By Sifiso Maposa
The first time I took an indepth look at the real story about the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo was in 2012. The story was presented to me via a documentary produced by the BBC . What drew me initially was the title , of this said documentary , ‘The World’s most dangerous place for women’. Now, if that doesn’t make you pick up a film with such a devastating nuance, I do not know what will.
Prior to watching said documentary , all i knew about the DRC was that it used to be called Zaire. I knew the names of two fighting political leaders – Mobutu Seseseko and Laurent Kabila. I knew that the great liberation hero Patrice lumumba who has continued to inspire Pan Africanism was from this country and had been assasinated soon after independance. I didn’t know that the colonial power of DRC had been Belgium and not France. My young mind had told me that it must have been France because french was the Congolese official language. I knew the enticing rhumba music that came out of DRC, their trademark, welcomed into other African countries and in Europe. Everybody had a favorite rhumba song that they tried to mimic dances , well executed by the glamorous and flashy dancers who knew this dance art like no other. I knew that Zimbabwe and probably some other countries had sent troops to fight in the DRC war in 2002. I know this because i lived in Zimbabwe at the time and this period resembled the Iraq war impact on the USA, where thousands of men died in honour and were brought back in coffins to their weeping families. I did not know why the war was being fought, I was not sure when it would end.
And then I watched the documentary. A documentary set around a young lady originally from DRC but who has lived in the UK for most of her life. She comes back to DRC for a visit and takes the BBC crew with her. After visiting her family in Kinshasa,the capital city, she moves on to Eastern DRC to find out what was going on. What she found out was atrocious. Rape, used as a war weapon by the fighting militias. Thousands of women raped in their villages, husbands forced to rape their daughters, sons forced to rape their mothers, genitals mutilated, shame implanted into devastated families.The scenes were unsettling. I had never heard of rape being used as a weapon of war, I had never seen so many rape victims. I had never seen a place were young girls had come to ‘expect’ rape as part of their unwarranted fate. That is when my eyes were opened to what was going on in this country in the heart of Africa. A country with expectionally rich natural resources that had now become more of a curse by causing conflict and economic strife.
It is 2013 now and I read and followed the story of Dr Denis Mukwege. He has been nicknamed the ‘rape surgeon’ of DRC. Mukwege, founder of the Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is a gynecologist who has treated thousands of rape victims. He has been instrumental in raising international awareness of the conflicts in the eastern DRC. He and his colleagues have treated over 30 000 rape victims for serious sexual injuries. He talks of rape being used as a strategy by militias.”These aren ‘t just violent acts of war, but part of a strategy. Sometimes multiple people were raped at the same time, publicly – a whole village might be raped during the night. In doing this, they hurt not just the victims but the whole community, which they force to watch.” After something like this, people would run away, abandon their fields and everything. His and his families’ lives have been put at risk because of his reaching out to these women.
Dr Mukwege has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year. I think he is a hero and he deserves to be the winner. He is up against some equally remarkable people like Malala and Bill Clinton. He uses his expertise in a selfless show of true heroism.
A moment for the people of DRC. My hope for peace in this beautiful country.
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