Dungu, Congo — There are just a few hundred fighters from the Lord’s Resistance Army in the vicinity of Dungu, in northeastern Congo just south of Sudan. These few fighters, traveling in bands of six or so men and camped deep in the forest, have killed thousands of people in recent years and displaced some 300,000. Rarely have so few caused so much suffering for so many.
In Dungu and surrounding villages, tens of thousands of displaced people live in a camp and with host families. Many of the displaced fled with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Many have lost family members, perhaps even all the male breadwinners. Some are aged. Several are blind or otherwise disabled.
Nonprofit groups in Dungu try to identify the most vulnerable displaced people and prioritize them for assistance. Emmanuel Ngolndima and his wife Elisee Animawayi, driven from their homes by the LRA, are perfect examples. He is blind and partially lame; they own no land. They live on a small plot with a Dungu family. The U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees, in conjunction with Lutheran World Foundation, paid local men to build a temporary shelter for the couple.
It starts with wooden poles driven vertically into the hard-packed earth. Then workers weave bamboo between the poles and slap mud onto the bamboo. The roof is thatch. Smaller than most Americans’ living rooms, the $300 temp shelter is humble, but it keeps the rain off and provides shade during 100-degree afternoons.
Ngolndima passes his days sitting outside his new home. His wife fetches water from the local well. For food, they await deliveries from the U.N. World Food Program. There are at least 8,000 similarly vulnerable displaced people in and around Dungu. And with LRA attacks continuing in Dungu and other communities in Orientale Province, that number will only grow.
Presented with the prospect of U.S. military intervention in the LRA problem, many Americans — understandably weary of foreign wars — ask why Congo is any of America’s business. The fact is, the U.S. is already intervening in Congo, along with scores of other nations. In Congo as in many other conflict countries, American money funds around half of all humanitarian operations. In Congo, that amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars a year. As it stands, there is no end in sight for the LRA, and the U.S. will continue paying to care for the group’s victims for years to come.
Whether everyday Americans like it or not, Washington has already decided it wants to be involved in Congo. The question now is exactly how we should be involved, how decisively and at what potential cost in cash and lives.