Congo war's legacy follows survivor to NH
Coco Ramazani's life is the subject of the book "Tell This to My Mother." The Manchester woman, who escaped from a military camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is HIV-positive and wants to get her story out before she dies. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)
It was an unbearable irony, to have escaped death in the cross-fire of a war that has raged for decades, only to be confronted with a fatal disease when happiness seemed within reach.
More than a decade of healing in America helped her regain her strength. The same courage and indomitable spirit that enabled her to endure life in the Democratic Republic of the Congo now enable her to take on a new challenge — raising American awareness of the tragedy in her homeland, where Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi have been fighting an on-again, off-again proxy war with Congolese rebels for control of resource-rich eastern regions since the 1990s.
Despite estimates of war dead that exceed 5 million, and more than 500,000 women raped, Americans have little awareness of the scope of what has been called the Great African War, with 15 years of intermittent conflict.
Ramazani believes sanctions on Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda could stop them from destroying another generation of Congolese women and children.
The title of the book is not directed at Ramazani's mother. She never knew her mother or her father. One of 21 siblings born to a man with five wives, and orphaned as a child, she was raised by a sister whom she thought was her mother until she reached adulthood.
She's not even sure how old she is. A slender, short, attractive woman who looks to be in her mid- to late-30s, she estimates her age at 42, which is what her passport says. "I was born in a small village," she said. "They didn't give birth certificates."
She had come to know the boy, whom she estimated to be in his early teens, during the months she was serving as an aide to the spokesman for Ugandan-backed Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, a commander of a rebel group during the Second Congo War.
"We didn't even have a chance to get him to the hospital," she said. "He was screaming, dying, calling for his mother. That's what really triggered me because I was asking myself the same questions: Why am I in Kisangani? Why am I going to die here?"
Hope for intervention
Thanks to the intervention of her sister in Manchester, and connections she had made while serving the Ugandan-backed rebel leader, she was able to board a flight from Kampala in April 2000, first to Newark, N.J., and then to Manchester, where her sister, now deceased, arrived in 1990 on a student visa.
Fluent in five languages, including English, French and Swahili, she graduated recently with a master's degree in business administration from Southern New Hampshire University and is serving an internship with an energy supply company in Merrimack.
"Americans are a compassionate people," she said. "They never stay away from any other person who is struggling. I know Americans, and they can do this."
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