In `the Congo’, the `truth’ takes time, rather than a parachute

In October 2012, The Guardian reported a dramatic rise in sexual violence in the eastern Congo. Five months later, Foreign Policy published, “What happened in Luvungi? On rape and truth in Congo”. What exactly is `the truth’, according to Foreign Policy? It’s a `spectacle’: “When the interviews were over and we were out of earshot, my colleague and I stood in confused silence. I had interviewed survivors of rape in eastern Congo before; a psychological element seemed to be missing in these interactions. Before I managed to articulate the uncomfortable feeling that we had just been lied to, my Congolese colleague spit it out: `Those women have been coached’.”

The FP author supports her suspicion by visiting a local health care professional, who tells her that during the insurgency he only treated six rape survivors. Yet when the UN came in, the numbers soared into the hundreds. This drastic increase seemed odd at best and outright manipulative at worst. One way in which the numbers could have been distorted, he figured, was that the large majority of female patients were listed as rape victims, regardless of the actual cause of their injury or illness.

Was the clinic purposefully cheating in the numbers game, and if so, to what effect? The author suggests that fabricated high numbers will cause aid to flow disproportionately towards sexual violence to the neglect of other urgent needs. She further suggests that over-reporting induces both aid workers and Congolese women to frame their work and suffering as sexual violence, because this increases aid workers’ chances for funding and Congolese women’s access to medical care, credit and housing.

Have ‘we’, donors, sympathizers, aid workers and readers all been fooled? According to the UN and the service provider at the clinic, no, we have not. The sudden rise in reporting is neither manufactured nor difficult to understand. The numbers soared because it took a while for most women to feel safe enough to leave their homes.

Whereas the various drivers of sexualized violence in conflict areas are complicated and riddled with contextually specific complexities, the reason that in any society rape is underreported is fairly straightforward. It’s not difficult to imagine why rape survivors hesitate to report their suffering. Sexual assaults are extremely personal and heavily sensitive types of violations, which render them difficult to discuss with authorities, especially with men. Additionally, often the women are not taken seriously or are blamed for the crimes. Thus, the rapes that actually get reported most likely only cover the tip of the iceberg. In the context of a war-torn eastern DRC, stigma and social shame can lead to social exclusion and rejection from their partners. And when soldiers are still around, incentives to venture out to a clinic or authority to report on the abuse can be crushed by fear.

Nonetheless, the sensitive and horrendous nature of rape shouldn’t stand in the way of critically examining the efficacy and side effects of support, be it media attention or monetary aid. And if experiences and conversations in one location (Luvungi), in a particular point in time (after a recent armed invasion), reveal problems around the role and impact of the media, politicians and international organizations alike, critical questions must be raised.

As an outsider, you should have to ask such questions with great caution. Especially in the context of a highly complex conflict in a nation as vast as the DRC, you may want to ask the question “is it really that bad?” carefully. Caution means not generalizing from micro-contextual findings about one insurgency to a national rape epidemic that has been going on for many years. Every district and town is different. No matter, the FP author moves seamlessly from the particular context of what happened in Luvungi to make broader assumptions about the scale of current and past rape exaggeration in the country as a whole: “Even in Luvungi, ground zero of Congo’s rape epidemic, things aren’t exactly what they’ve been made out to be”.

Does lifting out one allegedly staged group interview to make such claims actually arrive at and reflect the truth? According to former journalist and UN official Iain Guest, who works with and for sexual violence survivors in the DRC, the truth lies not only elsewhere but anywhere but. In November 2012, he sought to counter exaggeration claims by the UN and others. Guest argued that rape is systematically underreported. For example, he noted, the UN doesn’t visit areas such as Fizi, in south Kivu, for the simple reason that it’s too dangerous: “This may explain why the UN’s January report only confirmed 167 cases in the whole of south Kivu last year- a ridiculously low figure”.

So, the UN pressures the Congolese government to suspend some senior army officials for having been involved in mass rape, but the Congolese government can’t be expected to be on top of things when its own troops are key players. According to Guest, the world was more or less forced to pay attention for two years, 2009 and 2010: “That sort of publicity is impossible to sustain”. The attention diminishes, the violence continues. According to some reports, the UN’s suggested rape rate in the DRC might have been 26 times too low.

