Avocats Sans Frontières, active in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 2002, would not be able to act without its partners. It is for this reason that, today, we wanted to give voice to them. These men and women told us about their everyday life, their realities and their convictions. Through a series of profiles, you can meet these figures who represent the Diocesan Commission for Justice andPeace in Boma, the Congolese League against Corruption and the Network of Observers.
They are all working on the project, “Putting the interests of local populations at the heart of natural resource management: transparency, accountability and protection of rights,” in the province of Kongo Central and, more specifically, in the coastal zone of Muanda. (more information here)
Speaking today is Marceline Nzati, a sister at the Diocesan Commission for Justice and Peace in Boma (DCJP). At the end of a workshop held on 22 November 2019 in Boma, within the province of Kongo Central in RDC, we met with her to ask a few questions. She told us about herself, and about the importance for local populations to regain control over the management of natural resources and of the role that women can play in reclaiming these questions.
Marceline:defending human dignity through knowledge of the law
What was your personal journey? How did you end up at DCJP?
I went to primary and secondary school in the Congo, and then I was a primary school teacher for a few years before I left to study in Kinshasa. At the capital, I followed Catechesis, as I was very interested in religious and Christian education for youth and adults. The supervisors then offered to send me to Lourdes, to a formation centre for nuns. After three years, I finished my studies at the Catholic University of Lille, France, and in 1990 I returned to the Congo.
When the DCJP was created, I was offered to be a part of it. I have been working there for over 20 years now!
Can you tell me about the DCJP?
It is an organ of the church that works for human rights, social justice, and peace. Our aim is to create harmonious relationships in society, not only between humans, but also between humans and the environment. Mainly, we raise awareness and educate about human rights, women’s rights and the rights of those in the most vulnerable groups of society. We want people to know their rights.
You know, rights are inalienable prerogatives of individuals, they are a part of human dignity. As soon as a person is born, he/she is a subject of law, has duties and rights, so he/she must know that, because one cannot defend his dignity if he does not know his rights. This is not only important for men, but also for women, because there are still more women than men who know nothing about their rights, here at Kongo Central.
The Church’s social doctrine talks a lot about the dignity of the person, rights, social justice and peace. These are all themes that concern us and that is why we travel to different parishes, together with other Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to raise awareness of people’s rights. We also address new themes, such as combatting violence against women and the principles of good governance.
The DCJP is also part of the Observatory of Natural Resources (ONR). The ONR is a guarantor of the Episcopal Commission for Natural Resources. Today, natural resources are a real issue because the lives of human beings are at stake.
Natural resources must be managed by one with an objective of developing himself and his loved ones, but also in the best interest of future generations. We believe that it is essential to explain to populations that access to natural resources is a right, that communities can exploit these resources and reap the benefits of these resources. This is not something that only concerns the villagers, it also concerns the political community and businesses.
Those in power should help us have good natural resource management policies, but they do not. We expect them to help people know their rights, to collaborate, to actively participate in natural resource management processes and to benefit from what natural resources produce.
Then there are the businesses too. They come from the outside and have the necessary equipment to operate. We must therefore get to know these businesses, reach out to them and collaborate with them because it is not only they who should benefit from these resources, but the indigenous people too. The resources are there for everyone; if you are here you can benefit from them! But when we share our resources with you, with businesses, we have the right to know how they are exploited and we have the right to participate in the management process.
Why did you feel it was relevant to work with ASF?
We are civil society, we are with the populations, it is important that we can come together to defend our rights, those of the Congolese populations, of the communities…that is why we are working with ASF.
What we like about ASF, is also that they are people who live here. They understand the realities; they see the inequalities in what is shared. So when they come we are happy, we are sure that we have partners who are going to help us protect our rights. Working together in this field, to help the people know that they have wealth and that they have the right to benefit from it – which many people do not know – is very important to us. We have wealth, now it must be used for our own wellbeing and development.
After thanking Marceline, we asked her if there was any other subject that is important to her, if she wanted to talk about anything else. She replied straight away:
It is important to talk about women. We try to talk about women, but sometimes we don’t know the arguments, so when we meet legal experts, lawyers, who talk about the governance of natural resources and women, based on a legal basis, this help us a lot. I, for example, am not a legal expert, so there are a lot of factors that I don’t understand, so speaking about them is important. You know, we often say here that thought is the mother of science, so we need to talk about it in order to retain and to learn, and then to pass it on.
Another member of the CDJP, Elie, agrees and speaks:
We must pay particular attention to women during our awareness raising. Even if they come, we must work to ensure that they come in greater numbers and, above all, that they participate. One day, we came for awareness-raising and we realized that the time was approaching but there were not a lot of people. We asked the leaders to go to people’s homes and convince them to come. When they arrived, there were a lot of chairs and the men sat down on the chairs. The women sat down beside them, on the floor. That, that is the culture. Here, the woman gives way to the man; her place is far away, on the floor. They come, but they don’t say anything or come close, even when there are chairs left!
When we speak about gender in the DRC, we must speak not only about the woman but the man too. Both must be sensitized. At certain times, it is important to have awareness raising aimed at women and youth…but for it to be balanced within the community, the objective is, in the long run, that men and women are sensitized together.
The dialogue continues and Elie adds:
Yes! So, we need women like Maître Annie (see following portrait), who set an example, who speak out, showing them that its possible. It is “a dose of tonicity” to encourage other women to do the same.
Marceline concludes this interview, joining the two issues:
Talking about gender and talking about governance is a right. The very fact of existing gives access to these rights, especially the right to participation. You see, everything is linked…because sustainable development cannot be achieved without communities, and communities cannot be without women, without their participation, without their rights being realised.
It is also very important to talk about sustainable development because today the Congolese population suffers so much that the only thing that matters for them is the present: “I am hungry, I need to eat now,” and once we have found something to eat, we wait for the next day and then we start again. But that is not what sustainable development is all about! Sustainable development is now, tomorrow, and the day after. It is for us, for men, for women, for children, and for generations to come – and that must be said. So we, on a daily basis, try to spread the message.
The overall objective of the project is to contribute to the transparent management of natural resources in accordance with human rights. More specifically, it aims to support the involvement and participation of concerned populations in order to (i) ensure the transparency of natural resource management processes and the fight against corrupt practices and (ii) protect and realise their rights in this framework.
The project contributes to the emergence of the essential conditions for an inclusive, sustainable and human rights-based development. It does so by empowering local populations so that they are fully able to play a role in the natural resource management processes, as well as accompanying them in order to guarantee the protection of their rights.