Congo Watch: The savagery in the Congo is beyond imagination

Friday, March 18, 2005

The savagery in the Congo is beyond imagination

As reported in earlier posts here, militiamen grilled bodies on a spit and boiled two girls alive as their mother watched, U.N. peacekeepers charged, adding cannibalism to a list of atrocities allegedly carried out by one of the tribal groups fighting in northeast Congo.

Militiamen and renegade soldiers have raped and beaten tens of thousands of women and girls in eastern Congo, and nearly all the crimes have gone unpunished.

"The victims have suffered, but they want their stories told", writes Jackie Martens for the BBC in the Congo.

Below is a copy of Jackie's report of January 24, 2004, that tells the story of the savagery of men in the Congo and victims like Vumi who is shunned by her community because of what men have done to her [photos courtesy Ali's blog]:

"We have many stories like this that make us shed our tears, I used to cry, but have now become more desensitised... this happens all over this area, sometimes to children as young as nine" says Care worker Jeanne Banyere.

Congo:  the world's worst humanitarian crisis

The war in Congo, estimated to have killed three million people and involving armies from seven different countries, is coming to an end. But, as United Nations troops move into areas previously ravaged by war, the true horror of what was wrought on the population is now emerging.

It was after a torturous two-hour drive along a windy dirt road, high up in the mountains, that we found Vumiliar Lukindo - or just Vumi. As we walked forward to meet the tiny 16-year-old, she doubled over, clutching her stomach and trying to cover her feet with the faded cloth she had wrapped around her body. She averted her eyes. Urine covered her feet.

Vumi suffers from incontinence, and cannot sit down because of the pain, the result of a horrific rape incident last October.

"The attack happened at night, and we were forced to flee into the bush," she said, in a voice barely more than a whisper. "Four men took me. They all raped me. At that time I was nine months pregnant." "They gang-raped me and pushed sticks up my vagina - that's when my baby died - they said it was better than killing me." The men then stole her few belongings and her community, unable to live with the smell, shunned her. Now she hopes only to be healed.

The savagery in the Congo is beyond imagination

Community rejection

In a country ravaged by war, where rape is used as a weapon and having a gun means you can act with impunity, Vumi is not alone. Spending only a few hours in Kitchanga, a small, sleepy village supplemented by many refugees of this conflict, we met many other women with equally horrific stories to tell, but who wanted such stories told.

Kahindo Ndasimwa, dressed in little more than rags, told of how militia attacked her village one night two years ago, forcing her to flee into the bush. The 40-year-old was then repeatedly raped by four men - their legacy a continual stream of urine down her legs.

Bahati Ndasimwa, a 24-year-old with a round friendly face - but eyes that told of torture - said she was raped by too many men to count. Her community then also rejected her.

Violent rape

Furaha Mapendo was staked to the ground with her legs splayed by 10 men, who then had their way with her. With her eyes staring fixedly at the ground, the 24-year-old told of how the men pushed sticks and various objects into her for an entire night, six years ago.

These women all suffer from vaginal fistula, a medical condition found in countries with poor health infrastructure, which is usually a result of poor childbirth care. In this part of the world, it is caused by violent rape. The walls between the vagina, bladder and anus are torn, resulting in severe pain and debilitating incontinence.

"We have many stories like this that make us shed our tears," said Jeanne Banyere, or Mama Jeanne to all who know this remarkable woman. "I used to cry, but have now become more desensitised. This happens all over this area, sometimes to children as young as nine."

Medical aid

Mama Jeanne - who also looks after 62 orphans - is one of a handful of dedicated people from the Women's Protestant Federation that network these remote parts of the Congo, providing counselling and hope to these women.

They are often the only chance these women, ostracised by their communities, have of getting to Docs (Doctors on Call for Service) and getting the vital operation they need to rebuild their vaginas.

Docs runs a medical centre in the centre of Goma, a large town with little infrastructure situated close to the Rwanda border. It provides training through experience for local doctors while helping the community. Faced with an increasing number of women in desperate need of this operation, but lacking resources, facilities and space, Docs has erected two big white tents in their compound. The tents are full of women waiting for their turn on the operating table.

