Warscape: Rape and Commerce in the DRC

Congo Week: Day Five


Guest Post from:

Pamela Scully

Professor of Women’s Studies and African Studies,

Chair of Dept of Women’s Studies

Emory University




This week – October 17 – 23 – Friends of the Congo is running its third Congo Week – Breaking the Silence – in a bid to raise awareness of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and help end the violence. All week I will be featuring blog posts related to the DRC from activists, academics and Congolese citizens.

Today – Emory University Professor Pamela Scully examines “economic Warscape” — the use of rape as a weapon of war and a means of driving profit. The views are her own. Global Citizen has done only mild editing for length and clarity.



The Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is a perfect example of what I call an economic Warscape—a place where individuals, groups, and companies profit off systemic and systematic violence.  Structures of exploitation in the DRC now depend on fermenting and regulating “chaos.” What look like random acts of rape and terror, are in fact part of complex negotiations and structures that have emerged in the eastern DRC in the conflagration of the region in the wake of Rwandan genocide of 1994.

The DRC is one of the most mineral-rich regions in the world. An estimated $200 million a year is traded in various minerals. For example, tungsten makes one’s cell phone vibrate, while tin is the solder for circuit boards. The minerals are sent to neighboring countries such as Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, and then out to companies elsewhere. Illegal arms also flow into the Eastern DRC.

Increasingly, the Eastern DRC has been associated with the use of rape as a weapon of war. For groups wanting to spread terror, rape is a good weapon. Rape as terror is cheap; it brutalizes the victims and the community that is forced to watch the rapes of women and girls, and sometimes men; and destroys the fabric of families and communities caught up in this horror.  Militias want to control access to the minerals. Different armed groups have more or less divided up Kivu so that they have control over different territories, and have turned to rape to terrorize local populations into fleeing an area thus making it available for mining. The FARDC, the army of the DRC, has also been accused of using rape and forcing villagers to engage in illegal mining.

Even given the long history of Belgian colonial violence and then the ravages of Mobutu’s rule, activists say that the militias’ use of rape as an instrument of terror has brought a new level of horror to the region. Scholars see the conflict in the Eastern DRC as tied to the Rwandan genocide of 1994.  I would also argue that the use of rape as a weapon of war in this region owes much to that genocide.  Both the Rwandan Patriotic Front, led by Paul Kagame, now head of Rwanda, and the Hutu Power government from April 1994, used rape as a weapon of war. The Hutu Power government encouraged rape as a strategy of genocide in that it often literally destroyed the women raped, through the violence and through HIV, made their children outsiders to their community, and thus ravaged communities in multiple ways.  Militias targeted Tutsi women and Hutu women married to Tutsi men for rape because of their gender and their ethnicity. Men frequently committed rape as gang rape, and staged rapes as a form of public performances of terror and torture.

We see these tactics imported into the Eastern DRC in the 1990s when Hutu militias fled into the region, pursued by the new Rwanda army which, the UN asserts, used genocidal tactics against civilians in the region.  Among the many militias today operating in Kivu, there is a group called The Rastas. It is a remnant of the Hutu militias. This militia is known for its brutality and rape of women.   There are so many militias in the region it is difficult to keep track of them. One of the most notorious is the Lord’s Resistance Army, originally from Uganda, but now based also in the north eastern part of the DRC.  The LRA is notorious for kidnapping children—boys are forced to become child soldiers, and the girls are most often forced into sex slavery.

We are all complicit in the violence of the DRC as we use our cell phones and do not think of the origin of the components. Economic and political life in the twenty first century has become both so complex and so fractured, yet intertwined that it is hard to feel one can even identify the problems and possible solutions. Yet, as an ethical start, at the very least, we should, attempt to diagnose the problems.

Too often the US media documents rape in the DRC as a horror outside of history, outside of context.  I think this is so because so few journalists, or the reading public in the United States, for example, know anything about the history of Africa, of the legacies of colonialism, of the complicity of the USA during the Cold War in supporting dictators like Mobutu, which allowed violence to flourish. There is so much to know and to understand…. Today, we need to analyze rape as a weapon of war and international commerce in the DRC. Rape is used in the context of the arms and mineral trade which link local militias and businessmen with multinational corporations. The connections can be very direct: as recently as the mid 2000s, and possibly later, one major international mining company, AngloGold Ashanti, as reported by Human Rights Watch, worked with a militia involved in violence, to get access to minerals in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Rape as a weapon of war is the product of a particular political economy of violence in which many actors play a role. It is that context that we need to analyze, examine, and act upon if we are to stop the horror of rape and other forms of violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.