The point is that the `truth’ takes time, rather than a parachute. Reporters, researchers, and readers alike must resist the temptation to hop from observation to generalization and (jump) from conversation to conclusion.

Many women in Eastern DRC are facing, and have faced, horrible levels of sexualized violence, and that’s the truth.

(Photo Credit: Peter Muller / Open Society Foundation)

How not to study sexualized violence in the DRC

“Soldiers and militiamen have raped women around Bukavu.” New York Times

Judging by the volumes of media productions and the increasing attention devoted to the topic by various organizations, interest in and awareness of sexualized violence that rages armed conflicts have amplified these past few years. The narrative of sexualized violence has also evolved. At first, ‘rape as a weapon of war’ used to dominate popular understandings of sexualized violence in conflict. That was later criticized for being reductionist in emphasizing the assumed psychological strategy of humiliating the enemy. Understanding rapes that occur in war zones as exclusively underpinned by a particular combatant motive now seems to offer little. However, thanks to many studies and reports, we know that armed conflicts alter and intensify a society’s patterns of rape. The civil wars in Spain and Sri Lanka, Second World War Japan, Afghanistan, Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, Nazi Germany: the list goes on and on and on….

Despite the overabundance of examples, many today associate wartime rape primarily or exclusively with the DRC. Depending on international media to shape our grasp of worldwide human rights violations, many of us have learned to identify wartime sexualized violence with women in the DRC’s North Kivu region.

Two women who played a major role in bringing the systematic rape of Congolese women by soldiers into the world’s conscience are the former U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who pushed the topic on the US’s foreign policy agenda in 2009, and Margaret Wallström, who, during her term as the UN’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, coined the now famous term ‘Rape Capital of the World’ in reference to the DRC in April 2010. Former UN Special Envoy and current co-director of AIDS-Free World Stephen Lewis also argued that “there is no precedent for the intense brutality of the war on women in Congo” and that “the world has never dealt with such a twisted and blistering phenomenon”.

War, sadistic gang rape, vicious killing, violence deserve prioritization across the social, political and legislative agendas. Two spaces in which these issues are focused on are development and postgraduate gender and development programs, both of which are largely occupied by those privileged with access to universities, travel grants, research positions, international development jobs. In reality, we’re talking about white middle-class European and American women with a strong sense of idealism and a soft spot for difference and `the other’. Not surprisingly, when the realities of sexualized rape in eastern DRC began to emerge, more than a few were drawn to the topic.

In a world where violations of women’s rights continue to be marginalized, normalized and invisibilized, demanding attention for the brutalities women face is a good thing. After all, it takes exposure, shock, outrage, solidarity and a sense of urgency to mobilize resources and political will to investigate the crisis and take action. However, when one particular group of Western women comes to study and define the `truth’ of a less privileged group of `other’ women, how does their positionality and their inevitably chalenged grasp of context `on the ground’ affect the subject women, the women are being studied, `empowered’, `supported

In what ways ways is their interest connected to the longstanding colonial fascination with subaltern brutalities and Black rapists? Such questions might seem like a futile, even galling exercise in the face of the high rape estimates and the urgency with which the crisis must be addressed. Surely the fear for racially stereotyping certain groups by researching their perpetration shouldn’t lead to a neglect of massive human suffering? That’s right; it shouldn’t.

However, not all research carried out is actually helpful or constructive in reducing the violence, as Marsha Henry, points out, in her piece, `Ten Reasons not To Write your Masters Dissertation on Sexual Violence in War’: “Here’s another important reason not to write a dissertation on sexual violence as a weapon of war in the DRC. It’s been done already! Students continually ask me ‘can you suggest a couple of books on the subject?’. Where to start? There is so much to be said about gender and violence in militarised contexts more generally, but there has also been a great deal written about by a number of scholars. And it is precisely this body of knowledge that has sometimes been misanalysed by students. That is, although much of this writing has politically exposed the issue, students often read it as a holistic canon on the subject, interpreting the text as they wish. Dissertations often become regurgitated and simplistic snapshots of other work, reinforcing particular perspectives and portrayals and therefore contributing to the reification of the subject (missing a cogent assessment of narrative forms). A rhetorical stasis is created, where certain material and citations are circulated and re-circulated, with little new insight or critical perspective provided”.

