U.N. poised for broader intervention in Congo

The problem of the DRC remains almost the same: externally influenced decisions always call for more and more external interventionism. As far as I know, there has not been a real sum-up of UN peace missions in the DRC since the 1960s. The presence of MONUC [United Nations Mission in the Congo] prevents the leadership from taking the necessary measures to build a real army and a real policy for defending the country. Especially when one sees that certain members of MONUC have been accused of involvement in looting resources, one should be very careful in bringing more UN troops. Wars in the DRC have been organized for looting resources. Proposing the same medicine for curing the disease that seems to thrive on outside interventionism won’t change much, in my opinion.

What is needed is more upgrading of the Amani program [Great Lakes Parliamentary Forum on Peace] to make it a regional one, including Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Sudan, and Tanzania. What may also be needed is to find a way of organizing with some independent military experts to professionally organize the army.

A correction needs to be made in the article: the Southeastern region, which includes Katanga, is not now part of the rebels’ zone of operation as the article seems to suggest. –Ernest Wamba dia Wamba Bazunini

Reposted from Workers World on October 15, 2008. Abayomi Azikiwe is the Editor of Pan-African News Wire.

In a recent statement from the United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUC), the possibility was raised of a greater military presence there under U.N. auspices. This announcement comes at a time when there has been an escalation of fighting between rebel groups and the Congolese National Army in North and South Kivu provinces, located in mineral-rich eastern Congo.

U.N. special envoy Alan Doss reported to journalists on Oct. 3 that the request for a greater military presence was made during a closed session of the Security Council. Doss did not say how many additional troops were requested. There are currently 17,000 U.N. soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the largest so-called peacekeeping force in the world.

Despite a peace agreement signed in 2003 ending a five-year war among regional rebel groups backed by the neighboring U.S.-allied countries of Uganda and Rwanda, and despite a 2006 election won by President Joseph Kabila, two other political and military factions remained alienated from the central government.

Soon thereafter serious conflict erupted, and has grown over the last two years. A former colony of Belgium, which extracted immense wealth from this African country, Congo gained its independence in 1960 but has been beset by the intervention of outside imperialist forces and their surrogates ever since.

In early October the Kabila government reported to the Security Council that the administration had obtained photographs of Rwandan military forces inside DRC territory. Although the Rwandan government denied the allegation that its forces crossed the border into North Kivu, 34 photographs turned over to Reuters press agency purportedly show weapons, Rwandan currency, a medical insurance card and a military satchel that bore the inscription “Rwanda Defense Force.” (Reuters, Oct. 11)

In response to the photographs, Congolese Ambassador to the United Nations Atoki Ileka forwarded a letter to Chinese Ambassador Zhang Yesui, the current president of the Security Council, confirming the Kabila government’s concern that neighboring Rwanda was preparing for a major incursion into Congolese territory.

It has been reported that the rebel leader, Gen. Laurent Nkunda, a renegade Congolese military officer, has received material assistance from the Rwandan government. Nkunda, who is of Tutsi ethnic origins and operates in eastern DRC, has accused the Congolese government of being allied with members of the Hutu ethnic group who were involved in the mass killings in Rwanda during 1994.

Nkunda’s rebels, who call themselves the National Congress for the Defense of the People, are very active in eastern DRC. It is alleged that they wear Rwandan military uniforms and speak Kinyarwanda, a language used on both sides of the Congolese and Rwandan borders.

As a result of fighting, since Aug. 28 dozens of civilians have been reported killed and injured and some 10,000 have been internally displaced. In a recent statement, Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières—MSF) said that the humanitarian situation in North Kivu was rapidly deteriorating.

The Inter-Regional Information Network, a U.N. affiliate, reported that “The head of MSF in Goma, Axelle Delamotte Saint Pierre, said villagers in Rumangabo, Rubare and Rutshuru areas had been displaced and were now living with other families or in precarious conditions.”

The IRIN report went on to state that “Delamotte Saint Pierre said MSF had attended to some 90 injured people at the general hospital in Rutshuru. A local [nongovernmental organization] official, Jerome Tanzi, said the villages of Katale, Bushenge, Kabaya, Nkokwe, Ntamugenga, Kazuba and Biruma had been emptied after the residents fled fighting between the army and the rebel group CNDP,” headed by Laurent Nkunda.

On Oct. 9 the rebel group issued a statement claiming it had captured a government military base at Rumangabo, 25 miles north of the city of Goma. MONUC reported that dozens of Congolese soldiers were killed in the attack.

