Jeremy Lissouba works with UNEP in Addis and represented Congo-Brazzaville on the Mt. Kilimanjaro Climb organized by the Africa UNiTE Campaign from March 5-9, 2012. He sat down with Nebila Abdulmelik for a candid talk.
What are your initial thoughts after having come back from the climb?
Three words; enriching, challenging and inspirational.
It was enriching because of the mountain itself and the people who I was able to meet and bond with, people from all walks of life brought together for this cause. Inspirational because a lot of time was spent alone.
How do you feel representing Congo?
I have an interesting relationship with Congo. I never lived there, I wasn’t born there. However, I am the son of the former president, and I definitely consider myself Congolese. I want to do as much as possible for my country. It was a great honor to represent Congo.
How was the climb?
It was a physical test, a true test of character. A lot is about your mental strength, you must believe in yourself but also listen to yourself and your body. It was very demanding, every step was an effort. At times I felt lightheaded, and felt as though I was barely functioning. There was a point at which our drinking water froze. I thought about turning back, but I didn’t. And I made it to the very top.
What kept you going despite all the obstacles?
I was engaged for a reason. I wanted to believe that deep down I could see it through. I was physically and mentally fit. Mutual support was also a determining factor.
Many. I was pulled aside by one of the climbers, and told that as youth, we are the leaders of tomorrow. It is important for us to focus. Important for us to remember that every battle will be like Kilimanjaro—it will be long and tiring, and we will at times be at breaking point, but we must never turn back. We must keep at it till we reach the summit. It’s a true sense of accomplishment to reach the peak of Africa.
Do you think this climb is an effective way to fight VAW?
The climb brings more attention to the issue, but of course it’s not a solution in and of itself. It has the potential of sending a strong message. It’s a good analogy for the campaign itself. It’s a very long process with much hardship but these can be overcome to achieve success. We need to give this fight our utmost and take it to the limits, which is what we did with this climb.
What do you feel is the biggest problem in combating VAW?
I personally feel that it’s not a problem of the absence of regulation or deterrent or punishment. I feel the greatest issue is the cultural aspect of acceptability where VAW/GBV has become the norm. I think this is the hardest thing to tackle, changing people’s perspectives and attitudes.
How do you plan to contribute to this effort?
There is an organization I started five years ago. It focuses on youth, particularly looking at issues of education and culture, and the possibilities for human progress. We want to introduce and expose these youth to the diversity of culture, to enable them to mold their own progressive principles and have open minds, to enable them to see a world beyond the microcosm of their daily existence. We need to understand that violence against women is violence against ourselves.