One explanation for the disproportionately large interest in the DRC, compared to other conflicts, is the horror at the brutalities women have faced. If indeed this horror plays a key role in igniting students’ interest, how does that shape the findings and value of the final work? According to Henry, it does so in a troubling way: “Honing in on the bodily experience of rape, for example, can remove rape in war from the wider social, cultural, economic and political context in which it always takes place. It can be an abstraction of the total experience. The affective impact is that readers of these dissertations distance themselves from subjects in the studies”.

Is the topic compelling because of the opportunity to contribute towards understanding and ending the violence? At what point is this opportunity compromised by sensationalizing thick descriptions? If this type of research adds neither value nor insight, what might be its negative effects? For example, imagine a future generation of students googling ‘rape and war in the early 2000s’ and being bombarded by references to the DRC, while reading little about all the other conflicts where similar violence occurred. Wouldn’t that tell them rape-and-war was unique to the DRC? To Africa? Wouldn’t that particular type of disproportional interest inevitably lead to a distorted, and racist, version of the truth? The point is not for students to ignore the topic, but to critically check the roots, aim and fruitfulness of its appeal and to consider the effects it may have.


(Image Credit: The New York Times)

The UK asylum system still isn’t gender sensitive

Participating at the Go Feminist conference earlier this month, I sat and listened to Herlinda. Herlinda was there to talk about her experience as a woman claiming asylum in the UK after fleeing persecution in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a country where rape is “commonplace” and perpetrators generally go punished.

Herlinda’s story – of claiming asylum in the UK, of being disbelieved by officials, of ending up destitute and sleeping rough – is similar to the accounts given by all too many women who seek asylum here.

Indeed, her story is dispiritingly familiar. In January Asylum Aid published our new report, “I feel like as a woman I’m not welcome”, which combines legal analysis and interviews with asylum-seeking women and their legal representatives to test the Government’s promise to make the asylum system more gender-sensitive. And while political rhetoric on this has been encouraging of late – the Deputy Prime Minister promised in May 2011 that “we’re ensuring the process is sensitive to the needs of women and girls” – the situation on the ground can still be desperate.

I spoke with women who had been denied even basic standards of privacy when claiming asylum at the UK Border Agency (UKBA) unit in Croydon, so that the information they were asked to share with officials was compromised from the start (something that has lately attracted the concern of the independent Chief Inspector of the UKBA). I talked with one woman who, having claimed asylum after escaping from sex traffickers, was asked by immigration officials how many men she had slept with and whether she enjoyed working as a prostitute. And I met with a mother who, having been forced to move cities so that she could receive accommodation and support from the UKBA, was so scared that she and her children dared not leave their unfamiliar new housing for three days. I heard story after story like this each day while conducting the research.

The stakes could hardly be higher. When someone flees gender-based violence and persecution in their home country, they turn to our asylum system in desperation. But too often they find a procedure which is dysfunctional and ill-equipped to meet their needs.

We know from previous research that women are too often disbelieved when they seek asylum, and that they have a higher chance of winning their appeal when the case is scrutinised in more detail. We know that the specific grounds on which victims of gender-related persecution might be recognised as refugees – as a Particular Social Group – is worryingly misunderstood and underused by asylum decision-makers.

The quality of decisions when women seek asylum has long been a concern, and this new research exposes how deeply other causes for concern run through the full, end-to-end asylum system. There is limited consideration of gender issues in current legislation, and where UKBA policies do provide safeguards to women they are too seldom implemented in practice. From the way asylum interviews are conducted to living conditions in accommodation and immigration detention, asylum-seeking women continue to be treated very poorly. This is morally indefensible.

