War is the oil that lubricates the steering wheel of Africa’s poignant history resulting in blood from conflicts across the divides of Africa. These stoppable crises have imperilled its present and laid ambush for its future couched in doubts. Ordinary civilians abhor the smell of war, just or unwarranted, but it is sold with bait to unwary members of the black race who butcher themselves with beastly pride. War in Africa has never been about justice but greed, arrogance and power.
By Thompson Taiwo
Just like offering libation to the gods, the foundations of many African countries were conciliated with the sweltering tears and blood of ordinary Africans. These many brutal murders that have become deep-seated demands of fledgling states on the continent manifest in machete wounds, western weapons, coordinated arsons and cudgel impacts. Natural resources of oil, diamonds and gold, which should bring blessings and catalyse prosperity, have taken more lives than the smile it has offered. If Africa were a region ravaged by bareness of minerals, we would probably have lived in peace.
Warring conditions have markedly shown that the continent lives amidst enemy that deceivingly poses as partners in race for peace and stability of the world. When war breaks out in Africa over who controls what, it’s fought by cache of weapons ferried unfettered across the ocean and through the air from supposedly friendly countries who look down on us and label us beasts. Who doesn’t know that it takes a beast to sell arms to a beast? After all, it’s Africans killing Africans with western armaments. After looking the other way by allowing war to fester with ghoulish rage, they’ll set up tribunal to try those who bought arms from them to singe the soul of a nation.
Beyond missiles, grenades and other lethal instruments of war, another emerging weapon of war in Africa is rape. Its distinction is that it kills slowly but violently, allowing its victims to say their last prayers. Though rape in war zones is not limited to Africa, the continent has been the highest breeder of war, thus rape. From Rwandan genocide, Darfur attack, Sierra Leone civil war and ongoing conflicts in South Sudan and Central African Republic (CAR), rape played a fundamental role in the decimation, desecration and dehumanization of humanity. It has become a whipping tool for dealing with women; beings who had no stake in their creation. It is a tragedy that leaves its victims to bear the brunt of the stigma it carries unaided for fear of communal rejection and maltreatment.
When a conflict known as Africa’s First World War broke out in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country once described by the UN as the rape capital of the world, over its resources wealth, Congolese civilians became targets of sexual violence. In 2011, the American Journal of Public Health reported that not lower than 400,000 women and girls were raped within a space of one year, 2006 to 2007, by government and rebel forces. The United Nations Population Fund also reported 11,769 of sexual and gender-based violence in five provinces in eastern Congo between January and September 2014. More often than not, after a rape experience, the woman is blamed for her misfortune and abandoned by her husband while families neglected their defiled daughters as if they called in the beasts. A distraught Congolese woman, Novayo Namakunda, in an interview with Aljazeera journalist, Fredik Brogeland Laache, recounted how she returned home to find seven rebel soldiers in her house who attacked and raped her. “When somebody abuses your dignity, it’s like being killed”, Novayo was quoted to have said. She was nevertheless lucky that the found in her husband a man who understands it is no woman’s prayer to be gang raped. Though the country is gradually recovering from its troubled past, there are still minor security infractions by rebels.
The African Union Commission of Enquiry report on South Sudan’s war published last October documents shocking details of how young and old women were gang raped and left unconsciously bleeding. The war in South Sudan was set off in 2013 by a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka and his former Vice-President Riek Machar, a Nuer. The report also noted the use of stones; guns and sticks to rape women while holding that cases of sexual and gender-based violence were committed by forces loyal to the two principals. It, therefore, called for the establishment of a special court to try those responsible for the brutish act. Equally, the United Nations has come out strongly against the South Sudanese army, accusing it of torture and gang rape. Rape in South Sudan is also a way of punishing women and girls sympathetic to a rival side.
