Guest Column: May 4 symposium is worth seeing

Timothy Scarnecchi

May 4 Symposium on Democracy 2011: Why talk about Democracy and Violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?

This year’s Symposium on Democracy focuses on the 15-year-old conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. This conflict is often referred to as Africa’s World War both because of the complexity of the regional and global alliances involved in the two wars fought between 1996 and 2002 and because the number of war related causalities are comparable to those of World War II. The conflict has unfortunately not ended for Congolese living in the eastern part of this large nation. Militias, neighboring armies and DRC government forces continue to fight over control of mineral resources, and the violence has not subsided despite the presence of a U.N. peacekeeping mission. The international community has done much to assist victims of these conflicts, but not enough has been done to resolve the conflict in ways that would allow those most affected to live in peace and security.

Given the complexity of the conflict, with no easily recognizable “good guys” and “bad guys,” the Congo crisis is also often referred to as Africa’s “forgotten war.” While headlines now turn to Libya and Ivory Coast with compelling stories of democratic forces fighting autocratic rule, the Congo crisis does not fit into this Hollywood script. That is why this year’s May 4th symposium presents a special opportunity for Kent State’s intellectual community to learn from some of the world’s foremost experts on the DRC’s long and deadly conflict.

Conference participants will not be offering easy solutions or vague words about applying “democracy” to this protracted conflict. The fifteen specialists coming to Oscar Ritchie Hall on April 28-29 are all well beyond discussing easy, prescriptive solutions. It will be refreshing to hear how these experts frame the problem and what solutions they are promoting. Given our university’s academic mission to tackle the difficult and seemingly unsolvable problems confronting our world, these panels have something to offer anyone who seeks to solve a problem others might feel is beyond solving.

The keynote speaker for the symposium, Professor René Lemarchand from the University of Florida, has been writing for many years about genocide in Burundi and Rwanda and how these genocides relate to the Congo wars and the continuing crisis in the DRC. His keynote speech, “The Great Lakes Crisis: Making the Unspeakable Comprehensible” (5:00 p.m. in Oscar Ritchie Hall Room 214), will offer the university community a chance to reflect on these issues with an inspiring scholar who still continues to seek solutions after 40 years of involvement in the region.

The university community is invited to the entire conference as well. Each of the panels will offer a window into the difficulties the Congo crisis presents for those seeking a peaceful resolution and a democratic future. In this way, the symposium continues in the tradition of past May 4th Symposium’s on Democracy by addressing difficult questions others would prefer to avoid.

For the complete program and symposium details, please visit <>

Timothy Scarnecchia- Associate Professor, Department of History