The Government has tools at its disposal for addressing this. Focused work on the daily operation of the asylum system – ensured privacy for anyone making their asylum application in Croydon, for example, or accepting the need to reconsider a claim where there is late disclosure of rape or sexual violence – should go hand-in-hand with strategic leadership that places gender at the heart of the asylum system. With the position of Gender Champion of the UKBA currently unoccupied, now would be a good finally to time to invest that role with influence and real meaning.

The asylum system won’t be fair, the Deputy Prime Minister has admitted, “until we’re sure no single group is being singled out”. All of us who work with women asylum seekers will continue to hold the Government to account. We are only asking, after all, that they honour their own promises.



(This first appeared at The F-Word, here: Thanks to The F-Word for sharing.)

Women do not haunt the State. They occupy it.


Around the world, women are taking to the streets in great numbers, to protest, to take charge, to transform. In the past couple weeks, women have led and populated mass protests and marches in Malawi, Uganda, Lebanon, Argentina, Romania, Chile, Haiti. Women have occupied Wall Street, Nigeria, and beyond.

Women have been the bearers, in every sense, of Spring … in Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain. Today, January 25, women are returning to Tahrir Square … and to every square in Egypt. This is nothing new for northern Africa. Women, such as Aminatou Haidar, have born `spring’ in Western Sahara now for decades.

For women, the street does not end at the sidewalk. It runs, often directly, into the State offices.

Women are everywhere on the move, changing the face and form of State.

In Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner returned to her office today, after a 21-day health related absence, to resume her activities as President. On Thursday, January 5, Portia Simpson Miller was inaugurated, for the second time, as Prime Minister of Jamaica. On Monday, January 16, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was inaugurated to her second term, of six years, as President of Liberia.

These are precisely not historic stories or events, and that’s the point. Women in positions of State power are women in positions of State power. Not novelties nor exotic nor, most importantly, exceptions. That is the hope.

But for now, that struggle continues.

In Colombia, women, such as Esmeralda Arboleda, helped organize the Union of Colombian Women, fought for women’s rights and power, and was the first woman elected as a Senator to the national Congress. That was July, 1958. Fifty or so years later, in January 2012, women in Chile launched “Mas mujeres al poder”, “More women in power”.  In tactics, strategies and cultural actions, Mas mujeres al poder builds on the work of student activists in the streets. Women are saying enough, women are saying the time is now, and women are pushing their way through the electoral process, with or without the political parties, into the provincial and national legislatures.

Meanwhile, in Bolivia, Gabriela Montaño was named President of the Senate and Rebeca Delgado was named President of the House of Representatives. Women are everywhere … and on the move.

On Tuesday, January 10, voters in Minnesota, in the United States, elected Susan Allen to the state legislature. Allen is the first American Indian woman to serve in that body. She is a single mother, and she is lesbian. Many firsts accrue to her election.

Across Europe, Black women are struggling and entering into legislative bodies with greater and greater success: Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen, originally from Martinique,  in Norway; Nyamko Sabuni, originally from the DRC, in Sweden; Mercedes Lourdes Frias, originally from the Dominican Republic, in Italy. The struggle continues … into the national and regional legislatures, into the political structures, into the cultures of power as well as recognition.

Across the African continent, women are on the move. In Kenya, women, such as Charity Ngilu, are set to make their marks in the upcoming elections … and beyond. Meanwhile, South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is running, hard, for the Chairpersonship of the African Union Commission. She would be the first woman in that post, and some say she would be the most powerful woman in Africa.

And in South Korea, four women, Park Geun-hye, Han Myeong-sook, Lee Jung-hee and Sim Sang-jung lead the three major political parties. Together, their three parties control 262 seats of the National Assembly’s 299.

This barely covers the news from the past three weeks. Everywhere, women are cracking patriarchy’s hold on and of power, in the streets, in the State legislatures, in the political structures. Today, and tomorrow, women do not haunt the State. They occupy it.