Kabila calls for national mobilization against rebels

On Oct. 11 President Kabila went on Congolese television and appealed to the people of eastern DRC to take up arms and defeat the rebels under the control of Laurent Nkunda. Kabila—who took power after the assassination of his father, Laurent Kabila, in 2003—was elected as president in a national poll held in 2006.

Two days earlier, Kabila had told the people: “Over and above any political divide, we must mobilize as one behind our armed forces and our elected representatives to preserve peace and the unity and territorial integrity of the country.” He commended the efforts of the Congolese National Army, saying that “despite their youth and the imponderables of an unconventional war, [they] have consistently resisted the enemy attacks with courage.”

Kabila went on to say that while “we thought a page had turned on this country’s tumultuous history with the establishing of new institutions, the sound of boots is once again being heard in the east, with echoes in Ituri [a northern province], where brothers’ blood is again being spilled.”

The president continued by pointing out that Nkunda’s aim was “not to protect his ethnic community as he has always claimed, but to divide the country to bring about the expansionism of a neighboring territory,” referring to Rwanda.

In addition to Kabila’s statement on national television, the country’s new prime minister, Adolphe Muzito, stated in an interview on Oct. 11 with Radio France International that he would soon visit the eastern regions to work toward bringing peace to the area.

Prime Minister Muzito said that the purpose of the visit was to “reinforce discipline and give the resources and control over them so that they are not used to attack anyone but to defend the country.”

Conversely, rebel leader Nkunda said in a British Broadcasting Corp. interview on Oct. 8 that his forces would continue fighting against the central government based in the capital of Kinshasha. According to the BBC, Nkunda “called on all Congolese people to ‘stand up’ to the national government and said his rebel group would ‘fight until the people are liberated.’”

On Oct. 10 the African Union Commissioner Jean Ping traveled to the DRC and met with leading Congolese governmental officials, including President Kabila and members of parliament. He also held discussions with MONUC special envoy Alan Doss.

Ping said, “I have come to meet with Congolese authorities to understand the situation on the ground before putting forward solutions.”

What’s at stake in eastern DRC

Underlying the continuing conflict in the DRC are the vast, highly concentrated mineral resources in the eastern regions. The southeast and eastern areas as a whole contain ore of every mineral listed in the periodic resource tables.

A report issued by the Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons in 2001 stated that as a result of rebel activity, almost 40 percent of the Congo’s wealth from natural resources was outside the control of the national government.

One source of mineral wealth is the large deposit of copper found in an area 140-by-30 miles extending from the Katanga region into neighboring Zambia. This area is known as the copper belt. During the period of the former U.S.-backed leader, Mobutu Sese Seko, the DRC was the fifth-largest producer of copper in the world. In addition, it was considered the leading producer of cobalt and the second-largest producer of industrial diamonds.

The mining of copper and cobalt was under the control of a government firm, Gecamines, which allowed Western transnationals to extract the minerals in return for royalties. These imperialist corporations were always pressuring the government to let them keep an even larger share of the wealth. In recent years, partnerships between the DRC government and transnational firms have proven to be problematic due to the ongoing rebel activity in the mineral-producing areas.

For example, a Washington Post fact sheet reported on Nov. 28, 2001, that “The Société du Terril de Lubumbashi (STL), a consortium consisting of 7s, a Belgian and a U.S. company have invested $120 million in a project aimed at extracting cobalt, copper and zinc oxide from the slag heap in Lubumbashi using the world’s second-largest electric oven. The new facility is expected to produce an alloy with cobalt content of between 15-22 percent.

“In addition, the exploitation of the Kolwezi slag heap by Congo Mineral Developments (CMD), a 50/50 joint venture between American Mineral Fields (AMZ) and AngloGold, has also recently been extended for another year. And in April [2001], the government approved the new terms of the copper-cobalt tailings in a $350-million deal with AMZ.”

However, rebel activity in these regions has led to the massive theft of the natural resources of the DRC. For example, while the country is the largest producer of industrial diamonds, an illegal trade outside government control generates anywhere between $300 million and $500 million per year.

Another important mineral found in abundance in this region is coltan, which is used in cell phones. According to the Washington Post, another problem for the national government is “the theft of coltan, the new wonder mineral of which large deposits have been recently discovered and exploited in rebel-held areas of North Kivu. Technological advances and increased global consumption, especially of high-tech manufactured goods, has turned coltan into one of the most sought after raw materials.

