Empowering Youth Leaders Will Bring Change to Congo

In a country overrun with violence and war, Congo Leadership Initiative (CLI) is a non-profit organization making strides on Congolese soil by empowering the next generation of leaders to build a more stable nation.

On October 14, President Barack Obama announced that he is sending about 100 U.S. troops to central Africa to advise and support government forces from South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in their battle against the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). 

The LRA and its leader, Joseph Kony, are accused of rape, murder, and kidnapping children across the region. According to CNN, the State Department reports, "since 2008 alone, the LRA has killed more than 2,400 people and abducted more than 3,400. The United Nations estimates that over 380,000 people are displaced across the region because of LRA activity.” Obama also noted that the group "has murdered, raped, and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women, and children in central Africa" and "continues to commit atrocities across the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan that have a disproportionate impact on regional security."

Congolese history has been bloodied by violence and war at the hands of rebel groups like the LRA. For over a century, corrupt dictators supported by Western nations, including the United States, have simultaneously become rich from the country’s mineral wealth and driven millions of people into poverty, only to further fuel this violence. Today, the DRC, a nation the size of the U.S. east of the Mississippi, with more than 70 million citizens, has among the lowest income per capita and literacy rates in world. 

The movement to divest from companies purchasing conflict minerals has grown across the United States with some of the nation’s largest institutions, including universities and major corporations, taking steps to ensure violence does not taint their resources. Major initiatives, like those supported by the Enough Project, have helped shape U.S. policy in the region and raise awareness of this ongoing crisis. But with all this talk of legislation and divestment, we must remember to invest in the DRC’s greatest resource for the future — its youth.  

Congo Leadership Initiative (CLI) is committed to doing just that. CLI envisions a peaceful, prosperous nation uplifted by the hope and capability of its people. CLI makes strides in making this vision a reality by creating a community of leaders dedicated to ethical and humble leadership. Each year, CLI empowers a cohort of high school scholars with the knowledge and skills they need to identify and solve pressing problems in their communities. Our Congolese facilitators work with these students and our alumni to support their projects and serve as resources for their continued leadership development. As each generation of scholars moves on to make an impact in their neighborhoods, they will be one step closer to forging a better future for their country. 

The tangible strides that CLI’s scholars have made after only one year prove the power of turning policy into action. True solutions in the Congo will not come by passing laws in Washington or sending troops, but all of us can foster the creation of Congolese solutions by investing in talented youth in the DRC.

Photo Credit: Julien Harneis

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Nathaniel Houghton

Nathaniel Houghton is a graduate of Cornell University with a degree in Policy Analysis and Management with Honors. Nathaniel is the Founder and CEO of the Congo Leadership Initiative, a nonprofit organization operational in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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