Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Washington Times series on Congo and Rape

I don't normally read the Washington Times much but this headline today caught my eye as I was walking to work this morning: "Congo's shame: rape used as a tool of war." The Times (for our international readers, the Times is considered a right-wing newspaper here in Washington and it's not as well regarded as the Washington Post) is running a three day special on DRC--more specifically on rape as a weapon of war. The series is based on six weeks of reporting in the war-torn country.

I've read the first article and it's a pretty good introduction to the problem of rape in DRC. There's also a couple narrated slideshows/videos that you might want to watch/listen to (while the pictures are difficult, the narration/interviews can be rather graphic).

There's not really much to say except move coverage of this is a positive development. I think it's a good thing that a paper like the Washington Times is covering this because I suspect its readers aren't normally exposed to the reality of war in DRC.


  1. Social scientists come up short with explanations. I like this Derridean tremens proffered by the Cameroonian academic Achille Mbembe who teaches in South Africa: In the face of the sense---widespread among men---of menacing feminization, rites of proving or demonstrating one’s virility are multiplying. With the assistance of a context dominated by wars, the tension between what is threatened with extinction and what both formerly has been and now is suppressed is exacerbated, and relations of substitutability between the phallus and the gun are instituted." Good luck for untangling the strands of that brilliant insight!
    So far, only two USAID bureaucrats or consultants have impressed me by their thoroughness in attempting to make sense of this phenomenon. And their short but seminal report is ominously entitled Sexual Terrorism: Rape as a Weapon of War in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo .
    1) If they WT reporters "spent six weeks in Congo earlier this year," why wait 9 months before releasing their reports? Were they busy disinforming their readership over the healthcare so-called "debates"?
    2) The reporters makes some outlandish claim about "Belgian colonists." They seem to have mixed up their facts: The Congo Free State (1885-1908) was different from the Belgian Congo (1908-1960). The Belgians did indeed inflict 8 lashes to criminals when they were arrested, but they were certainly not baby-killers...
    3) The reporters also need to qualify their comment about Mobutu. Do they mean that Mobutu let Zairian soldiers rape women? if they do, then they don't know anything about the way Mobutu dealt with Zairian "mamans," as he called them. Prior to Mobutu's rule, women had no legal rights to speak of: they couldn't open bank accounts without the permission of their husbands or the voucher of a male relative; they couldn't vote (though elections under Mobutu were a sham, women voted for the first time under him); they couldn't hold ministerial positions; they couldn't join the army nor the police force. Mobutu liberated Zairian women, that's just a fact!
    4) This one is a joke:"Women's advocates praise the Congolese government for new laws that seek to punish sexual violence." In January of last year, a 54-year-old Kinshasa musician by the name of Evoloko Atshuamo abducted a neighbor's 14-year-old daughter and repeatedly raped her. There wa a huge trial in Kinshasa (the man is like the Congolese equivalent of, say, Bob Dylan)and he was sentenced to ten years in prison in january 2008. Then in an unexplained turn-about, this past month, the minister of justice pardoned him for good behavior and a 3-month probation!

  2. Alex--good points. I haven't seen the USAID reports so thanks for pointing that out. I'll have to go read it. As to why the stories weren't published for nine months--who knows? Plus, if they were there when the Rwandans went it etc, why not write about that too and on the spot? Seems a bit odd. On your second and third points, obviously, I'm going to bow to your knowledge on this front!

    On the fourth, this seems to be a clear case of insufficient accountability in the judicial system which suffers from the usual corruption, preferential treatment for certain people etc. I agree that being freed after such a short time doesn't set the best precedent. The judicial system still needs a lot of work.


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