The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most resource-rich nations in the world. According to the CIA World Factbook, Congo produces highly valued national resources such as diamonds, gold and petroleum. It also grows coffee, rubber, cotton, cocoa, sugar, tea and several other food crops in its rich soil. Although, this surplus of resources has come to be part of the problem. Lacking infrastructure and any solid government, the people of Congo have not profited from their vast resource pool.
According to the CIA World Factbook’s entry on Congo, in so many words:
Congo began shaping its tumultuous identity as a Belgian colony named the Congo Free State in 1885. When government in Belgium changed, Congo’s name changed to the Belgian Congo. Then, 53 years later in 1960, the colony was granted independence.
The biggest trouble, however, began in 1994. At the time, Congo was called Zaire.
A large genocide from the neighboring country of Rwanda began to spill over into Eastern Zaire. Hutu militia forces who were forced out of Rwanda by the rivaling Tutsi tribe fled across the border and began to use the neutral country as a military base. Two years later, Rwandan troops flooded into Eastern Zaire to oust the rebel Hutu forces.
In the same year, the current leader Joseph Mobutu was forced to flee the country and a new leader took over: Laurent-Desire Kabila. He declared himself president in 1997 and changed the country’s name to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Only days after, Rwandan troops attacked the country once more, meaning to overthrow Kabila.
Although Congo and its allies were able to stop the overthrow, the brutal army retreated to eastern Congo. Today, rebel armies who adhere to no moral codes or laws still ravage villages in the east.
Their chief weapon is not guns, but sexual warfare.
Hundreds of thousands of women have reported being raped by armed men in Eastern Congo since the invasion of Hutu militias. Being the furthest point from the nation’s government capital, Kaliba’s administration, the current governing body, is unable to intervene.
The sexual warfare is systematic. Most women who are raped in Congo suffer from disease, intense physical damage, estrangement from family, or pregnancy. Many women suffer from more than one of these and many women are raped more than once by men in uniform.
The men do not discern; they will rape infants, elderly women, and every age in between. They will murder families and burn towns to the ground. Many of them inflict these atrocities without cause. They are simply raping to dominate, to conquer.
Many women are treated at Panzi Hospital in an eastern city named Bukavu, but many others never even report the sexual crimes inflicted upon them, or die before they can be helped. The hospital has treated more than 24,000 women and more are pouring in each day.
The large-scale, chaotic warfare in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the deadliest war since World War II. It’s estimated that 45,000 people are still dying every month as a result of the war.
Organizations such as the Panzi Hospital, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, and V-Day are on site in eastern Congo attempting to educate, rebuild and sort through the mass amounts of physical and emotional destruction left by rebel militias for the past decade.
In the past month, I’ve spent a lot of time exposing myself to this tragedy of a country. Each video I watch is sadder than the next and I find myself shaking with tears running down my face at the end of each one. Even writing my thoughts about it now is hard and emotional and leaves me feeling a bit useless. I want to help. But out of all the videos, one hit me the hardest. The young man featured in the video was one of the soldiers who degraded, destroyed and defiled so many of my beautiful sisters. As much as I wanted to hate him, I realize that the women aren’t the only ones suffering in this war. Although this man will never come close to feeling the level of pain and humiliation that he has inflicted, he gives me hope. The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative is talking to the men and V-Day is comforting the women and I believe that’s how it should be. If this young man has the courage and humility to speak to others about what he has done in order to prevent fellow men from making the same mistakes, then maybe there is hope. Maybe there is hope after all.