More Upstander Stories
Georges Nzabanita Iyamuremye’s story of student activism
Interviewed By Fidel Bafilemba
My name is Georges Nzabanita Iyamuremye and I am from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I am a student at Georgetown College in Kentucky finishing my last semester of undergraduate studies. I was born, grew up and studied in Rutshuru in the North Kivu province and I went to college in Nairobi, Kenya.
Since 1996, I have been surrounded by rebel armies and local militias all violently competing for power in the midst of a crowded civilian population with no infrastructure. In 1996, I lost two cousins who were killed by rebels fronted by the late president Laurent Kabila. In addition, my younger sister and her friends were victims of a mass rape by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda or FDLR, in my village. My family was forced to leave in fear of torture, rape, looting and killings in our neighborhoods by the FDLR together with the local militia. My family and many of our fellow villagers are still living as internally displaced persons, or IDPs, in Congo.
In 2011, I met an American medical doctor, Dr. George Record, who was working for Doctors Without Borders in my hometown of Rutshuru. I told him that I was passionate about contributing to the peace process in eastern Congo by trying to get involved with local Congolese communities working towards sustainable development, and by spreading this peacebuilding effort throughout the Great Lakes region. When I explained my desire to gain greater skills in peacebuilding and advocacy for peace and conflict resolution, Dr. Record accepted to support me for one year and a half to move to the U.S. and finish my studies in sociology and sustainable community development.
The conflicts in eastern Congo have been mostly fueled by natural resources which rebel groups smuggle through neighboring countries such as Rwanda and Uganda. Rebels in eastern Congo have no plan to change the regime of Kinshasa which is characterized by corruption in private and public sectors, but rather they are more interested in plundering the Congo’s natural resources for their own gain. I understand that I must do something to advocate for peace by uniting my experiences and knowledge with organizations which believe in human rights.
At the end of September 2013, my American sponsor, Dr. Record sent me a link to the Enough Project website. I opened the link and when I saw their mission to “to end genocide and crimes against humanity” I was so excited to contact them and see how I could get involved. In early October, Annie Callaway, the Advocacy Associate and Coordinator for the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative at Enough, contacted me and I shared with her my dreams to work for peace and reconciliation for a sustainable development in my country. I was invited to an event titled “Celebrating Congo” sponsored by Yole!Africa in North Carolina, where I was able to engage in fruitful discussions concerning advocacy and strategies for obtaining peace in eastern Congo and I became even more passionate to join the Raise Hope for Congo campaign and promote peace in Congo and the Great Lakes region.
Today, I am the campus leader of Conflict-Free Campus Initiative at Georgetown College. Twenty-two students are part of our chapter and we have gained the support of many more on campus, including Dr. Melissa Scheier, the head of the political science department and our faculty advisor. We recently hosted our first big event called “Raise Hope for Congo”, which was attended by over 80 people who were interested in learning more about the conflict in Congo, and hearing about how they can help. The Georgetown College CFCI chapter has amazing, committed students dedicated to raising awareness about the ongoing conflict in eastern Congo and asking our college to pass a resolution to support conflict-free electronics products.
I will graduate in December, and am now working to make sure that CFCI will continue its work at Georgetown College after I leave. I hope to find an internship with a human rights organization so that I can continue to build my knowledge about this type of work. I plan to return to my home in Congo soon, where I want to get involved with local Congolese communities by founding my own organization focused on reconciliation and peacebuilding for a sustainable development through a communal reflection on the root causes of the cycle of violence we have experienced for almost two decades. By combining the local, national, regional, and international effort for peace, we can prevent the social and environmental crises caused by war, and make Congo and the world a safer place to live for every person.
- UPDATES since Georges wrote his blog
- In November 2013, Georges traveled to Washington DC along with another CFCI student to hand deliver a student-led open letter to Special Envoy Russ Feingold, asking Feingold to prioritize conflict-free sourcing and paving the way for democratic elections in Congo. The letter was signed by student leaders from 73 schools. At the meeting, Georges had the opportunity to tell his personal story and explain to the Special Envoy how he felt student activism like CFCI will help promote peace in his home country.
- Georges’ passionate campus activism left an undeniable mark on his fellow students, which compelled them to continue pursuing a CFCI resolution even after he had graduated and gone back to Congo. As a result of this persistent activism, Georgetown College adopted a conflict-free procurement policy in June 2016. The CFCI students then went on to successfully lobby for a city resolution which passed in June 2017. (see profile on Jacqui Johns for more on this)
- Georges returned to his community in Congo and founded the organization “Peacebuilding Initiatives for a Sustainable Development in Eastern Congo” which works to promote the culture of justice and peace for a sustainable development and facilitate conflict resolution through dialogue and non violent ways. He is also the headmaster of a high school and continues to push for grassroots solutions to Congo’s political and social crises.
- Jacqui Johns carried on Georges’ CFCI legacy at Georgetown College, eventually passing a CFCI procurement resolution both on campus and with the city of Georgetown, KY