“Its uses vary from making tantalum capacitors in cell phones, computers, game consoles and camcorders to pharmaceuticals, chemicals and automotive industries. In a recently published U.N.-sponsored report on the illegal exploitation of the DRC’s natural resources and other forms of wealth, it was estimated that up to 100 tons a month of tantalum was exported by the Rwandan army. Likewise, Ugandan exports of the mineral rose from 2.5 tons in 1997 just before the war, to nearly 70 tons in 1999.”

Scratching the surface: Pambazuka News and emancipatory politics

Reposted from Pambazuka News October 8, 2008.

As he salutes the ground covered in Pambazuka’s first 400 issues, Jacques Depelchin argues the publication should continue its work as a tool for emancipatory politics in the next 400 and beyond. Drawing in particular on the example of Haiti, Depelchin stresses that new emancipatory politics are being generated all the time, but their potential must be actively harnessed if governmental indifference and hostility is not to overcome the promise of healing histories.

Happy anniversary to the staff of Pambazuka News. What follows below is a sort of a long-winded happy anniversary card wishing you all the best, hoping that you will keep going, that you will chart new directions, that your energy will incite all generations and all people of the world connected directly or indirectly to Africa to come up with solutions to the multiple problems affecting Africans, and through Africans, humanity. It is my wish that we step out of this massive ongoing laundering system, which keeps extracting profits out of unspeakable sufferings, starting with violence against women, and against children. This violence is not new, and it looks worse when one looks at places like eastern DR Congo, but it has been going on for a very long time. For this massive suffering of women, the weak and the poor, there has never ever been what one could call a massive apology from men, the powerful and the rich. It is as if the rich are rich because they deserve to be rich. Not surprisingly, most of the history of humanity has been written from the perspective of power and violations of humanity.

Is it not strange that while slavery triggers thoughts of, and calls for, reparations, one very rarely hears of calls for reparations with regard to sexual violence. Slavery has been declared a crime against humanity, but when will sexual violence be declared a crime against humanity, and acted upon accordingly? Out of slavery emerged colonial occupation. In the case of the US, and the Caribbean, the wiping out of native populations, a genocide, led the triumphant globalisers of those times to look for an easy hunting ground for people to enslave: Africa became the prime provider of the most sought after resource of the day. In a nutshell, if one could condense the history of Africa, from the violence against women through enslavement, colonial and apartheid rule, would it be an exaggeration to see in it a massive, unrecognised, unacknowledged, laundering system? If slavery has been recognised as a crime against humanity why is it that the gains made from that crime are not returned to a fund for the healing of humanity? A healing fund for humanity is something completely different from reparations even though it does repair, but it must go further. How could one accept reparations in the very currency that gained legitimacy through a crime against humanity? That would be accepting the laundering exercise.

A healing fund for humanity would insist that it is not enough to declare sexual violence against women or slavery crimes against humanity, especially if, in the process, all such a declaration does is to give a sort of moral sheen to those who apologise, while they continue to enjoy to the maximum the consequences and the profits generated by the crimes. As one reads, feels and sees deeper into what happened to humanity through sexual violence and slavery, it is extremely difficult not to conclude that most of humanity has made a greater effort at forgetting what happened than trying to make sure of knowing what really happened. Tracing how the forgetting took place can be confusing. For example, for slavery (which included sexual violence against women), this effort occurred on both sides: on the side of those who were slaughtered physically, maimed psychically and, left to mend themselves; but also on the side of those who most profited from the crime, and some of the latter were actually related to those who were raided, herded and shipped. Kimpa Vita, daughter of a well-to-do family in the Kongo Kingdom did all she could to get the king to stop the raiding and selling. For her fearless denunciation of slavery, Capuchin missionaries countered with accusations of heresy, and had her burnt at the stake. One would think that figures like hers would have long ago been raised to the status African Liberation Heroines and Heroes. All histories, not just African, contain episodes which the descendants of the protagonists would rather not touch, out of fear, shame or both.

As a historian, I like very much what Pambuzuka News is doing, but I would like it to do even better. History is never completely known. In the case of African history, one should say histories, the surface has been barely scratched. It is not only because most of the archives are out of reach of most of the people who should be the first to know, it is primarily because the current political leadership in all African countries are not interested in knowing those histories. Worse, one sees ruling cliques literally turning their back to the history they actually contributed to bring about. One should stress, also, that this practice of moving away or against the history of one’s humanity is not peculiar to African ruling cliques. Most of the countries with a colonising past are not interested in pushing for better and greater knowledge of the complete and total history of all their people.

