|The Colby Reader|
As a small college isolated from the world for which it is preparing its students, Colby is making tremendous efforts to bring that world to campus. Following the current world-wide increase in human rights awareness, Colby is attempting to raise awareness of human rights abuses around the globe. The newly founded Oak Fellowship is helping the campus and surrounding community of Waterville to gain knowledge of brave people who have fought for their rights and the rights of others in their countries. Amnesty International is slowly becoming a powerful force on campus. And when these two organizations come together anything is possible. Last Thursday, September 23rd, Colby College in association with the Oak Fellowship and Amnesty International sponsored a lecture by Emmanuel Dongala, a writer and human rights activist from Congo. He spoke about human rights in Africa in conjunction with Amnesty International's Banned Books Week, which honors authors nationwide who have had their works censored and banned by their governments.
Dr. Dongala is a highly educated man originally from the Congo, and a long time fighter for human rights who has suffered for what he has written in the Republic of Congo. His books have been banned in his own country and he was one of the 400,000 people forced to flee during the civil war of 1997.
Dr. Dongala began his talk by reading a short story of his about a young girl's plight because of the corruptive Communist burocracy in the Republic of Congo. He was asked to write the story by his sister, who wanted to submit it to a contest sponsored by a local woman's organization. However, when she read it, she was so afraid of being arrested that she refused to submit it. The story is entitled "A Day in the Life of Augustine Omia" and is from Dr. Dongala’s collection, Jazz and Palm Wine, one of his books banned by the government.
One of the main questions of Dr. Dongala’s talk is whether or not colonialism, with a one party system and no abstract rights, such as freedom of speech, is better or worse for the people of the Republic of Congo than independence from colonizing nations. Dr. Dongala holds the view that democracy and independence are worth fighting for and will greatly improve the lives of individuals. He gave a personal example from his experience of fleeing his country during the 1997 civil war. While running towards the relative safety of the forest with an enormous crowd, Dr. Dongala noticed a woman on the side of the road with her four children. She was sobbing and it was obvious she had given up all hope. Dr. Dongala felt ashamed because he knew his family was safe and would survive the war, but this woman had no certanties. However, he feels that democracy will give her the choices she needs to better her life and the lives of her children.
Dr. Dongala also believes that governments who squander natural resources and use what money they have to wage war instead of providing for their citizens are criminal governments who do not respect human rights. One must fight not only for the rights of political prisoners, but for the rights of the population. These rights include a right to democracy. And when democracy has been established, the population will have the freedom to abolish scenes like the hopeless woman on the side of the road and the overwhelmed woman, abused by the burocracy in Dongala's short story. As Dr. Dongala said in his talk: "Democracies do not let the people starve."
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