John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Rape in the Congo: More Than Politics or a Weapon of War

by John Campbell
December 6, 2012

View of the market at Bulengo camp for war-displaced people just outside Goma in eastern Congo 26/02/2009. (Finbarr O'Reilly/Courtesy Reuters)


Eastern Congo is notorious for rape perpetrated by Congolese soldiers and irregular militias, often as tool for terrorizing the local population. A shocking new study by Promudo and the Sonke Gender Justice Network shows that it is much more than that.  In a report issued December 4, their study shows that while sexual violence is certainly used in war, it also reflects the consequences of the general subordination of women and pervasive myths that normalize rape.  It also shows the extent to which men as well as women are victims of sexual violence.

The roots, then, of sexual violence are deep, and rape occurs within households and communities to an even greater extent than on the battlefield. The report also discusses the role of profound poverty and a population often demoralized by the lack of work. In its press release, Promundo’s International Director Dr. Gary Barker observes, “the results from our study affirm that Goma and the areas around it are among the worst places in the world to be a woman or a man, and that it is only by transforming gender relations, engaging women and men…that true and lasting change will be possible…” That would be harder than restoring security in the Eastern Congo—where Africa and the international community have been remarkably unsuccessful, as the latest crisis involving the M23 rebellion/mutiny shows.

Promundo is a Brazilian nongovernmental organization and research institute focused on gender issues.  In addition to Rio de Janiero, it has a presence in Washington, D.C. and in Rwanda.  The Sonke Gender Justice Network is a South African NGO that has long focused on gender issues and HIV/AIDS. Both have excellent reputations.

Promundo’s work in the Great Lakes region is yet another positive example of increased Brazilian involvement in Africa that I have written about before.  Similarly, the work of the Sonke Gender Justice Network shows that South African involvement outside its southern African region is more than just economic or political.

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