'Bad things'

It is here that we found Dr Longombe Ahuka, a 48-year-old father of three. Dr Ahuka is the general surgeon at Docs tasked with undertaking this delicate operation. Together with two other doctors he has trained, this team has performed reconstructive surgery on more than 90 women, allowing them to return to their communities.

Dr Ahuka is no stranger to this war. He was forced to flee from the hospital he was working in when it was attacked by armed militants. Hundreds were killed and the hospital looted. "I saw so many bad things, it is an honour for me to also be able to repair [them]," he said.

'Savagery beyond imagination'

The surgeon recounted one case of a woman who had the barrel of a gun inserted into her vagina. The soldier then opened fire.

"The savagery we have here is beyond imagination," he said. "They use all kinds of objects they can lay their hands on," he added, making a plea for the "world to be told about it, to be told of this reality".

The women waiting face a double blow. Associated with rape is the risk of being infected with HIV. Of all the cases Dr Ahuka dealt with between May and October last year, 24% were HIV positive.

Women's dignity

Safari Masika was waiting for her second operation when we met her. Depending on the severity of the injury, up to four operations are needed for complete reconstruction. Wrapped only in a green bed sheet, the diminutive woman told of a brutal attack, one which had left her with a miscarriage and isolated from her community. Looking me straight in the eyes, this proud 42-year-old mother of eight told of how, after this operation, she would once again be "able to stand with other people and praise God".

The men who perpetrated this violence will probably never be brought to justice. But for the brave women we met, at least this operation gives them the opportunity to once again live their lives with dignity.

Further reading October 26, 2004 BBC: Report shows DR Congo rape horror.
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UN says hostages are used as sex slaves and to 'ferry gold'

The following is an extract from a March 7, 2005, Associated Press report in The Star titled "Women and children kill villagers in DRC":

Children as young as eight and women have taken part in militia attacks on villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo's violent Ituri province, killing dozens of people and forcing more than 70 000 from their homes.

UN spokesperson Kemal Saiki said militias suspected of killing nine UN peacekeepers in north-eastern DRC had also taken thousands of people hostage to use as sex slaves and to ferry gold.

Peacekeepers negotiated the release of about 1,500 hostages last month and helped another 3,700 who were kidnapped and later released by an ethnic Lendu militia, said Major Aamer Zahid, a spokesperson for UN troops in the DRC, on Saturday.

Zahid said it was unclear how many hostages were still being held by the militia.

UN peacekeepers killed about 60 militia fighters last week after being fired upon near the village of Loga 30km north of Bunia, the UN said. That marked the largest number of militants killed by UN peacekeepers since 1999.

4 million deaths in the Congo

In the Lendu community, everyone is a fighter

For years, regional Lendu militias have targeted members of the rival Hema tribe. Fighting between their militias has killed more than 50 000 people since 1999, according to UN officials and aid groups.

Dozens have died in raids since December, prompting the UN to send peacekeepers to several areas in the region to provide security. More than 70 000 people are now living in temporary camps in the area.

Villagers in the village of Che - 60km north of Bunia - said on Saturday that children and women were among their attackers in a raid last month in which 18 people died and many homes burnt down.

Saiki said entire Lendu villages customarily attacked their rivals, usually under the cover of pre-dawn darkness.

Many survivors of Lendu raids have remarked that they began with the blow of a bull-horn. Lendu women were usually among those pulling the trigger or looting after the killing was done, Saiki said.

"During the day these women could be at home grinding manioc, and two hours later have a machete or AK-47 blowing you away," Saiki said. "In the Lendu community, everyone is a fighter."

A human rights group in the capital, Kinshasa, is investigating claims by residents in Loga that women and children were among those killed last week by UN peacekeepers.

The Ituri conflict is a bloody sideshow to the DRC's five-year, six-nation war that is said to have killed between 2,7-million and nearly 4-million people, according to aid groups. The war formally ended in 2002, and a transitional government took office a year later but it has struggled to extend its writ to the long-ungoverned east. - Sapa-AP.
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War on Women

"When spiders unite, they can tie down a lion." --Ethiopian proverb
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UN action over DR Congo abuse

Excerpt from a BBC report dated March 18, 2005:

The abuse allegations rocked the UN mission in DR Congo. The UN has fired one employee and suspended six others without pay over allegations of sexual misconduct in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

UN spokesman Fred Eckhardt said one other member of the peacekeeping mission in DR Congo had resigned instead of facing disciplinary action. He said action had now been taken against 17 civilian mission staff.

