And so being at the 2013 Social Summit one photographer, Marcus Bleasedale who has worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo for a long time impressed upon us the importance of using photography to document present day experiences and to have the images bear witness of what we are experiencing in our different localities. In his presentation he made mention of the statistics of women experiencing sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and shared a few images of women and their stories of sexual violence. The grueling stories tore my heart. I had always known that the DRC is a country in conflict and that like in any war women bear the brunt as victims and this presentation once again just evoked the feelings of pain in me.
Coincidentally whilst at the Summit I also met a young woman from the DRC, Sifa Ndusha who shared her personal story and the stories of other women from her country of origin. She told me how in 1998 she witnessed her mother’s ruthless killing by masked militia men and how after that incident she was separated from her father and siblings. They have since been reunited though. In 2007 her husband was kidnapped and up to today she has no idea what happened to him. They had three beautiful children together.
The DRC is a country which has for a long time had political instability because of the immense economic resources that the country is home to. In 2010, Margot Wallstrom, the UN Special Representative on sexual violence in conflict called DRC the rape capital of the world because of the high incidence of sexual violence that occurs in the country. It is estimated that about 40 000 women are raped in Congo every year.
The sexual violence is said to be so brutal that besides the men forcing themselves on women and girls and even babies , sometimes multiple times, they also use shove their weapons – their guns and bayonets and sticks into the women’s private parts. Such callousness!
One of the major challenges in DRC remains the impunity of perpetrators of sexual violence. Whilst the country has laws and law enforcing authorities in place, the rapists continue to roam the streets of Kinshasa, of North Kivu and all the other places where women and girls are being raped. As I write this my heart bleeds for the people of Congo. I am outraged by the callous men and boys who have made decisions to rape women and girls. I also feel very outraged at every country and person who behind the scenes has financed the war in Congo just so they can be richer. It is sad to learn that some of the people that send aid by day are busy shipping weapons of war and fueling political unrest by night. These invisible hands and players behind the conflict continue to plunder the mineral resources of the DRC.
Whilst the war continues to ravage the lives of people in Congo, many people also continue to die from malnutrition, pneumonia, diarhorrea and malaria. These deaths which could have been easily prevented could not be because of the war and the instability it brings.
What wealth remains today in a country where millions have died, where women have been raped left right and center and where the natural resources continue to be pillaged. What joy is derived from being associated with the riches extracted from the Congo.
Having attended the social good summit which focused on technology, I got myself thinking how best the world can use technology and whatever else to help end the war in Congo. I tried to think of what else all of us could do to help end the war in DRC and all other countries in conflict beyond taking pictures, tweeting and making award winning documentaries. It occurs to me that whilst it is good, there is need to go beyond documenting the harrowing experiences of the women that are raped and men’s bodies lying all over the country.
Is it also not sad to know that the increase in the demand of technology contributes to an extent to the prolonging of violence in countries such as the DRC? One journalist, Rodee a scholar on New Media and Society studies states that “ in a painful paradox, the same tools we use in our lives including cellphones, laptops, cameras and video games to raise our productivity, keep us entertained and ostensibly happier, house the same minerals that have been the cause of terror for so many in this region.Food for thought.
My heart bleeds for the DRC.