Sexual Violence in the congo

Part: 10

Clinton Leaves Her Mark on Congo's Rape Zone

Sunday, August 23, 2009

In the aftermath of Hillary Clinton's recent trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, women's rights and safety activists in Congo and Uganda reflect on the hope she leaves behind in one of the world's worst rape zones.

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"It will support Congolese women who have suffered atrocities to become the future leaders," Ensler said.

During her visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Clinton had a testy exchange with a male Congolese student at a forum in Kinshasa.

The student's question went through a translator and that has since raised the possibility of misinterpretation. But the student was represented as asking the Secretary of State what "Mr. Clinton" thought about a Chinese trade deal with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"You want me to tell you what my husband thinks?" Clinton said, according to widespread news accounts. "My husband is not Secretary of State, I am. If you want my opinion, I will tell you my opinion. I am not going to be channeling my husband."

While the international press focused on Clinton's retort, it was largely ignored in Uganda.

When asked about the incident, May Sengendo, a professor at Kampala-based Makerere University's Women and Gender Studies Department, said Clinton had her sympathy. Sengendo said the student's question reminded her of how the Ugandan first lady, Janet Museveni, has had a hard time moving out of her husband's shadow, despite her own professional accomplishments.

'Her Own Identity'

"I think Clinton was very brave and professional to say that's my husband, and to distinguish her role as Secretary of State," said Sengendo. "She has her own identity."

Sengendo was particularly stunned that the student asked the question during a forum that focused on Congolese women. "Congolese culture is very patriarchal; it's the Secretary of State, but to the student, this was still a woman. This represents power relations, not only in Congo, but everywhere."

Uganda's December military operation last year against the Lord's Resistance Army has been criticized for making life in the Congo worse, since it triggered reprisal attacks on citizens, including abductions of children and women as soldiers and sex slaves.

"They always regard girls as sex slaves, tools of war, and fighters," said Felix M. Kulayigye, spokesman for the Ugandan People's Defence Force, in an exclusive interview with Women's eNews, referring to the rebel group.

Since December, Kulayigye has defended the U.S.-funded Ugandan mission to the Congo as a necessary attack on a rebel army that was regrouping and had refused to sign onto the latest round of peace agreements.

"Unfortunately, sexual violence has become a weapon of war and when matters or conflicts go ethnic, sexual violence is used to dehumanize the adversary," he said.

Resolve Uganda, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group points out that while she talked about the sexual assaults by the region's roving groups of armed men, Clinton did not mention the violence that the Lord's Resistance Army has inflicted on eastern Congo in recent months. Resolve Uganda says rebel forces have killed at least 1,200 Congolese civilians since September 2008, abducted over 500 children and displaced 321,000 civilians from their homes.

"We were disappointed that Secretary Clinton failed to mention LRA violence in northeastern Congo during her recent trip to the region," said Paul Ronan, senior policy analyst and co-founder of Resolve Uganda, "especially given that she emphasized the need to address sexual violence."


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Rebecca Harshbarger is a journalist based in Kampala, Uganda.


For more information:

Resolve Uganda

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Series Overview

Sexual Violence in the Congo

Part: 10

Death Threats, Via Text Msg, Scare Congo Reporters

Part: 9

Clinton Leaves Her Mark on Congo's Rape Zone

Part: 8

Rape Crisis in East Congo Tied to Mining Activity

Part: 7

Rapes Soar in Eastern Congo's Culture of Impunity

Part: 6

New Fighting Escalates Rape in Eastern Congo

Part: 5

Panel Decries Neglect of Sexual Violence in Congo

Part: 4

V-Day Spotlights Congolese Women Torn by War

Part: 3

Band of Congo Radio Reporters Aid Rape Victims

Part: 2

Mass Stigma Scars Congo's Rape Survivors

Part: 1

In War-Riddled Congo, Militias Rape with Impunity