Welcome to the jungle: Unamusement Park explores the Congo (part 1)
Aug 23rd, 2011 by Unamused
What the heck are those wacky Congolese up to, anyway?
It’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves, four or five hundred times. Today, Unamusement Park sets out into the jungle in search of answers.
And maybe some blood diamonds, too.
Warning: This series, like all ‘Park content, is extremely “racist,” meaning we find out facts about non-white people — in this case, the Congolese — then draw sensible conclusions from those facts, without (and this is key) assuming that non-white people are perfect and wonderful in every single way, and all their problems — I mean, struggles — are caused by white people, who can’t dance, play sports, act cool, meet women, control their subconscious white-supremacist psychosis, or indeed get anything right at all without the patient tutoring, moral support, and strict supervision of their omnibenevolent minority overlords: the Wise Latinas, the Magical Negroes, and a whole gang of other Colorful characters. So watch out for that. (The “racism,” I mean, not the run-on sentences.)
So what’s (the Democratic Republic of) the Congo like, anyway? In a word: horrible. Just horrible. Here is a small sampling of the horribleness to be found in the poorest country on Earth.
Crocodiles on a plane
The Congo has seen more fatal plane crashes than any other African country since 1945 (AP, 2008). As a result, all Congo-based airlines are banned from European Union airspace. According to EU spokesman Michele Cercone, “there is a general lack of effective control by the civil aviation authorities there to monitor and maintain minimum technical standards” for planes.
That “general lack of effective control… to monitor and maintain minimum technical standards” refers to, among other things, a 2010 crash that killed 20 people, caused by a loose crocodile on board (MSNBC, 2010). And just last month, 127 passengers and crew were killed when the pilots of a Boeing 727 missed the runway at Kisangani during a thunderstorm (BBC, 2011) — or was it 90? Or 82? Or maybe 75? The Congo Transport Ministry couldn’t make up its mind. Part of the problem was that “airlines in the African country do not always keep a complete passenger list” (NYC Aviation, 2011).
Of course they don’t.
The same airline, Hewa Bora Airways, lost a DC-9 on takeoff from Goma in April 2008, killing 40, most of them on the ground; and a smaller plane in September of that year, killing 17. So why do the Congolese still fly Hewa Bora Airways? Because they can’t drive anywhere (AP, 2011):
Few passable roads traverse the country after decades of war and corrupt rule, forcing the country’s deeply impoverished people to rely on ill-maintained planes and boats to move around.
Kinshasa: shitty capital of a shitty country
Kinshasa, the Congo’s largest city and capital, is one of the ten most dangerous cities in the world (Detroit News, 2010). Also on the list: Detroit, MI (82 percent black) and New Orleans, LA (67 percent black). And just like in America, the local media in Kinshasa broadcast “hate messages… inciting Congolese to target and take revenge on ‘white people and foreigners'” (AllAfrica, 2006). Well, it’s sort of like in America.
Kinshasa is the sort of place where the police have to act quickly to arrest “13 suspected sorcerers accused of using black magic to steal or shrink men’s penises, after a wave of panic and attempted lynchings triggered by the alleged witchcraft” (Reuters, 2008).
Rumours of penis theft began circulating last week in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo’s sprawling capital of some 8 million inhabitants. They quickly dominated radio call-in shows, with listeners advised to beware of fellow passengers in communal taxis wearing gold rings.
Things we learned today at Unamusement Park: never enter a communal taxi in Kinshasa with a man wearing gold rings. He is probably a sorcerer who will shrink your penis with black magic. No, really:
“It’s real. Just yesterday here, there was a man who was a victim. We saw. What was left was tiny,” said 29-year-old Alain Kalala, who sells phone credits near a Kinshasa police station.
Well, that settles it.
The Congolese reaction is understandable, really. After all, this is the 7th century AD, and we should expect the threat of magical genital-thievery to provoke a — what’s that? It’s not the 7th century? It’s the 21st? Oh. I guess the Congolese are just a bunch of goddamn savages then. (More on that later.)
In 2009, Congolese government troops sodomized male Pygmies “to gain supernatural powers and protection in Kisa village in Walikale territory,” according to a regional rights group (Agence France-Presse, 2009).
The village chief was stripped and [sodomized] in the presence of his wife, his children and daughter in-law.
The children in turn were stripped and raped in front of their father.
What can I possibly say to this? Hurray for African culture?
Rape: a national pastime
The Congo has been called “the worst place on earth to be a woman,” and for good reason (AP, 2011): every day, 1,152 women are raped — that’s 48 per hour. Clearly they are in desperate need of a SlutWalk.
