The false narrative on rape in the Congo

Dr Denis Mukwege - Director of Panzi Hospital [Bukavu - Eastern Congo - DRC]

Dr Denis Mukwege – Director of Panzi Hospital [Bukavu – Eastern Congo – DRC]

Until the last year attempt of assassination on his person, Dr Denis Mukwege, director of the Panzi hospital, had become a symbol figure for the struggle that Congolese women of the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo face for almost two decades. They are being regularly raped in the thousands by holds of men in uniforms. On September 25, 2012 at aUN General Assembly side event on sexual violence, he stated that

“Today, thanks to the report by the UN Group of Experts, the Mapping Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations, and many other credible reports, no one can continue to hide behind the argument of the complexity of the crisis. We know now the motivations behind this crisis and its different actors. What is missing is the political will.”

Thus the doctor’s work had made him understand that he had to do more than repair women bodies but primarily also seek how to address the root causes of their suffering. Such approach took him around the world advocating that the international community needed to wake up to the inhumanity being experienced by Congolese women for so long without being effectively ended.

Since his return to Bukavu early this year, Dr Mukwege has gone just about being only a gynecological surgeon as he has mainly professionally been. Considered his previous performance in raising awareness on Congo’s situation of which rape is one aspect, he has almost become a shadow of what he was a year or so before. There is a certain opinion which finds that he is today hostage of the new condition that that attempt of assassination has mentally created in his subconscious. He cannot any more speak out as he did before that incident without some worry. There were then risks, but until then he hadn’t encountered them.

As a paradox, on the front of the plight of these women, advocacy regarding their affliction has been hijacked by disparate western voices particularly in government and other circles in London, Brussels and Paris which are distorting the nature of what is being done to them as individuals, their families, communities and the entire region.

BK Kumbi, Congolese historian and activist explains what has been happening.

“For quite some time there is a speech that is created on the issue of rape in the Congo, which suggests that it is a femicide. This is highly dangerous in that it portrays the man figure and especially the Congolese man into an atavistic rapist. This extreme focus on the body of the Congolese women is not intended to defend it but is part of a broader discourse on the savagery of black African populations. In doing so, it totally confuses the reading of the real issues involved in the death of the Congolese people. This kind of speech says nothing of those who allow these rapes to be possible.”

Those propagating such narrative count on particular patterns: the supposed short lived memory of events on the part of the victims and their non sophisticated reading sometime not spanning long periods that characterizes African victims of external forces interested in exploiting their resources. Their trick also often or simply takes advantage of them as subjects for their foreign policies.

Such understanding goes in the same line of thoughts that BK Kumbi highlights:

“Today efforts are made to present a simple and effective storytelling where wicked and brutal Congolese men are raping women because they hate them. As a result, we put to oblivion all issues of the relationship between rape and minerals, the relationship between rape and land grabbing, the relationship between rape and ethnic cleansing. The rape of women, children and now men in the region of the Kivu-DRC, are aggravating factors of the qualification of the crime of genocide.” 

Separating the rape of Congolese women from other related issues that explains why such crime is committed and for so long is done purposely. It is a technique which has worked in the past for covering up the truth. However given the central aspect of the problem, BK Kumbi finds that it could be the right ground to even bring on board the entire humanity for it to see the whole picture of what has been going on in DRC.

“The issue of rape in the Congo is part of the struggle we must wage to free Congo. This applies to all the Congolese people and the rest of the world because in doing so we defend the honor of women, girls and we recognize the ordeal they went through, but we also defend the Congolese man who is not a sub-animal without sense and reason. We simply defend human dignity and the right that humanity has to see, one day, the crime that was perpetrated against it be recognized in its entirety and be punished.”

Overall those who are promoting this decried narrative of women’s rape in the DRC are advocates of a certain status quo in the region. Their interests would risk being jeopardized if their comparative global power lost its strong connections with the exploitation of the Congolese minerals and other resources.

If we recall exactly the core message of Dr. Mukwege was that it was futile to try solving the symptoms of one illness if one does not address its root causes. In the case of Eastern Congo, to only speak of rapes of women, girls and even men like in the vacuum or pointing deliberately to the wrong enablers, without looking at Rwanda and Uganda, is missing the point and wasting resources of different sorts. Unfortunately that is what those who silenced or scared him off last year have somehow achieved so far.


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