Friday, October 31, 2008

Congo crisis - AGLI staff update

----- Original Message -----
From: David Zarembka
Sent: Wednesday, October 29, 2008 10:54 AM
Subject: AGLI--Report from Kenya--"Rape"--Oct 29, 2008

Dear All,

I received this sentence in an email from Theoneste Bizimana from Rwanda: "Hold in your payers the region of North Kivu [Congo]. I talked with Zawadi this morning. She said that the situation is very bad now and nobody [in Goma] was able to get out and go to work!!" I just received an email from Zawadi who is now in Kigali saying, "Right now things are bad, just spoken to my Dad [in Goma]--Goma might be captured tonight."

The rebel Tutsi warlord, Laurent Nkunda, is within striking distance of taking Goma even though it is "protected" by Congolese troops and the United Nations troops, called MONUC. You can even find items on this in the international news if you click on Africa. There are pictures of people fleeing the fighting which is usual whenever there is an attack in the region.

While a certain amount of attention has been devoted to the use of rape as a weapon of war I have not seen many explanations of why this is done. Here are my observations.

In this area of Africa there are rarely "battles" between the armies. Rather one side terrorizes people in an area, these people then flee and the terrorizing side moves in thereby "conquering" the territory.

One of the most effective methods of terrorizing a population is "rape"-- particularly gang rape. I submit that it is more effective than killing someone because the raped person is traumatized and he/she then affects his/her family, neighbors, and community. A killed person’s body would just lie there and, if no one saw it, it would not "terrorize" anyone. Reports of the mutilation of bodies have this same affect -- the mutilation terrorizes people who then flee.

Note that above I did not use only the female gender. When we conducted a survey of seventy-nine people in Burundi nine reported being raped; two were men. As everywhere in the world, rape is under reported and I expect rape of males is even more under reported than that of females. The rape of a male would be even more "terrorizing" than the rape of a female.

Here is the testimony of an anonymous North Kivu workshop participant who was raped during the First Congo World War in 1996.

"I was raped and contracted HIV/AIDS. So is my daughter of 12 years. We all lost hope--no one to comfort the other. We just saw death as the next thing happening to us anytime. But God has been gracious. People have stood by us and those [HROC] teachings have really helped me to live positively. I am always bitter about the rapists [i.e., she was gang raped] but that had not changed me. Instead it worsens the situation because whenever I think about it everything comes back fresh in my mind. I have understood the meaning of forgiveness. Many are times we wait for offenders to ask for forgiveness. In my case where will I meet them; and I wouldn't like to meet them anyway. I have decided to forgive them. I am going to share with my daughter what we learnt. I believe it will help her so that we may begin this journey together."

This kind of rape is, to me, only the most obvious, what I would call "violent rape." When you see all those pictures of people fleeing with goods on their heads, where will the women sleep tonight? Many will have to find a man, perhaps a soldier or policeman, to protect them for the night. The cost is "consensual rape"; the agreement to have sex with the protector. This "relationship" might last a night or two, or a week, or a month, but in the end it is temporary and the woman is turned out and has to find another "protector". The result is unwanted pregnancies and HIV. Many of the women at the Kamenge Clinic in Bujumbura were infected by this "consensual rape."

The solution is, of course, to stop the fighting. But as the Congolese Government and the international community (including the UN peacekeepers) seek a "military solution" which continues to elude them, the fighting will continue. Rape will continue to be used as a "weapon of war".


David Zarembka, Coordinator
African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams
P. O. Box 189, Kipkarren River 50241 Kenya 254 (0)726 590 783
1001 Park Avenue, St Louis, MO 63104 USA 314/621-7262

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