Congo, a nation of 70 million people that is equal in size to Western Europe, has been plagued by decades of war. Its vast forests are rife with militias that have systematically used rape to destroy communities.
The analysis, which will be published in the American Journal of Public Health in June, shows that more than 400,000 women had been raped in Congo during a 12-month period between 2006 and 2007.
That’s right: the Congolese use rape as a weapon of war, because it so efficiently destroys the fabric of society. This is confirmed by Melanne Verveer, the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues (AP, 2009).
Hundreds of thousands of women, girls and babies have been raped during 12 years of conflict in eastern Congo, victims of a weapon of war that almost always goes unpunished, senators were told Wednesday.
“Rape is employed as a weapon because it is effective,” Verveer said. “It destroys the fabric of society from within and does so more efficiently than do guns or bombs.”
“In addition to these rapes and gang rapes, of which there have been hundreds of thousands over the duration of the conflict, the perpetrators frequently mutilate the woman in the course of the attack,” she said. “The apparent purpose is to leave a lasting and inerasable signal to others that the woman has been violated.”
To make matters worse, she said, she quoted a report by the Human Rights Integrated Office in Congo that spoke of “a marked lack of seriousness” by law officers and magistrates toward raped females. … Verveer said that of the 14,000 rape cases registered in the Congo’s provincial health centers in between 2005 and 2007, only 287 were taken to trial.
Last year, 200 women were gang-raped near a UN base (AP, 2010).
There was no fighting and no deaths, he [Will F. Cragin of the International Medical Corps] said, just “lots of pillaging and the systematic raping of women” by between 200 and 400 rebels.
Four young boys also were raped, said Dr. Kasimbo Charles Kacha, the district medical chief.
“Many women said they were raped in their homes in front of their children and husbands,” Cragin said. Others were dragged into the nearby forest.
He said that by the time they got help it was too late to administer medication against AIDS and contraception to all but three of the survivors.
Yes, it seems the recent Congolese rape epidemic didn’t exactly help with the ongoing Congolese AIDS epidemic (The Independent, 2004).
More than 40,000 women and girls were raped by soldiers and used as sex slaves in the six-year civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and desperately need medical care, according to a report released yesterday.
Presumably the 400,000 raped between 2006 and 2007 need it just as desperately.
Floriane, 21, was abducted from the forest and held in captivity by a militia from 2001 to 2004. “It was terrible. They used to beat me on my arms with an iron bar, just like an animal. I can’t move my arm now. As we were considered sex slaves, sometimes as many as five soldiers would rape me, and I became pregnant. It was a very difficult birth, because I gave birth in the bush. The soldiers wouldn’t let me go and the very day I gave birth, several soldiers raped me,” she told Amnesty.
There are only two hospitals that can treat rape victims in the eastern Congo, where most of the fighting has taken place. Most of the treatment for rape victims has been provided by humanitarian aid agencies rather than the government, and even the agencies warn that they are not able to reach all the people who need help. Médecins Sans Frontières estimates that in some regions, it is helping only 5 per cent of women who have been sexually abused. In many cases, women were raped as they walked to medical centres to seek treatment.
Health groups warn that the rapes have caused a massive increase in the rate of HIV/Aids infection. More than 20 per cent of the population in eastern Congo is estimated to be infected, and more than half of the population could catch the virus within the next 10 years, making the rate of infection one of the highest in the world. As militias and soldiers from neighbouring countries move back home, they will spread the infection.
That’s all pretty darn bad. Can we do worse?
Of course we can! This is, after all, the Congo.
“Warning,” begins a 2006 MSNBC Newsweek report on the war in eastern Congo, “do not read this story if you are easily disturbed by graphic information, or are under age, or are easily upset by accounts of gruesome sexual violence” (Newsweek 2006). The report’s subtitle is “The atrocity reports from eastern Congo were so hellish that Western medical experts refused to believe them — at first.” Wheeeeeee
“Fistulas,” we discover,
are a kind of damage that is seldom seen in the developed world. Many obstetricians have encountered the condition only in their medical texts, as a rare complication associated with difficult or abnormal childbirths: a rupture of the walls that separate the vagina and bladder or rectum. … In eastern Congo, however, the problem is practically an epidemic. When a truce was declared in the war there in 2003, so many cases began showing up that Western medical experts at first called it impossible — especially when local doctors declared that most of the fistulas they were seeing were the consequence of rapes.
Aren’t you glad we’re exploring the Congo?
It had been no secret that nearly all sides in the Congo’s complex civil war resorted to systematic rape among civilian populations, and estimates were as high as a quarter million victims of sexual assault during the four-year-long conflict. But once fighting died down, victims began coming out of the jungles and forests and their condition was worse than anyone had imagined. Thousands of women had been raped so brutally that they had fistulas. They wandered into hospitals soaked in their own urine and feces, rendered incontinent by their injuries.
