Monday June 8, 2008, Bukavu (DRC)--
Yade, then French Secretary of State for Human Rights (currently, for Sports),
touring Panzi Hospital with Dr Denis Mukwege
ago, I published here in OpEdNews the article "Sexual Terrorism: Bureaucratic
Realism vs. Academic Word-mongering malpractice." In that article, I bemoaned
the lack of African scholarly work on the unique phenomenon of the horrors of sexual
terrorism in eastern Congo, or when an attempt by African scholars was made to
apprise it, it took the irresponsible form of "word-mongering" (as evinced by
Achille Mbembe whom I even accused
of "academic malpractice"
), and hailed the 2004 seminal report by two USAID bureaucrats--Marion
Pratt and Leah Werchik --entitled "Sexual Terrorism: Rape as a Weapon of War in
Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo: An assessment of programmatic responses
to sexual violence in North Kivu, South Kivu, Maniema, and Orientale Provinces
(January 9-16, 2004)."
I also relayed what Dr Denis Mukwege, who has been at ground zero treating the women victims of sexual terrorism in eastern Congo, said at the time about this phenomenon: "We don't know why these rapes are happening, but one thing is clear: they are done to destroy women."
Dr Denis Mukwege has been dubbed the Angel of Bukavu and received numerous
awards in recognition of his great work at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu--including the
Olof Palme Prize and the African of the Year Award (both awarded in 2008) and
in November 2009 the prestigious French Legion d'honneur, all these awards in
recognition of his work in fistula repair surgery.
Some of Dr
Mukwege's supporters have even expressed outrage by the fact that the Nobel
Prize committee overlooked him this year in making President Obama the
Dr Mukwege, in collaboration with Dr Cathy Nangini, has just published a scientific monograph entitled "Rape with Extreme Violence: The New Pathology in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo."
While I hail this monograph as a building block in further filling the gap of the lack of scholarly research on sexual terrorism in eastern Congo, I am astonished that Drs Mukwege and Nangini wrote it without reading Marion Pratt and Leah Werchik's Sexual Terrorism report which, in my view, still remains the foundational essay on this subject. And their paper therefore suffers greatly from this unprofessional scholarly oversight.
The first flaw I find in this otherwise important monograph is the unnecessary proliferation of terminology in describing the sexual terrorism occurring in eastern Congo, which risks diluting the significance and uniqueness of the phenomenon. There are for examples terms such as "military rape" (Mukwege and Nangini) or "martial rape" (C. Card) contained in the article that could be resorbed under the definitive unified tag of sexual terrorism.
What's more, I wonder how "Rape with Extreme Violence or REV" (Mukwege and Nangini) would differ from legal definitions of felonies such as "aggravated rape."
And I find that the definition REV very lacking in terms of the mass terror or "military" purpose and motivation of these rapes: "Rape with extreme violence, as evidenced in the DRC today, is implemented in three ways: (i) gang rape, usually by three or more men, leading to a high risk of injury; (ii) genital mutilation; and (iii) intentional transmission of sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and HIV."
Sexual terrorism in eastern is a unique phenomenon in history, as clearly shown in the report-essay by Pratt and Werchik. And I think it's a reductionist mistake to try and claim that it has been documented "throughout history, across cultures, during times of conflict, and behind closed doors."
In addition, sexual terrorism in eastern Congo has little in common with the "mass rape of hundreds of thousands of women [that] have been reported in Europe and Nanking during the Second World War, Bangladesh, ["] and the former Yugoslavia." For instance, revenge rapes of German women by Russian troops during the Second World War didn't entail the atrocities of "genital mutilations" documented in eastern Congo by Drs Mukwege and Nangini themselves and others. And the Japanese armies during the same conflict had instead carried out a systematic campaign of "sexual slavery."
Furthermore, sexual terrorism in eastern Congo doesn't rest on the bedrock of "the
perception, deeply embedded in patriarchal societies, that women's sexuality is
a prefecture of male ownership, and it is linked to the persistence of unequal
gender relations and particularly to the way women's bodies are regarded." Again,
Drs Mukwege and Nangini could have avoided this pitfall by reading Pratt and
What I find most fascinating in Drs Mukwege and Nangini's paper, however, is the positive correlation they statistically establish between areas of "mineral wealth" and "regions where REV is rampant." And I wonder why they didn't "unpack" on this aspect besides the statistical table they provide.
Finally, I also found very interesting the notion of sexual terrorism as a form of "biological warfare," which could have benefited by drawing on Foucault's concept of "biopolitics" and by therefore describing sexual terrorism as a "biopolitical war"--thus showing the extent of its full reverberation."
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