The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has undergone a series of war over the past fifteen years. The first war that broke out in 1996 and ended in 1997, ousted long time ruler Mobutu Sese Seko and brought to power Laurent Kabila, a rebel leader supported by Rwanda and Burundi (HRW 35).
The second war from 1998-2003, started when Laurent Kabila disagreed with his initial backers, propelling Rwanda and Uganda to invade the east of the country. The war led to the death of approximately 5.4 million people. Sexual violence was widespread and sometimes systematic.
Rival groups used it as a tool of war to deliberately terrorize civilians, to exert control over them or punish them for perceived collaboration with the enemy. Reports indicate that armed groups would abduct women including young girls and use them as sexual slaves (HRW 40). Many of the crimes committed amounted to crimes against humanity. In fact, women affirmed that the war was being fought on their bodies (HRW 43).
Sexual violence continued in the Congo throughout the peace process and the national elections in 2006. In Eastern Congo, new armed groups emerged leading to continued perpetration of rape cases. Reports indicate that sexual violence against women continued in North Kivu in 2008 due to intense fighting between rival groups (HRW 44). Incidences of rape propagated by civilians have notably increased in the recent past.
This is due to an increase of demobilized combatants who have reintegrated into society amid poor rehabilitation measures in society. The brutalization of society that has eroded protective social norms also contributes to these crimes (HRW 45). These atrocities against women have led to the crowning of Congo as the worst place on earth to be a woman.
The Congolese national army (FARDC) is considered as the key perpetrators of sexual violence. The army came into place after the installation of the transitional government in June 2003 (HRW 56).
This army brought soldiers from all the leading rebel groups as well as former government army together. The strategy aimed at creating harmony. Officer and commander groups were divided up between them. In addition, the transitional government introduced a new policy called mix-up in which new brigades were formed comprising of soldiers from main rival groups.
This policy targeted to break former chains of command and enhance the integration of former enemy combatants into new units. A rapid integration process that took place in 2009 saw estimated 12,000 combatants from rebel groups join the national army. The national army was estimated to have close to 60,000 soldiers after, the integration process.
The national army encountered long standing problems that included indiscipline, pay, command and control and contributed further to the world scale abuses committed with impunity by the Congolese soldiers. Since they had been deployed throughout the country, the soldiers formed the largest perpetrators of rape cases. Since the army was characterized by gross misconduct, army officers could not stop sexual violence or punish undisciplined soldiers.
The war in the Democratic Republic of Congo led to a serious economic crisis. First, the war caused massive destruction on the local infrastructure. This caused a reduction in the local production of the country. Secondly, the war brought to a halt the local banking industry. Entrepreneurs could not access funds to revive the local infrastructures and get their businesses running. Foreign investors and international lending institutions withdraw their support.
The rebel leaders took control of trans-border commerce (Vlassenroot and Raeymaekers 56). The rebel leaders also led to the formation of informal tax payments systems. Business men who wanted to progress had to form friendly relationships with the rebel leaders who controlled the movement of goods. The businessmen had to pay pretax on custom duties to get favors from the military leaders.
The situation derailed anyone who thought of running a business in the Congo. Consequently, manufacturers and traders had to deal with a steep increase in prices of imported household products. In addition, prices for local agricultural products rose. The war led to a shift from local production, to the importation of already made products from foreign countries.
In conclusion, it can be noted that the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo significantly affected women. Fighting parties used the women as tools of war. Women were raped by soldiers of their rival groups in retaliation and held hostage in exchange for their husbands.
The situation worsened further when rebel groups sprang up and propagated sexual violence against women. Women literally run away from soldiers and the armed bandits. The transitional government army that comprised of soldiers from chief rival groups had gross misconduct amongst its soldiers.
The army’s main intention was to create harmony amongst the rival groups. However, gross misconduct and poor coordination prevailed in the army. The women suffered extensive physical and psychological effects. Despite of the vast economic potential of the Democratic republic of Congo, the country has not realized its expected economical returns. The series of wars destabilized the country’s economy.
Human Rights Watch (HRW). Soldiers who Rape, Commanders who condone: Sexual Violence and Military Reform in the DRC. New York: HRW, 2009. Print.
Vlassenroot, K. and Raeymaekers, T. Conflict and Social Transformation in Eastern DRC. Massachussets: Academia Press, 2009 Print.