New Internationalist

Violence and voyeurism

There is something voyeuristic about these kinds of presentations of Africans, especially women speaking on violence in front of a white audience. The presentations take place in a vacuum, as if the Western demands for cheap resources have nothing to do with the violence and the corruption. This testimony by Congolese journalist Chouchou Namegabe on the horrors of rape and other forms of violence women are subjected to was made to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Congo – more so than many other African states – was created out of a terrible violence dating back to King Leopold. Here, as Ms Namegabe says, the lives of gorillas were more valued than the lives of Africans.

“The rapes are targeted and intentional, and are meant to remove the people from their mineral-rich land through fear, shame, violence, and the intentional spread of HIV throughout entire families and villages.”

Violence is like a vampire – it feeds off blood and drugs to the point where all sense of reality, humanity and feeling disappears. It becomes like a drug whereby the actors are blind to their actions, feeding only off the violence like starving vultures. But we must hear these stories because there are a hell of a lot of people who need to be held to account. Rapists as vile as they are do not act in a vacuum – and those who are not instantly visible in these atrocities must also be called out because they too feed the violence. Johann Hari’s description of the war as ‘a war led by armies of business’ identifies who these not-so-invisible people are and how negative the reporting on the DRC is. 

When we glance at the holocaust in Congo, with 5.4 million dead, the clichés of Africa reporting tumble out: this is a ‘tribal conflict’ in ‘the Heart of Darkness’. It isn’t. The United Nations investigation found it was a war led by ‘armies of business’ to seize the metals that make our 21st-century society zing and bling. The war in Congo is a war about you. 

The Eastern Congo, where Kivu province lies, is the centre of this grab for minerals and as long as the West continues to put a price on the minerals so the ‘armies of business’ will continue to operate and women will remain unprotected from sexual violence by men whose greed is so overwhelming that they must rape and murder in order to take control of small tracts of mineral land.

It is impossible for the US, Britain, Europe and everyone else to be unaware of the violence against women and why there is a war taking place in the Eastern Congo. It is impossible for the US and other foreign governments not to know which are the multinationals and businesses operating and feeding the war. Why do they need women to come to the US or Britain to speak about these horrors when they already know that the horrors are taking place? It is humiliating to have to speak about one’s pain to people – especially to those who not only what is causing it but are also contributing to it. At the same time, women who have been raped and who then manage to flee to Britain find their asylum claims are rejected. Asylum detention centres in England are full of women fleeing rape and violence who are now having to go through the humiliation and pain of fighting against deportations. So whilst ministers and senators go through the motions of listening to these terribly painful testimonies, they are at the same rejecting asylum claims and turning a blind eye to those businesses which operate and collude with rebel and government forces.

To return to Johanne Hari’s point that we all have to take responsibility: the question is how?

First of all: campaign for a policy in the Congo and elsewhere of zero tolerance for sexual violence together with providing asylum protection to women rather than sending them back to face more horrors. Educating people on what is happening and trying to present some sort of context and analysis is one way. But also putting pressure on government representatives and companies to stop feeding the war through their actions. According to an AlertNet report a Belgium company has done just that.

Put pressure on the International Criminal Court to include rape and sexual violence in the charges filed against war criminals. The most important action is to provide proper protection for women in rural communities and to end the war in the Eastern Congo by removing the reasons for the presence of militias in the region. These are not particularly difficult to achieve but would require Western governments to work against the interests of their own businesses operating in the region. For the same people who facilitate and feed the violence have created an industry around protecting its victims.

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