I read with interest an article in The New York Times that was reprinted by The New Times on Saturday, August 15. This article, “Symbol of unhealed Congo: Male rape victims, written by Jeffrey Gettleman. While I found the article an interesting read, I had to disagree with many of the statements that his sources made.
The International Rescue Committee estimated in January last year that the crisis in the Congo has taken the lives of an estimated 5.4 million people since 1998 and continued to leave as many as 45,000 dead every month.
One cannot look but in horror at the things that are happening in the lawless parts of eastern Congo.
And I believe that it’s the responsibility of the media to uncover and expose these crimes.
However, I think that many of the journalists take a rather simplistic, and in my eyes lazy, approach to the entire Congolese quagmire.
Take for example a statement in the article, “According to Oxfam, Human Rights Watch, United Nations officials and several Congolese aid organizations, the number of men who have been raped has risen sharply in recent months, a consequence of joint Congo-Rwanda military operations against rebels that have uncapped an appalling level of violence against civilians”.
He continues to say that “The joint military operations that began in January between Rwanda and Congo, David and Goliath neighbors who were recently bitter enemies, were supposed to end the murderous rebel problem along the border and usher in a new epoch of cooperation and peace…..But aid organizations say that the military maneuvers have provoked horrific revenge attacks, with more than 500,000 people driven from their homes, dozens of villages burned and hundreds of villagers massacred, including toddlers thrown into open fires”…
“From a humanitarian and human rights perspective, the joint operations are disastrous,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.
A paragraph from the end of the story, he writes the most incendiary statement of the entire article, “Congolese health professionals are becoming exasperated.
Many argue for a political solution, not a military one, and say Western powers should put more pressure on Rwanda, which is widely accused of preserving its own stability by keeping the violence on the other side of the border.
Back in university I took a course in ‘Formal Logic’. I can not lie and say I enjoyed it. However, it has certainly played a major role in the way I dissect information because it gave me a set of rules for making deductions that were self evident.
So, if I follow Mr. Jeffrey Gettleman’s syllogism I get an argument that sounds like this:
A. Men, and women, are being raped and killed in the Congo in increased numbers today
B. The Umoja Wetu joint military campaign, which begun on January 20 ended only recently
C. Therefore the Umoja Wetu military exercise is to be somehow blamed for the increasing incidences of rape.
Well, I have a few questions that I feel were not answered in this article.
The main one being, ‘how he made the jump from incidences of male rape to concluding that it was caused by the first serious attempt to solve the lawlessness’?
I will not dispute the numbers he quotes or the heartfelt testimonies of the victims; however, I beg to differ on the conclusion he made.
To call the operation disastrous, as Anneke Van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch did, is unfair.
The Twenty-seventh report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which he presented on March 27, 2009, disputes his assertion.
The Secretary General’s report reveals that:- “The joint operation succeeded in dislodging FDLR elements from most of their strongholds in Rutshuru, Lubero and Masisi territories and deprived FDLR of important sources of revenue from checkpoints and “market taxes”.
The operation also resulted in the return of more than 6,000 Rwandans from the Democratic Republic of the Congo under the auspices of MONUC or the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), nearly four times the number repatriated during the whole of 2008.
Of these, MONUC supported the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and resettlement or repatriation of some 1,476 FDLR combatants and dependants, while approximately 4,500 Rwandans were repatriated by UNHCR”.
So, attempting to call the joint campaign an utter waste of time is a flight of fancy. I will be the first to admit that the operation was never going to be the panacea for all the travails that afflicted the region.
But to suggest that the prevailing status quo was a cakewalk is ludicrous.
The FDLR, deemed by the US State Department a terrorist group, had free reign to come and go as they liked. They raped, killed and taxed their Congolese victims with impunity, while other militia groups such as the Mai-Mai did likewise.
The Congolese national army, FADRC, was banished to patrolling the city of Goma while a climate of anarchy permutated everywhere else.
The violence, rape and pillage are just symptoms of a larger malaise; the lack of effective government control. The culture of impunity has sunk such great roots in Eastern DRC that only through a drastic show of ‘government might’ can these atrocities be halted.
Certainly, such a move will cause hardship and death, but I prefer to look at it like the vital amputation of a gangrenous limb. You lose the leg, but you save the life.