the greatest silence: rape in the congo

There's always something new to be angry about. To be honest, there are times when I feel like throwing my hands in the air and giving up on humanity.

I've seen a lot of documentaries in the last year about the Iraq war, Afghanistan, torture, our broken health care system... all depressing issues having to do with the current state of American politics. All those issues have one thing in common, though: there is an apparent solution.

The HBO documentary I watched the other night was a different story altogether. As I watched The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo, I was overcome by a feeling of helplessness, and hopelessness. The problem is evident; the solution, not so much.

Here's the situation:

  1. The Democratic Republic of Congo is a huge nation (about the size of Western Europe) in the central part of Africa.
  2. Congo has a vast wealth of resources: gold, diamonds, and 80% of the world's reserves of coltan (a mineral used in all cell phones and laptops).
  3. Despite the wealth, Congo is a destitute country. The nation has been ravaged by a civil war since 1994.
  4. The war makes it easy to loot Congo's resources: an estimated $1,000,000 in coltan is stolen across the border each day. The war is profitable, so the war continues.
  5. The most striking consequence of this war is rape. Soldiers from every side rape civilian women with impunity, mutilating them afterwards so they lose the use of bladder, uterus, and/or rectum.
  6. Due to societal conventions, women who have been raped are often shunned by their husbands and families, as though the rape were the fault of the victim.

This woman is Maria Namafu. She is 70 years old. As she was raped, the soldiers told her, "You're not too old for us." How does that not make you angry?

I first became aware of this situation a few weeks ago when Ann Curry did a story on NBC's Today show. It's easy to say to yourself, Oh, that sucks. But there's crappy stuff happening all over the world. What can I do about it?

Honestly, I don't really know what can be done about it. There are UN Peacekeepers, but the country is so huge that their efforts barely make a dent. There is a Congolese "Special Victims Unit"... of one officer in a ramshackle wooden hut. There is one hospital, the Panzi Hospital, for treating the victims of sexual violence... but most never make it there. There are vast resources in that country... but they are used to line the pockets of criminals instead of to save the women of Congo.

It's a shit situation.

The only thing I can think of is to raise awareness. So I guess that's what I'm trying to do. Watch the doc if you get HBO... if you don't, research the problem, and donate if you can to the Panzi Hospital or other nonprofits that try to help in the region. This is as good a place to start as any.

I'm not an activist by any stretch, and I'm certainly not a Congolese. But I'm a woman, and I'm a human being, and I'm a citizen of this planet. And those are my brothers and sisters. I'm not sure what can be done...we've just got to do something.

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6 Response to "the greatest silence: rape in the congo"

  1. Fletch says:
    April 10, 2008 at 12:28 PM

    "To be honest, there are times when I feel like throwing my hands in the air and giving up on humanity."

    I feel the exact way sometimes, and I'm sad to say that it will probably just happen more and more in the future. I swear, sometimes I think we as a species just don't deserve this world. So many are just plain indefensibly evil - there's no excuse for the actions.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Patricia Perry says:
    April 11, 2008 at 7:54 AM

    Posts like this make me very sad - but then, that's the only reasonable response to information like this, isn't it?

    I share your feelings. The cruelty that humans inflict on each other is incomprehensible to me.

    But your efforts to raise awareness are very honorable. Good post.

  3. Anonymous Says:
    April 14, 2008 at 9:24 AM

    I've seen a lot of films like this and read a lot of books about atrocities. I have accepted that thisi s the world in which we live, with all that's good and all that's unbearable.

    I contribute to Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders, and try to take part in actions on human rights when I can. The hubby is involved in protests at the Chinese embassy about their aid to the repressive regime in Darfur, part of what is destabilizing all of central Africa.

    It makes me feel better to know that I'm doing something for people in need, and I keep in perspective that what I do won't change the world, just my relationship with it.

  4. Daniel says:
    April 14, 2008 at 6:02 PM

    Shame nobody ever sees these, isn't it? I see countless (including Lumo, which tells a similar story in the Congo), and the theater is always empty. Meanwhile, Jackass Part 6 sells out three weeks in a row.

  5. Anonymous Says:
    April 16, 2008 at 7:09 AM

    I know what you mean Dan. I am African and I don't even see enough of these kind of films. It is crazy.

    This post is great, and I recently saw God Grew Tired of Us, which will no doubt be pushed off the SA cinema circuit for something like Prom Night, and it is sad. Me and my friend were the only people in the cinema seeing the film, which was great, but it sucks how selfish, ignorant or completely careless humanity can be. When I see films/docs like the one I saw, it is completely infuriating to believe that one person can be completely cruel and evil towards another.

    I will keep my eye open for “The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo”

    I too want to throw my hands up in the air and give up on humanity, but there are a few great people with a passion for others that keep me going.

  6. Nayana Anthony says:
    April 16, 2008 at 12:22 PM

    Thanks, everyone, for your responses. I've calmed down a bit (though that may not be a good thing).

    Marilyn, your suggestions for getting involved are spectacular. Hear, hear.

    Daniel and Nick, I'm putting Lumo and God Grew Tired of Us on my list.

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