The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), otherwise also known as Republique Democratique du Congo from their French masters and formerly Zaire is a nation situated in Central Africa boasting of a very brief coastline that runs approximately 37 Kms. DRC is the third largest country in the entire Africa and stands at 12th position in terns of size in the world scale with 2,345 Square Kms (U.S. Department of State, 2010). It is the eight in the world in terms of population and fourth in Africa with the 71 million populations.
DRC is neighbored by Central Africa Republic and Sudan from the northern side, the Atlantic Ocean is on its West, to the south Zambia and Angola border it and Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi are its neighbors to the East.
DRC has one of the poorest populace in the entire world with its GDP per capita being the second lowest. Ironically, DRC is taken to be the richest country in the world as concerns natural resources and untapped raw materials estimated at 24 trillion U.S. dollars, an equivalent of the GDP of the U.S. And Europe combined.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has a long history of conflicts all which have their root in the politics and political struggles of DRC. The country, like many African countries was once a colony of Belgium commonly referred to as the Congo Free State by King Leopold II. After 75 years of oppressive rule, the Belgians left in a rush relinquishing power to the people of Congo in 1960 under Patrice Lumumba as the prime minister. The irony however, was that there was no economic power and rights for the people to thrive upon.
It was around the same time that the cold war after World War II was at its peak and it was essential for nations to pick a side they supported. Apparently Lumumba was not intent to fully supporting the U.S.A. And their European counterparts in the cold war, this meant he fell out of favor with the West and consequently, a few months after he was officially inaugurated in 1961, he was overthrown by Mobutu Sese Seko, backed by the American forces, not only because he was pro -- the cold war, but because America and its allies had vested interests in the rich mineral deposits. Since his assumption of office in 1965 Mobutu secured an institutionalized form of corruption that saw a far reaching effect in Zaire.
The U.S. sustained the Mobutu regime by constant supply of multi-million dollar weapons and further millions in military training. On the other hand, Mobutu used the weapons and military to suppress the people of Zaire and further plunder the economy of the nation. This went on for three decades until his regime was brutally take over by Laurent Kabila in 1997.
With the arrival of Kabila, backed by the Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Burundi and Eritrea, there was much hope that things would turn out for the better, but instead things ran from bad to worse for the U.S. backed Kabila. He was accused by the rebels of resources mismanagement, corruption, supporting paramilitary clandestine groups and being a dictator. As a result the conflict heated up and the rebels controlled approximately a third of the DRC, particularly to the East. Kabila had to call for reinforcement which he got from Zimbabwean, Namibia and Angola.
The voices of discontent led to rebellions in the DRC, with various factions posing divergent interest culminating in the eventual assassination of Kabila in January 2001 with only Namibia supporting the DRC government at that moment. The earlier friends like Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi turned foe and gave their undivided support to the rebel groups. The thorny issues are complex and vary from basic communal resources, mineral deposits to politically driven agenda.
These conflicts, particularly those related to minerals have over time been fueled by different national and international organizations and corporations with vested interests in the results of the conflicts. The casualty and result of the conflicts and wars as stipulated by Anup Shah (2010) stand to be 5.4 million citizens dead, ranked the world's deadliest conflict apart from World War II, a large number has perished from non-violent causes such as pneumonia, malnutrition, diarrhea, malaria and other communicable infections. Another gross result is the 47% children deaths yet they only account for 19% of the total population, mass internal displacement of people to the tune of 1.5 million and a perpetual death of proximately 45,000 people every month.
Even through the five-year civil war that erupted in DRC came to a halt in 2003 having there been a formation of transitional government, the war crimes committed against the civilians and crimes against humanity, including and not limited to rape, sexual slavery/exploitation, murder and child soldier recruitment, abduction, torture and forceful displacement still are a wide spread situation in DRC. Indeed the Oxfaem (2011), indicate that since the beginning of 2009 there been an upsurge of fleeing civilians to the tune of 900,000 people particularly from Eastern Congo due to the rising conflicts in the region. Oxfam further indicates "Communities have been torn apart, homes have been burned to the ground, and thousands of women have been raped."
Women and sexual violence
The gender-based violence is always mentioned first by majority of the respondents when the costs of the DRC war are being numerated. And in order to fully comprehend the sexual violence acts, it is necessary to take into account the social condition and economic disposition of women in the post war DRC, the perception about gender relations and also most significantly, mens attitude to womens bodies.
(a). Position of women, which in DRC is highly characterized by 'feminization of poverty according to RFDA and RFDP (2005), that further stipulates that the lack of appropriate policies and mechanisms for the advancement of women doesn't help the situation in any way. Socio-culturally, the undying customs, legislations and practices that bias against women makes the women more vulnerable in war times and even give justification and legitimization in the eyes of the offenders.
The "feminization of poverty" was systematized by the long brutal regime of Mobutu that deprived the people of basic state services like schools, hospitals, civil servants salaries. This drove the civilians to come up with alternative ways to make these amenities run in the society. With this situation, the responsibility of finding alternative ways and tactics of survival fell more directly on women who were often left with the children and old people. This was more prevalent in the rural and semi-urban areas where women are the main motivating force of subsistence farming and constitute up to 70% of the rural population.
Contrarily, the war had totally devastated the social and economic activities that women had engaged in to bridge the deficit domestically. Their small resources were destroyed alongside their organization which further exacerbated the poverty among women. The available land was over exploited and/or over populated. This situation crowned with the patriarchal made it absolutely impossible for women to effectively cater for their families.
(b).The war resulted into a big number of widows who live below the poverty level. This created a recipe for prostitution in a grand scale. Many women and girls resort prostitution as a way of survival which in turn made then more susceptible to sexual violence.
There was yet another form of sexual harassment that women in DRC faced from the fighting troops that used force, violence and coercion to get sex since they fought for months over far away from home. Some troops used sexual violence as a weapon of war.
Ironically, domestic violence also increased during these times of war due to the increased unemployment and the haunting uncertainty of the political future of the country, which resulted in sexual violence used as a means to suppress and violate women at home by their male counterparts, this trend seems never to end ad is fed by the impunity that is prevalent in DRC.
The violence against women was found to be more deeply rooted than thought with the rampant implications of the International Actors, UN troops and personnel. Armed actors continuously violated women and girls in DRC, both at home and in the streets (Human Rights Watch, 2009).
The gender-based violence took a range of means such as sexual slavery, forced recruitment, rape, forced prostitution and kidnapping. More baffling is that the victims of the violence included men and boys who were largely raped, faced genital mutilation and even sexual humiliation.
Many people died after these heinous acts of gender-based violence. Thos who survived suffer to a great extent psychologically and physically health wise, which goes to the extent of traumatic fistula and/or HIV. This was worsened by lack of medical infrastructure (Human Rights Watch, 2002).
The survivors rarely wanted to make known their situation for fear of ostracism…