Editor’s note: This article is the second in a two-part series. Part one focused on assistance to rape victims and educational efforts for everyday Congolese. Part two looks at efforts to reform the groups responsible for rape in Congo.
KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo — A team of U.S. Army medical personnel arrived in this crowded capital city the first week of September. For two weeks, the Americans trained alongside 300 members of the Congolese army. The goal of the exercise? “To increase interoperability with Congolese forces … and give them the opportunity to learn from us,” Lt. Col. Todd Johnston told World Politics Review.
There were two reasons behind the exercise’s timing: the U.S. and other countries’ growing reliance on Congo for rare minerals, including cobalt and tantalum, and the increasing fragility of the Congolese state.
Congo, population 65 million, had its first democratic election in 2006 and in the intervening years has made little progress in returning home 3 million internal refugees, alleviating poverty, improving life-expectancy or resolving conflict in the country’s restive east.
Congo’s problems intersect in a worsening epidemic of sexual violence. No fewer than 15,000 women are raped every year. Many thousands more never report it. More than half the rapes are perpetrated by Congolese soldiers, most of the rest by rebels who face little army resistance. Displaced women, lacking the protection of longtime neighbors, are most vulnerable.
The army’s culture of rape has crept into broader society. Rape by civilians jumped 17-fold since 2004, according to Oxfam. In Congo, the group warned, widespread sexual violence threatens the “reversal of a society’s norms.”