(Photo Credit: BeBlogerra)

Black Looks: Sange


We thought collecting black gold would make us truly free

You do not blame a woman whose belly has been empty for fifty years

If she scoops the sand onto which the gari has spilled

Hoping to sift through later

So as soon as we saw the tanker tipping over



Like a tortoise that had fallen on its already cracked back

Tyres spinning desperately in the air

We ran to grab our buckets rusted to a brown that was indistinguishable from the earth that barely sustained and the huts that no longer sheltered

Scoop scoop black gold that nourishes

Thick oil gurgled like blood in the throat of a man dying bad death

Spreading out a slow persistent stain that no funeral rites would wash away from our land

But to our half-starved minds delirious with third-world hunger—the kind that makes foreigners pledge ninety cents a week to send a naked child to school—the gurgling was A song

Into whose discordant melody we fused words of hope:

School fees for my children

White man is dead1for my wife

Medicine for old and food for babies

Black gold black gold

Happy day this is true independence
Scald scald black gold ignites

Split-second the song is drowned a horrible death world cup screens melted shapeless plastic flash and boom boom flash it is civil war all over again murder by first degree burns no more rust buckets no hope for white man is dead no one to cry foul oil rushes like enraged bulls flaming river engulfs sweeps into an eternal sea sang qui coule sanguine though none will hunger or thirst yet shall there be weeping no gnashing for no teeth remain




Black gold kills black death

The persistent stain soils my land like a baby neglected in a pit latrine thick liquid stain in which floats the solid black excrement of bodies

Charred beyond recognition

No our independence is burnt out

Charred beyond recognition

Like the profit they said black gold would bring…

By Annie Quarcoopome. Annie Quarcoopome writes at Black Looks. This poem appeared there. Thanks to Sokari Ekine, at Black Looks, for publishing and collaborating.

Black Looks: Kimpa Vita – a profile of courage

Today, July 2nd, is the anniversary of the death of Kimpa Vita who together with her baby (Kembo Dianzenza va Kintete) and her boyfriend, were burned to death on July 2nd 1706 by the Catholic church. I only just found out about Kimpa Vita – there is so much of our African and Diaspora history that is unknown to the majority of African people. Who was Kimpa Vita? Information is scarce but Kimpa Vita is one of a long line of courageous politicised Queens of the Kongo (parts of present day Angola and Congo) who fought against slavery and colonialists as early as the 15th century. Women such as Ndona Nzinga, Ndona Mafuta and Ndona Dondwa. The importance of Kimpa Vita is that she fought against slavery and exposed the racism and misogyny of the Catholic Church and also incorporated traditional religions with Christianity.

Beatrice Kimpa Vita was born in 1684 in the kingdom of Kongo. In 1704, at the age of 20 years, she started her non-violent mission of the liberation and the restoration of the kingdom, destroyed by the Portuguese. She fought all the forms of slavery, from those of the local practices to those linked to the European domination. She adapted Christianity to the African realities, teaching people that there are also Black saints in paradise, contradicting the Catholic priests who taught that there should ONLY be WHITE SAINTS. She led thousands of people to rebuild and to repopulate Mbanza Kongo, the capital, whereas King Pedro IV, imposed by the Catholic Church, had taken refuge in the mountains. That is a rare phenomenon, in a social context where the women were supposed to be submissive to the men.

Today she is remembered in “Kanda commune, northern Zaire Province” of Angola

I would really be interested in finding out more about these African Queens so if any one knows anything please do leave a comment.

(Sokari Ekine writes and organizes at Black Looks: This post appeared originally there.)

(Image credit:

Who are the plunderers, and who are the restorers?

In the Congo, who are the plunderers? Sokari Ekine posed this question earlier this week, after having seen Grand Theft Congo. It’s a good question.

Grand Theft Congo tells the story of cassiterite, a mineral that serves as the base for tin. The value of cassiterite skyrocketed when the European Union outlawed lead and replaced lead with tin. Europe rises, and the eastern Congo sinks, literally. As Ekine notes, the minerals are mined by slave labor, but they are transported and purchased by a free market of local comptoirs, or trading houses, and distant corporations. Everyone turns a blind eye. But does this identify the plunderers? Who are the plunderers?