I know what you’re thinking: just how violent would a rape have to be, Unamused, in order to cause a fistula?
Ordinary rapes, even violent ones, do not usually cause fistulas, although it’s not medically impossible. Doctors in eastern Congo say they have seen cases that resulted from gang rapes where large numbers of militiamen repeatedly forced themselves on the victim. But more often the damage is caused by the deliberate introduction of objects into the victim’s vagina when the rape itself is over. The objects might be sticks or pipes. Or gun barrels. In many cases the attackers shoot the victim in the vagina at point-blank range after they have finished raping her. “Often they’ll do this carefully to make sure the woman does not die,” says Dr. Denis Mukwege, medical director of Panzi Hospital. “The perpetrators are trying to make the damage as bad as they can, to use it as a kind of weapon of war, a kind of terrorism.” Instead of just killing the woman, she goes back to her village permanently and obviously marked. “I think it’s a strategy put in place by these groups to disrupt society, to make husbands flee, to terrorize.”
Now you know!
A few choice quotes from the remainder of the article:
“All the armed men rape,” says Doctor Mukwege. “When we see a lesion, we can tell who the perpetrator is; there are special methods of each group, types of injuries. The Interahamwe after the rape will introduce objects; a group in Kombo sets fire to the women’s buttocks afterwards, or makes them sit on the coals of a fire. There’s another group that specializes in raping 11-, 12-, 13-, 14-year-old girls, one that gets them pregnant and aborts them.” The youngest victim of fistula from rape his hospital has seen was 12 months old; the oldest, 71.
Last April, [Doctor Mukwege] says, a 5-year-old girl was brought to him. Her tormentors had raped her and then fired a pistol into her vagina. She was operated on twice at Panzi Hospital without success before being sent to a hospital in the United States where surgeons tried twice more to repair the damage. They failed, too. She’ll spend the rest of her life with a colostomy bag.
Late one evening a group of Interhamwe gunmen raided her [20-year-old Bahati’s] village in South Kivu, killed 10 of the men, and abducted 10 women and girls. She says she and the other captives were kept chained except when they were unbound to be gang-raped. She became pregnant after five months, and her captors gave her a crude abortion by shoving something into her — she says she doesn’t know what they used. Her doctors say the abortion probably caused the fistula.
Benga, 16, and Masoro, 17… were kept tied to trees except when they were doing domestic chores or being raped. [Keep that in mind for later.] Their mothers were raped in front of the girls. Benga bursts into tears recalling the experience. “Their purpose is simply to ruin people, to rape people,” she says. “I don’t know why.”
Yeah, why is that?
No one can say why. The answer is almost too awful to consider, and impossible to understand.
We are awful enough ourselves to consider it, later in this series.
Ten years of total war
In 2008, the International Rescue Committee released a report on the effects of last ten years of war in the Congo (CBC News, 2008).
An estimated 5.4 million people were killed by conflict and its fallout in Congo from 1998 until April 2007, says a report released Tuesday by the International Rescue Committee.
Most of the deaths were due to the humanitarian crisis caused by the war, which badly eroded health-care services and caused famine, says the report by the internationally recognized non-governmental aid organization. The report found that outbreaks of easily treated diseases such as malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia, malnutrition, measles and whooping cough have been major killers in Congo, especially among children.
Nearly half of the fatalities were among children under the age of five, even though they make up only 19 per cent of the total population.
The report was released the same day UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children report was released, naming Sub-Saharan Africa as the region with the highest child mortality rates in the world.
The International Rescue Committee study found that roughly 45,000 Congolese continue to die each month, even though a peace accord formally ended the war in 2002. …
“The conflict and its aftermath, in terms of fatalities, surpass any other since World War II,” said the aid group’s president, George Rupp.
If all these horror stories from the Congo have got you worried that the Congolese will soon be extinct, snuffed out by civil war, famine, disease, and loose crocodiles on airplanes — well, if you feel that way, you’re on the wrong website, pal, but have no fear: as of 2011, the Congo has the 11th highest birth rate in the world, and taking into account its death rate (the 34th highest), the country’s population growth rate is the world’s 14th highest, at 2.835 percent (CIA).
If, on the other hand, the Congo’s birth rate has got you worried that the Congolese will soon be swarming out of Africa and into our nice, white nations, bringing their unique brand of black dysfunction — civil war, famine, disease, airborne crocodiles, etc. — to Europe and America, then you should have plenty of fear.