The on-going war in Darfur began in February 2003 when the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebel groups accused the government of Sudan of oppressing Darfur’s non-Arabs. They launched an armed resistance against President Omar al-Bashir’s government and the latter responded with ethnic cleansing of Darfur’s non-Arabs population. Women and children, like in many other wars, are daily used as cannons of war. Human Rights Watch in a 48-page report entitled Mass Rape in Darfur: Sudanese Army Attacks Against Civilians in Tabit released in 2014 chronicles Sudanese army attacks on north Darfur town of Tabit, leading to the rape of about 221 women and girls over 36 hours: A crime against humanity vehemently countered by the Sudanese authorities at the time. Underpinning the rape war, a March 2005 Physicians for Human Rights report state that 82% of women who came to them for treatment after being raped bore out that they were assaulted in the course of workaday activities of drawing water and gathering wood. A report even suggested that oil wealth was used to fund attacks on women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. For victims who get pregnant through sexual violence in Sudan, it is a continuous belief-bound agony. Please note this, according to a 2004 Amnesty International Report; it is a common belief among the Sudanese that unwanted sex cannot make a woman pregnant. Consequently, a woman with such claim is rejected and ostracised like a leprous sight. In addition, out-of-wedlock pregnancy is unlawful in Darfur and this makes women impregnated through force entry targets for arrest.
Sierra Leone is another country where women and teenage girls undergone angst-ridden and agonised moments of physical and mental treatments at the hands of rebels and state-sponsored security forces during the 10-year civil war. A war propelled by greed and narrow interest of warlords over who controlled the country’s wealth spinner. Diamonds. The war merchants raped the country of its diamonds and its women in the most bizarre and invidious manner. A Human Rights Watch report, Getting Away with Murder, Mutilation, and Rape : New Testimony from Sierra Leone , released on the eve of an important United Nations visit to Freetown in 1999 contained testimonies of underage girls, mostly virgins, and women who were rounded up in Freetown by rebels, brought to rebel command centers and subjected to the anguish of rape. Physicians for Human Rights and Amnesty International reports on the country stated that women were cruelly raped to the extent that they had miscarriage.
In virtually all countries where rape became the weapon of war, the attitudes and responses of governments therein have been that of strong denial and tantrums throwing. In instances of denial, the authorities of these countries have refused international and local investigators access to the scenes of crime couple with banning of anything that seeks to tell the untold story of a continent overrun by inhumanity. A case in point is the banning of Belgian filmmaker Thierry Michel’s The Man Who Mends Women, a documentary which revolves around a Congolese doctor, Denis Mukwege, who tended to rape victims during the country’s decades-long civil war. The Democratic Republic of Congo dismissed the flick as an attempt to sully the image of its military. The film holds no prisoner in telling the ignoble roles played by the militia groups and DR Congo’s army in promoting rape as a weapon of war.
It would be recalled that gynaecologist Denis Mukwege set up a hospital in 1999 in the country to treat women who were sexually assaulted by soldiers and militias. He reportedly saved lives of more than 40,000 women. His rare humanitarian gesture did not go unnoticed. He was in May 2014 awarded Europe’s Sakharov prize for human rights.
In 2014, United Nations and African Union representatives were denied access by Sudanese military personnel into western Darfur region to investigate claims of alleged mass rape of about 200 girls and women by the Sudanese army. Whenever there is an opportunity for victims to remove the veil on their horrid experiences, they are intimidated and browbeaten into silence. These and many other instances might have informed the call by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, in September last year on the UN member states whose troops are responsible for rape and sexual exploitation on peacekeeping mission to show ‘greater institutional responsibility’ by putting them on trial.
Rape is endemic in war zones but it’s disheartening that it’s superintended over by soldiers deployed to keep the peace. Even the African Union and UN peacekeepers have been implicated in the same crime against humanity. Months ago, the Amnesty International claimed the UN troops raped a 12-year old behind a truck in the Central African Republic (CAR). Consequently, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Mission in CAR promised to investigate the allegation but the promise appeared to be taken with a pinch of salt by observers who were unimpressed about the UN mission’s handling of allegations of child abuse against French soldiers.
Beyond the usual denial syndrome and cover-up, it is equally saddening that practically all war-torn African countries lack strong post-war programmes targeted at healing the psychosomatic and physical traumas of victims who were preyed upon by sex-driven predators. When war ends, African countries move on as though nothing ever happened. The focus is often shifted to power-sharing formula as recently witnessed between President Salva Kiir Mayardi and his opponent Riek Machar in South Sudan and other countries.
It is important that where war-ravaged African countries have failed, the AU, UN and humanitarian organizations should step forward and rescue the day. These organizations should do more to protect civilians, particularly girls and women who are regarded as spoils of war. They should also help in putting pressure on member states to explore the path of dialogue in resolving disagreements to stave off humanitarian conditions.
The issue of sexual violence in war zone has kindled the debate on whether women are better peacekeepers. May be the involvement of more women in peacekeeping mission will help reduce the staggering incidence of sexual violence in war zones.