The study and recounting of histories that would honour and heal every single member of humanity is, with very, very few exceptions, far from the preoccupations of history departments in academia. Admittedly, revisiting fearful, shameful, dehumanising episodes (slavery, sexual violence against women, imperialisms, Nazism, colonial occupations, genocides, lynching, discriminating justice systems) of the history of humanity is not easy. In the current context, which only honours and reinforces laundered power, promoting healing histories of humanity would be considered political suicide by almost any ruler on the planet.

As Michael Neocosmos wrote sometime back in a comment on the 2007-08 Kenyan crisis, the objective of propagating and ruling by way of politics of fear is to instigate the fear of emancipatory politics. There is a connection between politics of fear, fear of emancipatory politics and fear of emancipatory healing histories of humanity. For example, but just in passing, the current global financial crisis has been given all kinds of names in the past few months, except the one name which it really deserves. However, in order to give it that name, one would need to understand the current crisis from a wider time span than the one used by most analysts. It has taken a few months to admit that it was comparable to the financial crisis of 1929. My view is that it is not. It is worse, but for that we must await another few months. The data are available, but remain unseen because those voices that count refuse to look at them. The histories are audible, visible, but will not be seen by those who have been trained not to see or hear the healing voices of humanity.

Will it be possible to hear more frequently the healing voices of those who are screaming for help, not because they are special, but because they are the voices of Pambazuka News? Will it be possible to hear the stories that the powers-that-be would rather keep silent? The examples are uncountable, but for the rest of this essay I would like to go back to Haiti. Haiti is Africa and yet, it is treated as if it is very remote from it. If Haiti was not mired in poverty, Africans (especially those with the means to do so) would be visiting, but why is Haiti so poor, after it had been the jewel of the French colonial empire during slavery? More recently in 2004, why was a democratically elected president in Jean Bertrand Aristide, kidnapped and sent to exile? In other words, what is it in Haiti’s history that, seemingly, keeps calling for such vengeful retribution from the former colonial power and its allies?

Still more recently (see Kevin Pina’s article in Pambazuka (26-08-2008), as well as the Open Letter by Madame Jean-Pierre (26-08-2008)), why has someone like Lovinsky Jean-Pierre been kidnapped, more than a year ago, and relatively so little been done to get him back to his family? When Africans (of all ages) are kidnapped, there is less concern and interest in the media controlled by the powerful, then when a white child is.

All of the above questions are related to African history, past and current. Starting with the last, Lovinsky Jean-Pierre’s biggest sin (from the point of view of the ruling clique in Haiti, and its supporters) has been to keep calling, persistently and vociferously, for the return of Aristide. And what was Aristide’s crime? To have responded as best as he could to the calls from the poorest of the poor in Haiti. His response was rooted in his understanding of the gospel and what he had learned from the solidarity of his mostly poor parishioners. The result of this process has been, in Aristide’s practice, liberation theology. But it also went further into an understanding of the unbroken connection of Haiti’s history from 1804 to today. In Haiti, emancipatory histories and emancipatory politics have been intertwined in a way that has remained indelibly seared in the conscience of its people.

The saddest aspect of this is how the South African government has colluded to do to Aristide what the powers that be wanted; to keep him under house arrest or something close to it. This is difficult to understand in view of the fact that then President Thabo Mbeki was the only African head of state present in Haiti on the 1 January 2004 bi-centenary independence celebration. From an interview he granted Peter Hallward (1), it seems that Aristide wanted to keep quiet and, thereby, demonstrated that the emancipatory politics of Fanmi Lavalas had more to do with the people of Haiti themselves than with Aristide himself. The lesson being shown in Haiti is that emancipatory politics, by definition, must be at a distance from the state. More importantly, organisation and leadership in such politics, if they are going to be emancipatory, have to rely on the principle that every one counts, everyone speaks for herself or himself. The relationship between Aristide and Fanmi Lavalas is an ongoing illustration of how emancipatory politics works.