A recent Global Witness report, Faced with a gun, what can you do?: War and the militarisation of mining in eastern Congo, identifies seven military and other armed groups as those who are `plundering minerals’. These groups are a Rwandan Hutu armed group; Tutsi-led rebels backed by Rwanda; another group that allies with different sides at different times; various mai-mai groups in North and South Kivu, organized largely along ethnic lines; a Tutsi cadre; the Congolese national army; and demobilized combatants, especially former mai-mai. The mai-mai were originally local resistance forces opposed to the Rwandan invading armies and militias.

In this report, the term plunder is only used to describe the actions of regional military forces, Congolese or Rwandan. The report documents the comptoirs, or trading houses, that sell and export the minerals, through Rwanda and Burundi, to companies elsewhere, such as Thailand Smelting and Refining Corporation (THAISARCO), the world’s fifth-largest tin-producing company, owned by British metals giant Amalgamated Metal Corporation (AMC); British company Afrimex; and several Belgian companies such as Trademet and Traxys. These then sell their materials to electronics and other industries. These companies all contribute to the violence, but they are not described as plundering.  Why not?

The plunder of the Congo is presented as the Great Plunder, the Rape of the Congo. Some see the plundering as a system. Others argue that the plunder of natural resources can only take place in the context of super exploitation, forced labor, and carnage. For some, this carnage concerns sexual terrorism and militarized rape campaigns. Soldiers rape, commanders condone, women suffer, and the copper, diamonds, cassiterite, coltan keep on moving. And don’t forget the wood, the nickel, the land itself.

But what exactly does it mean, to plunder? “To rob (a place or person) of goods or valuables forcibly, typically in a time of war or civil disorder or in the course of a hostile incursion; to pillage, ransack; to rob systematically; to despoil.” Plunder is always military. In fact, it seems to have first appeared in English during either the Thirty Years’ War, when English soldiers were fighting in southern Germany, or earlier, when English soldiers were fighting in the Low Countries. It took root and effloresced in England during the English Civil War. Wars of empire or civil wars.

But the intricacies of plunder, and of the identity of the plunderers, go further. At its German or Dutch root, plunder meant “to rob of household furnishings.” Plundering involved the violent, militarized seizure of bed-clothes, clothing, baggage, rags, trash, everything. Plunder did not mean to take the most valuable but rather to ravage and ransack the most ordinary, the stuff of everyday life. Plundering is a violation of the most intimate, the trash and rags that comprise our days, that which we cherish most and which the market values least, and it always goes from house to house, from body to body.

The plunder of the Congo is the violent militarized seizure of the everyday, of the ordinary. Women. Men. Children. Forests. Land. Stuff. Even in the story of plunder, which should be their story, they have all been sacrificed to the story of markets, of mineral resources, armed forces, major corporations. They must be restored to the center of their own stories and the story of the Congo.

Who are the plunderers, and who are the restorers, the replenishers, the re-founders? There are the ones who are well known, such as conservationist René Ngongo who has worked with local growers to find ways of sustaining rather than devastating the rainforests of the Congo Basin and who has taken on the mining and logging industries. There’s Dr. Denis Mukwege, at Panzi Hospital of Bukavu, who has tended to survivors of sexual violence. Then there are the thousands, like the Director of Maison d’Écoute (Listening House), ‘whom I will call Rebecca Kamate”, local women and men whose names must be withheld, Congolese women and men who literally turn the swords that have been thrust into them into ploughshares. They are the ones “that have managed to maintain their integrity by not partaking in the plunder of the Congo”, and they too are numerous. Where is their story told, where is their documentary, where is their Congo?

