Jacob's Opinion


Rape as an Instrument of Total War in Congo

Posted by Jacob Jacob on September 10, 2010 at 12:56 PM


Rape is not uncommon in times of war. During the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia for instance, tens of thousands of women were raped in an organised and systematic manner. In the Rwandan genocide of 1994 several thousands of women were also raped. There are cases also in Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Vietnam, Biafra and in several other conflicts where rape was used for the purpose of humiliating, shaming, degrading and even terrifying the enemy society. Indeed rape in warfare is as old as war itself. There are several early and classic accounts of conquering tribes taking away goats and women as spoils of war.


But the case of rape in the DRC is different. It is uniquely impelled by two different factors – what I would prefer to call the Total War factor and the Progenitization factor. I will explain.


In the DRC, the combatants have borrowed a leaf from the doctrine of Total War and have extended warfare to the society of perceived enemies including their resources, supplies, bodies and every other aspect of life. The objective is to terrorise and cause a form of ‘collateral damage’ on the entire population. But the difference between the DRC case and conflicts in history where Total War or scorched earth strategy were used (such as Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s march to the sea or in Lord Kitchener’s second Boer War, 1899–1902), is that in the DRC the militants do not have a clearly defined ‘enemy’ population. They seem to attack and rape any female that come their way – it does not matter if the women are ‘autochthons’ (indigenes) or ‘allochthons’ (foreigners/newly arrived). Rapes committed by FDLR militants alongside local or autochthon mai mai militias appear to be random, not systematic or organised. They attack villages on their paths for food and spoils and rape all the women in the process, before going on to the next village or town. So the intention goes beyond breaking the spirit of an ‘enemy population’ because in most cases, women raped are not necessarily on the other side of the conflict divide – they are not Banyamulenges or Banyarwandas (ethnic Tutsis) but local Congolese women and sometimes Hutu women. So while they randomly terrorise and humiliate societies with rape, the militants do not have a strategic objective of inflicting shame and degradation on a defined enemy society as in other conflicts such as Yugoslavia. In Yugoslavia, rape was systematically used by the Bosnian Serb armed forces as an instrument of Total War on the society of Bosnian Muslims (or Bosniaks). I believe that there is another factor to war rapes in the DRC – in the Kivus in particular.


In January 2009 a former AFDL commander in South Kivu told me something I believe adds up the puzzle. He said the real purpose of rape in the Kivus is progenitzation. The combatants want the women to procreate after their own kind so that the children born would take up the struggle in future years. It sounded really crazy and I told him so. He then explained: “a Hutu blood is a Hutu blood no matter how the baby came to be – whether from a sexual relationship by the married or from rape. As far as the baby has a Hutu blood, that is the most important thing”. In the Kivus, it is common to hear local folks talk about increasing population of Banyamulenges (or ethnic Tutsis) or increasing population of Rwandan Hutus or some other tribe as a threat. Also most Rwandan Hutus I’ve met believe that they too have suffered a genocide and that their population is increasingly endangered. For Hutu extremists Progenitization is their way of countering genocide which they believe have been committed against them. Essentially, when FDLR militants attack and mass rape in most cases, they do so, not only to inflict shame and degradation on the enemy body but also to procreate after their own kind. For them (FDLR Hutu extremists), generational resilience is essential even if it means using methods of forceful procreation. This is a factor that has so far not been critically looked into by scholars, the UN and other humanitarian organisations working in the DRC.


The sad fact is that crimes of rape are committed only few kilometres from UN’s operational bases. This has been the case mainly because there are extremely poor communication channels between local communities in the Kivus and UN bases even those that are closeby. The UN has a very robust deployment in the DRC. Part of the UN’s overall stabilisation strategy in the DRC is the synergisation of humanitarian and military components of the mission in a way that is unprecedented in UN PKO history. Three new peacekeeping concepts have been developed to deal with the unique terrain and nature of the Congolese conflict. These are the Joint Protection Teams (JPTs), the Company Operational Bases (COBs) and Temporary Operational Bases (TOBs). While COBs and TOBs are quick response military operational bases brought closer to vulnerable communities in the Kivus, the JPTs represent a novel addition to MONUC’s civil-military strategy. It is aimed at improving community relations in order to enhance information flows within operational environments. The JPT is part of the Civil Affairs Unit of MONUC and comprise Civil Affairs, Human Rights, Information and Child Protection experts deployed in vulnerable communities. Despite these new peacekeeping concepts however, mass rape remains endemic in the Kivus and peacekeepers’ responses have been anything but prompt or robust. Granted it would be impossible for the UN to man every inch of this vast country, but more regular daytime and night-time patrols in the hinterlands can make a lot of difference.


In addition to regular patrols and improved communications with communities, the UN as a matter of doctrinal change must enhance its intelligence gathering capability. At the moment, Intelligence is not a fully developed UN peacekeeping asset and at doctrinal level, it is not taken very seriously. As a result, surprise attacks or ambushes on peacekeepers in the DRC are common. Recently three Indian peacekeepers were killed and seven others badly injured in a late night attack by militants. Several arms and ammunitions were carted away in the attack. While I acknowledge that intelligence gathering needs a robust and most times long-term engagement in order for the outputs to be reliable, I believe it is not very difficult for the UN to build a network of reliable human intelligence channels close to its bases in the DRC. Information comes relatively cheap in the Kivus. With greater engagement and a more robust intelligence gathering capacity, mass rape and other acts of violence against civilians in the DRC can be stopped before it happens.

Categories: Africa, United Nations, Peacekeeping, Conflicts

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