Yet, in the most recent issue of the Brazilian edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, (August 2008) Christophe Wargny goes out of his way in order not to mention Fanmi Lavalas even though it is its members who have been targeted in the so-called stabilisation process of Haiti by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) (2). It is as if the main objective of the writer (once a supporter of Aristide) is to deny, denigrate and/or erase the politics of self-reliance that have been transforming Haiti. Whatever advances had been made under Aristide, especially in the areas of health and education for the population, seemingly must not be mentioned. While he mentions the heavy price paid by the country over the years and centuries of brain drain, he deliberately does not mention what Aristide had initiated in order to stem the brain drain. It is a stunning exercise in silencing emancipatory politics and history in a single swoop. Aristide’s reliance on the self-reliant and self-confident popular politics seems to have been corroborated on 15 July 2008, when the population massively came out to commemorate his birthday, without anyone in particular calling for the march. The twin question of emancipatory politics and emancipatory histories should be at the core of the next generations of Africans battling to transform the current situation, for the better, for everyone. If all of us are willing to speak up and speak out for the ‘Wretched of the Earth’, if all of us are willing to put aside our fears, then, indeed, a new dawn for Africa and Africans will sooner than later arise.

The point is this: emancipatory politics and emancipatory histories are being generated all the time, but they will not be advertised by those who are not interested in them. As I understand it, the challenge to all of us is to make sure that Pambazuka keeps getting better at being the channel through which emancipatory battles will be waged. It is not the only one, but it is the one I know best. I look forward to the next 400 anniversaries.

(1) See the appendix in Peter Hallward, Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment, Verso Press, 2007.

(2) Christophe Wargny, ‘Ainda muito longe a normalidade’, Le Monde Diplomatique Brasil, August 2003, pp. 28-9.

Jacques Depelchin is Executive Director of the Ota Benga Alliance.

Mass Stigma Scars Congo’s Rape Survivors

An unidentified rape survivor photographed at a Congolese clinic. <br />The sexual violence rate is extremely high in war-ravaged Congo. <br />(Photo: Cedric Gerbehaye / AP)”/></p>
<p align=An unidentified rape survivor photographed at a Congolese clinic.
The sexual violence rate is extremely high in war-ravaged Congo.
(Photo: Cedric Gerbehaye / AP)

With regard to what is going on in Eastern DRCongo, it seems that most people, both inside and outside of the country, have come to accept the most horrendous crimes as part of normality. It is difficult not to ask the following question: if these rapes were occurring in G8 countries, wouldn’t there be emergency measure to put an end to it? Questions must be addressed to the leadership in the DRC, the African Union leadership: why is everyone waiting for someone else to do something?

Is it because the rape victims are women, poor, Africans–that the dominant mind set in the world today is more willing to run to the rescue of the richest? This dominant mind set was the same one at the root of treating Africa as the most natural and obvious hunting ground for finding the cheapest labor power…after the natives of the Americas and the Caribbean had been slaughtered. Surely, there must be another way of treating humanity than resorting to humanitarian and charitable gestures.

Reposted from Truthout October 9, 2008.

A psychologist in a Congo hospital says decades of war have produced a rape-friendly culture with a double standard. While perpetrators go unpunished, the victims, including children, are ostracized. Amnesty International has issued a new warning.

Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo – Twenty-five-year-old Mywazo is the proud mother of two. But she doubts her husband can ever accept that about her. Not after what happened.

For three and a half years, beginning in 2004, Mywazo was held hostage in the forests surrounding her village. There she was raped by men she identifies as Interhamwe, Hutu militias linked to Rwanda’s genocide and implicated in rape-and-pillage attacks on villages in the border provinces of North and South Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“The first days, all the men slept with everyone,” Mywazo told Women’s eNews. “Then each chose a woman to keep. They cut the sex of the women they killed and hung it on their tent walls. I despaired. Each day, I expected to die.”

Mywazo, whose last name is withheld for safety reasons, comes from a small farming village in Walungu, near Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu. In this densely forested area, rapes remained rampant this year despite a January peace agreement between the Congolese government and diverse armed groups operating in North and South Kivu.

Women’s eNews interviewed Mywazo in mid-August when she fretted about her livelihood and safety if she returned home to her husband. Since then, the situation in eastern Congo has further deteriorated. On Aug. 28, renegade Gen. Laurent Nkunda clashed with the Congolese army in Goma, North Kivu, breaking the tenuous ceasefire. At least 100,000 people have been displaced over the past five weeks.

Last week London-based Amnesty International issued the latest warning, saying thousands of women are being raped and child soldiers brutalized amid renewed fighting in Goma.

Sexual Violence Widespread

In some eastern regions of Congo as many as 70 percent of girls and women of all ages have been raped or sexually mutilated, according to the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, a research center at Harvard University.

Over 2,200 new rape cases were recorded in North Kivu, a July report of the Congo Advocacy Coalition – a network of 64 international and local aid agencies and rights groups – indicated. The South Kivu Provincial Synergy on Sexual Violence, a coalition of representatives from government, the United Nations and civil society, recorded 4,500 sexual violence cases in the first six months of this year.

