The Democratic Republic of Congo, or D.R. Congo, was, in 2013, ”one of the most dangerous places in the world…second to last of all countries on the Human Development Index [HDI].” It’s “the central African nation [with] one of the world’s lowest rates of electrification” with less than 20% of the country able to access proper electricity (about 50% in urban areas). Rigging work-around solutions remains part of life in much of D.R., affecting public safety, the ability of children to do their homework after dusk, cooking, and pollution (much of the energy is produced by burning).
The rest of the story is not optimistic: “ongoing conflict, mismanagement of resources, and a lack of investment have resulted in food insecurity; almost 30% of children under the age of 5 are malnourished. The overall coverage of basic public services – education, health, sanitation, and potable water...is very limited and piecemeal, with substantial regional and rural/urban disparities. Fertility remains high at almost 5 children per woman and it’s likely to remain high because of the low use of contraception and the cultural preference for larger families.”
D.R. Congo is a country with rich natural resources, and “…the largest hydropower resources in Africa, giving it the potential to not only meet its own energy demands very cost-effectively but to become the continent’s largest power exporter.”
Noel K. Tshiani M. was a kid in D.R. Congo. In 2016, he was a World Bank economist proposing a 15-year plan to make things better for his country: focus on education, health and nutrition, especially for women; promote the rule of law, peace and democracy by restructuring the police and army; improve national and regional leadership to encourage investment. Build infrastructure by hiring local people to create an economic opportunity, turn natural resources and tourism into sustainable industries; and so on. “We know from recent experience that great progress is possible, even in the poorest, most fragile corners of the world—progress that conveys prosperity and security not only for individual economies but, in this era of fast-moving global threats, for us all.”
So there’s one key: if adults don’t take care of business in D.R. Congo, and in dozens of other African countries with similar stories, our darkest fears are more likely to come true.
Another key: most kids know almost nothing about D.R. Congo. If we continue to rely upon school and media to educate them, they will become adults who know almost nothing about D.R. Congo.
Roughly 2/3 of D.R. Congo’s population can access the internet (reliable only on mobile, mostly text and audio, but that’s a start). What would happen if young people in Norway, South Korea, Canada, Qatar and Mexico started communicating with young people in D.R. Congo? What would happen if they started to teach one another about their home countries, and talked about their brothers and sisters and best friends, footballers, math problems, global warming, college or career plans, bullying, or baking cookies? Just outside Kinshasa, there’s a really good snake farm (Serpents du Congo), and in Doha, in Qatar, you can visit a shopping mall exclusively for falcons and falconers. In Teotihuacan, Mexico, kids can climb really old and truly gigantic pyramids. Polar bears are amazing—and they live in only 5 countries of the world (Norway and Canada are 2 of them). Fili fili, chikwanga, bulgoki, machboos, poutine, margoog, bibimbop, fårikål, reindeer for dinner. There’s a lot to talk about.
If we keep this going, and take it to scale (lots of classrooms, lots of willing teachers, lots of kids), kids will grow up knowing something about peers in other places. That small piece may not be enough to shift D.R. Congo into a higher gear, but it will encourage kids who live there to think differently, and it will cause those who live elsewhere to care about a country they may not have thought much about.