(Photo Credit: International Committee of the Red Cross)

ACAS Bulletin 83: Sexual and gender based violence in Africa

Sexual and gender based violence in Africa

A New ACAS Bulletin edited by Daniel Moshenberg

This Bulletin began in response to news reports of “corrective” and “curative” gang rapes of lesbians in South Africa. These were then followed by news reports of a study in South Africa that found that one in four men in South Africa had committed rape, many of them more than once. We wanted to bring together concerned Africa scholars and committed African activists and practitioners, to help contextualize these reports. We wanted to address the ongoing situation of sexual and gender based violence on the continent, the media coverage of sexual and gender based violence in Africa, and possibilities for responses, however partial, that might offer alternatives to the discourse of the repeated profession of shock or the endless, and endlessly reiterated, cycle of lamentation. To that end, we have brought together writers of prose fiction (Megan Voysey-Braig), lawyer-advocates (Salma Maoulidi, Ann Njogu), poets (Chinwe Azubuike), trauma scholars (Sariane Leigh), human righs and women’s rights advocates (Michelle McHardy), gender and transgender advocates (Liesl Theron), activist researchers (Sasha Gear). These categories are fluid, since every writer here is involved in various activist projects, advocates in many ways. The writers do not pretend to `cover Africa’, and neither does the collection of their writings. The writings treat South Africa, Nigeria, Zanzibar, Kenya, Sierra Leone. They are meant to continue certain conversations, to initiate others.

Read more here :

Download the Entire pdf (3.4mb) here:

Table of Contents

Sexual and gender based violence: everyday, everywhere, and yet… | pdf
Daniel Moshenberg

Untitled | pdf
Megan Voysey-Braig

Zanzibar GBV advocacy: important lessons for future legal reform strategies | pdf
Salma Maoulidi

Searching for the will to conscientiously prosecute sexual crimes in Zanzibar | pdf
Salma Maoulidi

Poet’s Note | pdf
Onwu Di
Of Widowhood
Chinwe Azubuike

Post conflict recovery in Sierra Leone: the spiritual self and the transformational state | pdf
Sariane Leigh

To be a woman in Kenya: a look at sexual and gender-based violence | pdf
Ann Njogu and Michelle McHardy

Trans-hate at the core of gender based violence? | pdf
Liesl Theron

Manhood, violence and coercive sexualities in men’s prisons: dynamics and consequences behind bars and beyond | pdf
Sasha Gear

Supplemental Material

Profile: Dr Denis Mukwge
Lelly Morris / The Lancet

Interview: Sexual terrorism in eastern DRC
Amy Goodman interveiws Christine Shuler Deschryver

Report: Soldiers who rape, commanders who condone
Human Rights Watch

The Association of Concerned African Scholars (ACAS) is a network of academics, analysts and activists. ACAS is engaged in critical research and analysis of Africa and U.S. government policy; developing communication and action networks; and mobilizing concerned communities on critical, current issues related to Africa. ACAS is committed to interrogating the methods and theoretical approaches that shape the study of Africa.

Here’s what isn’t in dispute: Dymond and Clara

Dymond Milburn

Dymond Milburn is in dispute with more than the police force of Galveston, Texas. On Wednesday, The Houston Press reported an incident, two years earlier, involving Dymond, African American, 12 at the time, in front of her family home: “a blue van drove up and three men jumped out rushing toward her. One of them grabbed her saying, `You’re a prostitute. You’re coming with me.’ Dymond grabbed onto a tree and started screaming, `Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.’ One of the men covered her mouth. Two of the men beat her about the face and throat. As it turned out, the three men were plain-clothed Galveston police officers who had been called to the area regarding three white prostitutes soliciting a white man and a black drug dealer.” Three weeks later, the police came to Dymond’s school, where Dymond is an honors student, and arrested her for assaulting a public servant.

On Thursday, Radley Balko picked up on the story, and then it took off into the blogosphere. Later, Balko updated his account: “Here’s what isn’t in dispute:  Milburn was wrongly targeted during a prostitution raid.  The police were looking for white prostitutes.  Milburn is black.  She was apprehended by plain-clothes narcotics officers who emerged from a van as she stood outside her home.  She resisted.  The police have acknowledged they targeted the wrong house.  Three weeks later, Milburn was arrested at  her school, in front of her classmates, for `assaulting a public official.’  At some point, her father was arrested on a similar charge.  The judge declared a mistrial on the first day of Milburn’s trial.  According to Vogel [the Houston Press reporter], she’s scheduled to be tried again in February.”

