A study in 2015 showed that 48 women were being raped per hour in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The report also found that 1,152 women are raped every day. DRC was branded the “rape capital of the world” in 2010 by Margot Wallström, the former special representative on sexual violence to the UN. Six years after Margot named DRC, the world’s rape capital has only decreased by a tiny margin, and 18-month-old girls have become victims of abduction and gang rape.
To try and right the wrongs of the past, DRC has allegedly started to use PR tactics to eradicate the crime, rather than physically eradicate it. The government of DRC has, times without number, claimed that rape has decreased by 50 percent in the country, but the UN has said otherwise. According to figures collected by the UN population fund (UNFPA), gender-based violence has decreased from 19,937 in 2013 to 19,192 in 2015, which is just a 4% drop compared to the 50% claimed by DRC government. And according to Heal Africa, the number of rape victims that visited their hospital rose by 28 percent in 2015. And by 2016, it witnessed an 84 percent increase.
So what really changed in Congo? Rape culture shifting from a weapon of war to a way of life. Girls are now abducted from their houses (including 18 months old girls), gang-raped, and left for dead in the forest.
“Although there might be a drop-in rape as a weapon of war, what we call civilian rape is on the increase. There are places where it has calmed down a little, there’s peace, and rape linked to conflict has died down a bit. But now there’s a different problem. Now, rape is all over the country. It’s spread everywhere,” Julienne Lusenge, a leading women’s activist in eastern DR Congo, said.
The DRC government must be aware of the rising statistics, as they have successfully bullied some rape centres into closing and forced them to keep their rape statistics secret. But they have unsurprisingly decided to play politics with the lives of girls who are abducted from their houses and gang raped.
“The government doesn’t exist, except when they’re collecting tax or trying to show the world something… The problem of health, of education, of conflict management is yours,” said Dr Jo Lusi, head of Heal Africa, a hospital and Christian organisation that has helped thousands of rape survivors.
A succinct but broad display of inherent laxity by the DRC government can be drawn out of the unconcerned display when Jeanine Mabunda the special adviser on sexual violence to the president flew into Kavumu airport. It was obvious that her parade of concern was another PR stunt, as she did not stop to talk to the rape survivors. She and the UN secretary general’s special adviser on sexual violence in conflict, who was paying a last visit to the country simply hopped into their waiting cars and sped through the town in a large convoy on their way to Bukavu, a nearby city where they had a new police building to inaugurate. This was when Mabunda, reiterated the abominable lie that rape had decreased by 50 percent.
“The number of rapes in the DRC has fallen by 50% in two years,” she said
Mabunda who has been described as an agent of deceit said this in a region where 49 young children, including an 18-months old, have been abducted from their houses and raped.
“Kabila only appointed her to show the international community he’s doing something about sexual violence, but there’s nothing there… They play games. It’s like ‘pretend’…,” said an activist who asked to be kept anonymous.
Mabunda’s claim has not only annoyed Lucy and other activists, it has also proven dangerous to the funds donated to rape relieve centres. The constant claims of the DRC government have hampered the funds donated to these centres as donors have started to take their money elsewhere with the perception that the problem of rape is no longer as dire.
According to the OECD, aid given to the DRC in support of gender equality and women’s empowerment had fallen by $40m between 2013 and 2014.
Although the government has changed the legal framework surrounding rape, they have still not been able to arrest perpetrators of the crime, who walk freely in areas like Kavumu. This can be attributed to the widespread corruption in the courts and prisons, where officials are often paid off so that sex offenders/rapists can go free.
In Minova, for example, more than 100 women were raped, and only just only two low-ranking soldiers were convicted. In Walikale, 387 civilians were raped, in 2010 and till now, none of the perpetrators has been brought to trial.
But Mabunda who has yet to address the core reasons for rape and the lax of the system in prosecuting rapists through her inefficient campaign has resorted to trying to raise $200,000 to create a memorial garden for the country’s rape survivors, not far from Kavumu, like that is what they need.
President Joseph Kabila, like Mabunda, is obviously not faced by these facts as he has advised us to take DRC as an example of how to fight sexual violence. But in a place where girls, including (18-month-old babies), and women are not safe on streets and in their houses, I wonder what we would look like if we took his advice.