UN peacekeepers have been accused of using food and money to pay girls as young as 12 to have sex with them. The former chief of staff of the DR Congo mission (Monuc), Jacque Grinberg, was among three people cleared of charges.

Allegations of sexual exploitation by peacekeepers in DR Congo started emerging around the eastern town of Bunia in early 2004. About 150 cases were reported. In February, the UN announced that its troops in DR Congo had been ordered not to have sexual relations with Congolese.

About 16,700 UN peacekeepers are deployed in Congo to help secure a peace deal that ended the 1998-2002 war involving half a dozen African nations.


Blogger TheMalau said...

Just in the interest of fairness, the Hema have done similar things to the Lendu, over the years. It's just like the Hutus and the Tutsis in Rwanda (the Hemas are ethnic cousins of the Tutsis). The evil to fight is ignorance, superstitions, religious zealots, and manipulation. Those are the conduits used by some corrupt leaders - and their Western corporate allies - to perpetuate this human abominaion.

Friday, March 18, 2005  
Blogger Louis said...

Just as an update, when I was in Goma last year, I met some of the people mentioned in the article. Mama Jeanne Banyere is still a dynamo of action in the region, running a school and an orphanage from her home, while coordinating with the Protestant Women's Federation of North Kivu the identification and counseling efforts to help women in the interior who've been raped. Vumi recieved six or seven operations at DOCS in Goma, but they couldn't repair her fistula as it was too severe. Dr. Ahuka is at DOCS, doing surgery, while he also runs a program that looks after the rights and needs of the pygmies of North Kivu and Ituri.

Friday, March 18, 2005  
Anonymous Carine said...

It's really beyond imagination. To be honest I don't even know what to think or say about such things anymore because nobody (ie the intl community) seems to care enough...

You have no idea at how this makes me angry

Saturday, March 19, 2005  
Blogger Ingrid said...

Ali, thank you for the interesting comment. I have spent the past two years doing a lot of reading and thinking about how genocide occurs and why. It was only 10 years ago that genocide occurred in Bosnia, a two hour flight away from England.

Whenever one reads news about Africa, it appears there are millions of young males without anything to do except fight, shoot, loot, rape and kill women and children. No law and order. Anarchy. I am white. My father served 25 years in the British Army Medical Corps and so as a young child I lived in Nairobi for 3 years because of the Mau-Mau war. The atrocities committed during that time made a deep and lasting impression on me. Seems the only thing that has changed since independence, is the oil discoveries.

In the Sudan there was a coup 15 years ago but the recent end to the 21 year long "civil war" in South Sudan is down to a lot of pressure and hard work on the part of the US, UN and EU - not as a result of good governance on the part of the genocidal regime in Khartoum.

It has been disappointing to read reports of corrupt MPs in Kenya and yesterday to see TV pictures of politicians (in Somalia I believe) in suits and ties fighting and hitting each other with sticks and chairs because of the way a vote was going. Why do they resort to violence and can't restrain themselves?

Since Africans (and neighbouring Arabs) insist on "African solutions by Africans for African problems" and for the West not to interfere - you have to wonder at this rate how many more hundreds of years it will be before Africa can expect to be perceived as civilised. I'm not sure that it is right to still blame the colonial era. I just saw something the other day on Fiji that showed how well it is doing. When is Africa going to start taking responsbility for itself and its actions? It's easy to blame the past. Someone once joked, blame it on the Vikings! It seems to me that Africa cannot be helped until it has honest and decent governance that cares about its people.

I'd be interested to know what you think of the African Union and UAE role in helping Africa. I have read most of your posts - but not all yet and look forward to catching up with them all. Very useful pictures and interesting thesis too that I hope to finish soon. Sorry I cannot do everything at once. Kind regards and thanks for the links and great pictures.

