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Dr Denis Mukwege publishes a monograph on sexual terrorism in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

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Monday June 8, 2008, Bukavu (DRC)--

Ms Rama Yade, then French Secretary of State for Human Rights (currently, for Sports), touring Panzi Hospital with Dr Denis Mukwege


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Two years 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."

Since then, 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 Le'gion d'honneur, all these awards in recognition of his work in fistula repair surgery.

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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 laureate.

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."

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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 Werchik's report-essay.

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.

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Alex Engwete is a Congolese-American who lives in Kinshasa (DRC) and Washington, DC. Outrage at injustices is what usually stirs him into blogging in French or in English. He likes Congolese beers and drinks "Samuel Adams" while in the United (more...)

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