So Mywazo’s story is one of suffering multiplied by the tens of thousands.

On the day of her arrival to the militia’s camp where she was held hostage, the spray of gunfire scarred the flesh around her thighs. Another bullet struck where the jaw meets the ear. Now she struggles to chew and to hear. Countless women, she says, were gunned or knifed down in front of her eyes only to be replaced with fresh concubines kidnapped in South Kivu’s Walungu territory.

Her first child, Paluku, 5, survived the ordeal with her.

She says she shielded him behind her back when she was struck from the front. Her second child, 6-month-old Chito, breastfeeds sleepily as her mother explains she was born out of Mywazo’s bondage to a man she remembers as “Bizimwa.”

“I love my child, my toto,” said Mywazo. “But I don’t know if my family will accept her or not. I am afraid to return to my husband because he won’t accept me.”

In the Congo, husbands often reject their wives when they find out that they have been raped. Families frequently follow suit, leaving survivors with no one to assist them.

“They don’t realize that what happened to women in the forests was involuntary,” said Noella Migabo Khiriga, field officer at S.O.S AIDS, one of about seven local nongovernmental groups working with rape survivors and HIV-AIDS patients.

Helping in the Conflict Zone

S.O.S AIDS offers housing to men and women who can’t afford it but who need to live in Bukavu – a town on the edge of Lake Rwanda – in order to receive anti-retroviral treatment.

To fill the family void that often surrounds women and children mired in the stigma of rape or AIDS, the organization joins a growing network of local and international groups doing what they can. The most internationally recognizable among them is Bukavu’s Panzi Hospital, which provides advanced surgical repairs for women suffering from fistulas, debilitating ruptures of the urinary-genital tract that leave them incontinent.

Like S.O.S AIDS, many focus on reaching rural survivors of sexual violence and bringing them to urban health centers for medical and psychological care.

Every week, for instance, Khiriga travels to six villages beyond Bukavu. Interventions within 72 hours of a rape, the small window of opportunity to successfully administer an HIV-AIDS prevention treatment, she said, are rare. Assisted by local partners trained to recognize the symptoms of rape, she scouts the territories of Walungu and Kabare. To Bukavu, she brings only the worst cases.

Between January and April 2008, S.O.S. SIDA screened 175 victims of sexual violence, most of them between 40 and 60 years old. Of these, two were referred to professional psychiatric care. Twenty managed to escape sexual slavery in the forests but came back pregnant or HIV-positive. Emerance, 20, came back both.

Now eight months pregnant, Emerance, whose last name is withheld to protect her privacy, wears a cornflower blue cardigan and a maternity dress. This is her second rape pregnancy. In 2005, Interhamwe raped her in Kanyola. Last December, a fellow villager, someone she names – Wemba Batanga – raped her on the road as she ran away from an Interhamwe attack on her village.

“Right now,” she told Women’s eNews. “I’m afraid of everybody: Interhamwe, army and civilians.”

Counseling an Abundance of Victims

Cecile Kamwanya Mulolo is one of two psychologists working with rape victims at Panzi Hospital.

On a Saturday this past August eight women wrapped in colorful fabrics – all sexual violence survivors – waited in a row to be counseled. Inside, the stench of fistula – an acrid odor that stuns noses and turns stomachs – filled Mulolo’s office.

Beyond the hospital corridors, hundreds of women sat in a waiting hall staring sullenly at a small-screen television, while others grouped outside, chatting and weaving baskets, trying to keep their minds occupied while their bodies healed.

On average, Mulolo counsels 10 women a day.

She calculates that up to 20 percent of new rape cases – by which she means those committed in 2008 – were carried out by civilians or policemen in urban rather than rural areas. Despite the growing availability of damning medical records, few cases, she said, receive a proper trial.

“Home rapes, village rapes, neighborhood rapes,” she said. “Rapists are not punished severely so more and more people are starting to take pleasure in it.”

Her hospital specializes in repairing the vaginas of women whose bodies were severely traumatized during acts of sexual violence. That could mean mass rape, penetration with blunt or sharp objects, or the burning of a woman’s vagina.

The hospital primarily treats women from the Congo, but it also receives referrals from Rwanda and Burundi.

During May and June, Mulolo said, the hospital received and treated 20 Pygmy women from Congo’s equatorial forests, a first for Panzi and a marker of the hospital’s growing reach.


Dominique Soguel is Women’s eNews Arabic editor.