, “It also provides an opportunity to commemorate the strength and resilience of our Congolese community.”

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