The Congo has been described as the heart of Africa. It is the size of Western Europe and exhibits a beautiful landscape but inside there is suffering and pain. It is a place where for over a decade a brutal war has raged killing millions of people. The reason for the fighting is for the control of minerals from the earth vital in the manufacture of electronic parts, computer chips and mobile phones.
The capital of the Democratic Republic Of Congo (DR Congo) is Kinshassa. This city has a population of over ten million people. Over eight million of these people live on less than two dollars a day.
In 1994 Rawanda was devastated by mass killings. 800,000 people died in the Rawandan genocide mainly from the Tutsi tribe murdered by extremist Tutus. At the time this was hard to imagine as they were living together at the time. The murderers fled with over one million refugees heading for eastern Congo. They brought brutality and violence to the region that continues to this day. In the Kivu region there is a military campaign backed by the United Nations against Riwandan Hutu rebels where tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee. Bukavu has been on the front line of this vicious war for over a decade. The town may appear tranquil but danger is never far away. The Congolese army are camped there ready to fight the Rawandan Hutu rebels. As many as 45,000 people die every month in this region because of the conflict.
In this area there is also another forgotten war raging. Its target is women who are being systematically attacked on an unimaginable scale. Here the one weapon that is being used to devastating effect is RAPE.
Normally where there are military operations there is rape and this has remained a dominant feature of the ongoing conflict in eastern DR Congo with more than 8000 women reported raped during fighting in 2009. It has made the Bukavu region one of the most dangerous places in the world, especially if you are a woman.
With few roads and limited electricity, radio is the only way people can receive any type of reliable news. The Bukavu region is lawless and is only safe to travel during the day, yet there are still brave people who attempt to record everyday occurrences there. Here, women are raped in vast numbers. They are taken into the forest by the rebels. It is not only the rebels but members of the Congolese army who are guilty of this crime. Radio journalists brave the dangers and go to villages to make radio reports in an attempt to bring a record of what is happening there to the world.
The tragedy of the situation is that the rape of women in eastern Congo has become an everyday occurrence. All sides are responsible. The rebels and members of the Congolese army are guilty but few men are ever prosecuted and authorities estimate at least 200 000 people have been raped in the eastern Congo since fighting began.
It must be remembered that not all cases of rape are reported or recorded. Some women cannot make it to the village hospitals and others want to keep their rape hidden. The stigma of rape means that many women are rejected by men, by the community and even by their own family. Men abandon their wives who have no control over what has happened to them. There is also a concern for those women who fall pregnant as a result of rape. What will happen with these children? Is there a chance that these children will grow up into evil rapists like their fathers?
Why has rape continued to be a problem in this region in recent years?
Society dictates that young single women must live with their family. If they were to live by themselves they would be considered some sort of prostitute. Custom portrays that when a woman is on her own it is said that no one is in control of her. Some people believe that a woman must be controlled, no matter what age she is, she must always be controlled.
With violence all around, children have become ensnared in the conflict and are also victims of rape, some as young as six months old. What of the survivors of rape? CEPAC (Community of Pentecostal Churches in Central Africa) hospitals are full of women who are survivors of rape and who have nowhere else to go. These women cannot run away from this but must stay and live with the consequences every day. Many have become incontinent and many have severe internal injuries as a result of rape.
This puts in perspective the problems that we all have in our civilized communities. It is not a patch on what these people go through every single day. There is a glimmer of hope though in a place here known as ‘The City of Joy’. It is a safe haven for raped women, built by women for women. Many women and children are refugees in their own country, displaced by fighting and rejected by their families.
The word rape is not enough. It is a weapon of war. Rape here is not not just men fulfilling a need but rather a systematic raping and brutalizing and in some case mutilating women to destroy them. This wall of torture is a war against women, to destroy women. By destroying the women you destroy the whole community.