Louis, Super, thanks. I have spent a few hours last week and today at your blog and photo gallery. Great pictures and posts. You describe everything so well. I have put a link to DOCS in my sidebar and plan to feature them - and your project and photos - in forthcoming posts here. Also today, I have credited you with the photos above the title of this blog and provided a link to your blog within the photos at Flickr.

Mama Jeanne Banyere is quite a woman and the work at DOCS and the project you are working are super impressive too. Best of luck on the grant applications. It's hard to believe you won't get the funds you need. I look forward to learning more about everything you have written about, including the Protestant Women's Federation of North Kivu and Dr. Ahuka's work. Best wishes. Bye for now.

Carine, I have just spent an hour or more catching up on your posts at both of your blogs and putting them and the comments into my newsfeed. Sorry to read about your grandmother. Good luck with your revision. The "international community" seems to be getting a lot of press these days but I am not altogether sure of who they are. Is it the UN, EU, US and aid agencies put together - including Russia, China, Japan and other Asian countries? Over the past year I have posted almost daily on Darfur, Sudan and read nearly every online report concerning the catastrophe in Darfur which has brought me into contact with a lot of news on Africa relating to aid, war, arms, oil and politics.

People in the West do care and many countries around the world have bent over backwards to help but, it would appear, the Sudan is nearly impossible to help because it does not want the help (only the West's money and aid) and its friends (like China and Russia) and neighbours are backing it up along with its chums on the African Union. The other problem is the UN security council itself that was set up 60 years ago when the world was a different place. We need the UN. It is all the world has got. Hopefully UN reform will help the Darfurs of the future. Yesterday I read something about rapid reaction aid forces being avail in the future to respond to crises.

I too a year ago was so angry but the more I have followed what has gone on (news reports are actually really quite poor for getting an understanding of what is really going on - you have to do a lot of digging and cross checking news from several different countries) the more I sort of understand why there has been no military intervention into Sudan (it would be a bloodbath) - Africa and the Muslims are seen as a tinder box ready to explode at any time. Military intervention into African countries by Western countires would be perceived as colonoliasm on the march and could spark a global jihad. There is so much more I'd like to say on this but need to stop and rest right now. Great to hear from you thanks. Looking forward to keeping up to date with you and hearing from you all again. Kind regards.

Saturday, March 19, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

rape in congo is programming by the rebels and gouvernement

Saturday, May 07, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Aime Nsole and his wife they have been beaten , wife with 6 months pregnante have been rape by Lendu ethnic.who have any information for them,please contact this e-mail adress
Guy Mohindo

Saturday, May 07, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello,Hola, Privet,Uli Bwanji,Jambo,Bonjour,everyone. Yes,I know all those languagues. If anyone knows how I can contact Jeanne Bayerne and how I can make a donation I will be very grateful,

Gracias, Spasyba,Zikomo, Nkosi,Merci,
Roman Soiko

Wednesday, October 05, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to contribute directly to Jeanne Banyere's orphanage and efforts to help the women of Congo. Can anyone provide me information on how to do so? Thank you. I can be reached via email at

Friday, December 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Ingrid,

As a Kenyan I am rather shocked by your racism and even more so by your ignorance. For accurate information about the Mau Mau war and the fight for independence, take a look at Caroline Elkins' book "Imperial Reckoning" since this might give you an idea of the kind of things the British army and colonial administration did to Kenyans. Kindly don"t talk about the "uncivilized" behaviour of Africans before looking at the savagery of the British in Kenya and other colonies. Do you have any idea what colonial rule did to the entire world? Do you not understand how deep are the consequences of British rule in Kenya? Do you not see that much of the reason why the political systems in these countries are not working is largely because of colonial imposition of the western political system and economy on the rest of the world? Try to study history sometime. Maybe you will understand why you cannot look at what is happening in the Congo without looking at its History and the decades of brutal exploitation by Western powers.

Saturday, September 13, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you are looking for a short but interesting read on the effects of colonialism on Africa check out a book called the Betrayal of Africa. Another book worth reading, although it's harder to get through is The White Man's Burden. These books answered a lot of questions for me and certainly changed my way of thinking.

Friday, January 23, 2009  

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