Exposing The Brutality Of Sexual Violence In Congo

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LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins, and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH in Boston. The Democratic Republic of Congo is blessed with mineral riches. But the exploitation of those minerals drives a lot of the violence that plagues the African nation. In Eastern Congo, the ongoing conflict has included widespread sexual violence. Details of the attacks are often gruesome. Women are brutally raped, beaten, and sometimes killed in front of their children. We know these horrific details because of people like Chouchou Namegabe. She's a Congolese journalist, who in 2001, started a radio talk show to air the testimony of rape survivors. Namegabe is the founder and director of the South Kivu Association of Women Journalists. The group trains Congolese women to report on the connection between mass rape and resource extraction. Namegabe is in the US now to deliver the keynote address on the subject at a conference on the subject at Clark University, in Worcester, Massachusetts. She says the situation for women in Eastern Congo is not improving.

CHOUCHOU NAMEGABE: Every day there are attacks of militias in rural areas. Even now, civilians are copying.

MULLINS: The civilians are copying the militias who are raping.

NAMEGABE: Yes, they are copying.


NAMEGABE: Because there is impunity. They are not punished.

MULLINS: Now tell us the link between the extraction of minerals in this part of Congo and mass rape, what is the connection?

NAMEGABE: Where there is the mines, there are communities which live there. But it's not easy for them to exploit it with the presence of the communities. That's why they use their weapons and sexual violences to intimidate the population to move from places where there are mines. Because they know that the woman is the heart of the community, so they fight on her body, by using rape.

MULLINS: The women, as you say, are the heart of the community. And so when something happens to them, the community disassembles, and people move out?


MULLINS: Now, you are going to be speaking this weekend. This is the reason that you're in Massachusetts now, at the Clark University Conference, about the link, even from Eastern Congo and what you're talking about, to what all of us basically use on a daily basis, and that is a cell phone, a laptop computer. Anything that happens to use some of these minerals in order to function. Why is it so hard for countries, for instance the United States, to get to the heart of this, and make sure that we know exactly where these minerals are coming from? Why is it hard?

NAMEGABE: It's hard because the mineral resources which are exploited in the eastern part of Congo, they go out through neighbors' countries. It means that they are not declared that they are coming from the eastern part of Congo. They are going through Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda.

MULLINS: I see, so it looks like the minerals are coming from there, from Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, instead of from Congo.

NAMEGABE: Yeah, instead of Congo. That is why it is difficult.

MULLINS: And then that leaves in the mining areas, it still leaves the militias. Chouchou, you have put the voices of some of these rape victims on the air on your radio program. Let me just ask you why this entire issue, not just the rape of women, but the whole issue around conflict minerals, and the consequences of that, is so much a part of you and what you do. How come?

NAMEGABE: The issue is important for me because it's touching the right of men, the right of women. And I feel concerned because I'm a woman too. And also I'm a journalist. I saw that I couldn't do anything. I don't have guns to fight against it, but I've got my microphone, to use it, to fight against the rape and sexual violence. That's why we give the microphone to victims, to tell their stories. Because somewhere it's the first way to heal their internal wound, to talk about it, to make it known, to call for actions, because we want it to end. It's really a big crime.

MULLINS: These things are very difficult to hear, but tell us what your listeners in Congo have heard, some of these testimonies.

NAMEGABE: There is another woman who were kidnapped with her five children. She was brought in the forest, and every day, she was raped in front of her children. And when she was hungry, they killed her child, and they forced her to eat the flesh of her child. Every day, which practices they killed one of her children. And she was forced to eat the flesh of her children. She was asking to be killed, but they refused. They say we can't give you such a good death.

MULLINS: Can you comprehend why, when these things are done, they are done with the amount of intentional brutality like that, why?

NAMAGABE: We understood that it's a plan, it's a tactic. For them it's a message that they send to the community.

MULLINS: Chouchou Namegabe is a Congolese journalist. She's been reporting on mass rape in Eastern Congo for more than a decade. She's going to be speaking this weekend at Clark University, at a conference on gender violence and the extraction of minerals in Eastern Congo. Clark is in Worcester, Massachusetts. Chouchou, thank you.

NAMEGABE: Thank you.