J.D. Tucille, writing in response, concluded: “So the Galveston Police Department’s position is that it’s a criminal act for a little girl to resist being dragged into a van by strange men? If that’s the lesson the police want to send to the community, then it’s nothing more than an association of thugs intolerant of the slightest challenge to its authority. It’s certainly not an agency for preserving the peace and defending the rights of local residents. A police department like that shouldn’t just be sued; it should be disbanded.”

We already heard, the week that Dymond Milburn `became news’, that sex workers in the United States face police violence, and if you didn’t already know that African American women and girls face police violence and, even more, police sanctioned violence, A.C. Thompson’s “Katrina’s Hidden Race War” and Rebecca Solnit’s “The Grinning Skull: The Homicides You Didn’t Hear About in Hurricane Katrina” would remind you. Brent Staples has seen “Without Sanctuary”, an exhibition that exposes U.S. lynching cultural histories, and knows that “lynching … was a method of social control”. A Black girl in Texas, a state notorious for the quantity and quality of lynchings, hung to a tree for safety and freedom. Welcome to the 21st century.

White supremacist violence against Black people, Black communities, Black knowledge and culture, is not new. State violence against Black girls is not new. State use of sex and sexuality – what were you doing on that street or what were you doing out at that late hour – to justify violence against women, and in particular against Black women, is not new and is not news.

The occlusion of sexual violence that lies at the heart of all power relationships and hierarchies is also not new and never makes the news. Writing about the case of Brian Gene Nichols, accused and convicted to many life sentences without parole, for having beaten a courthouse sheriff’s deputy, and having killed a judge, a court reporter, a sheriff’s deputy, and an off-duty federal officer,  Marie Tesler finds that what is continually scanted, or not reported at all, is that Nichol’s initial charge was one of sexual assault, and it’s one that proved exceedingly difficult for a jury to take seriously. When it comes to sexual violence, the jury is always out. For Tesler, “Domestic violence and sexual violence are the DNA of violence throughout society. It’s where violence begins.”

What if the story involved the DRC, rather than Texas, and the Black girl was Clara, instead of Dymond: “That night I was coming back from my sister’s home when I was accosted by men in civilian clothes in a jeep with blacked-out windows at about 8pm. They showed me police badges,” she said. The men told Clara she was not allowed to be outside in the night and she climbed into their car expecting to be driven home to her parents. But the men drove her to the Ngaba district of Kinshasa where they ordered her to pay a 70 000 CDF ($120) fine. “I told them: ‘I am young. I do not have that kind of money.’ But they took the 1 500 CDF (about $3) that I had on me and my gold chain as money for transport,” she said. “Then they took me to a dark place. As two men raped me, the driver watched,” she said, adding that the men “gave me a lot of pain. I still have pain”.” What’s the distance between men who are police and men who claim to be police, between men who rape and men who `merely’ beat and injure, between fines and arrests, between Kinshasa and Galveston or Atlanta or New Orleans or wherever you are at this moment? The distance is important, and so is the shared space.

As more men commit more rape and sexual violence more intensely and furiously in one part of a country, others begin to do so in another. Call it liquidity. The cleansing niceties of geopolitical distance, rural – metropolitan or periphery – capital or dangerous – safe or bare life – my life, are worse than alibis. From the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the democratic United States of America, sexual violence, and even more the refusal by State and civil society to acknowledge and address sexual violence, `inspires’ rampage, and then the world expresses shock and horror, again, at the brutes and savages, once more. Pain is the currency, it is a quantity: “they gave me a lot of pain.” Pain is the trace, it is a quality: “I still have pain.” In patriarchy, pain has ever been the gift women are meant to receive. In global capital, women’s pain, in particular the pain of Black women, in particular the police sanctioned pain of Black women, is identity. Because the pain is identical and cannot be in dispute, no distance divides Dymond from Clara. Where is the State that acknowledges their pain and does more than acknowledge? Where are the reparations? Where is the place where justice, rather than violence, begins?


(Photo Credit: Breaking Brown)