01/03/2011

Ross Kemp's Extreme World - Genocide in the Congo - Brilliant documentary

Ross Kemp's extreme world documentary series, which gave us an excellent exposé of issues around drug abuse in Chicago last week, turned its attention to the Congo last night. I think I was vaguely aware that there was civil unrest in the Congo, but I had no idea of the sheer scale and the devastation it has wrought.

For those of you who aren't aware, the Democratic Republic of Congo, is a large country, with abundant natural resources situated on the west coast of Africa. Post a 5 year war that ended in 2003, pitting government forces supported by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, against rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda, conflict is still ongoing. (For more background info go to the BBC’s website) The war which appears to be being fought largely to take control over the countries vast mineral wealth, has left millions dead/maimed or dispossessed and the country in chaos. The situation has apparently been called ‘possibly the worst emergency to unfold in Africa in recent decades’ and yet, the international community seems to be doing very little about it. Given, as a recent article in the FT indicates:

Investors worldwide have poured billions of dollars into the country’s rich copper and cobalt deposits, while gold and coltan smuggling sustains rebel militia and criminal networks within the army in the east, and international oil prospectors are seeking discoveries along the Ugandan border. The US considers a cobalt mine in Congo vital to its interests, according to Wikileaks cables.
One would assume it would be in the interests of these investors to broker peace. With all the publicity given to unrest erupting in the rest of the world, I am puzzled as to why, what is basically genocide and terrorism on a major scale is left unreported and largely unchecked. The consequences for the people of the Congo, particularly its women, can at best be described as horrifying.

The women and the use of rape and genital mutilation as a method of control was the focus of Ross’ documentary, which opened with Ross in a hospital that serves as a refugee camp for dispossessed rape victims. We were introduced to a 14 year old girl, who was raped and saw her family slaughtered at 13, carrying a baby, who as the Doctor running the hospital indicated, was ‘a child of rape’. The Doctor went on to explain that this was not unusual and that he had seen children as young as 3 who had been the victim of rape and the most extreme form of genital mutilation. Ross also spoke to a woman whose hands had been chopped off, she had then been raped and her 3 month old baby murdered in front of her. She could not understand why that had been done to her and the matter of fact way in which she related her story, indicated a level of trauma that I cannot even begin to imagine.


The brutality of the warring factions clearly knows no bounds, as highlighted by one young lady who indicated that troops would force fathers to rape their daughters and then kill them anyway. One brave father who refused to do it, had his eyes plucked out and ears cut off. He still refused and so he was killed, as was his two sons, but not before watching his daughter being raped by the militia. The Doctor indicated that all of these acts are generally carried out publically and are designed to ‘destroy psychologically as well as physically’. As is often the case in third world countries, the women, face the added trauma of being outcast from their community post the rape and struggling to support themselves.


Ross decided that he wanted to ‘meet the man that could rape a 3 year old’ and ask him how he could do it. This kicked off a journey into dangerous territory where Ross openly admitted to being scared about entering. First stop was a prison, described as the worst in Africa, built for 150 inmates, but housing approximately a 1000. Mainly murders and sex offenders, only a 3rd of inmates had been tried, most being on remand. Predictably, conditions were horrendous and definitely not conducive to rehabilitation of any sort. Even in prison, women remain vulnerable and Ross recounted a story of a mass ‘escape’ that saw male prisoners break into the female wing and gang rape hundreds of women for hours. Ross spoke to a prisoner who had been convicted of rape, to try to ascertain his reason and whether he felt any remorse. The prisoner indicated that he had been fighting (in the militia) and thus starved of sex for 2 months. In his words, the first time he saw a women he got ‘overly excited and raped her’. On questioning by Ross, he insisted that he didn't harm his victim in any other way and that he does feels remorse for what he had done. I wasn’t convinced; I actually felt he probably felt sorrier for himself than his victim. The fact that he had been convicted of rape did offer some small comfort that possibly the situation is being taken seriously by the authorities. That said, with rapes so commonplace and on such a large scale, it’s hard to imagine how it can be effectively ‘policed’ internally.

Ross’ next stop was the jungle where he went in search of the Hutu militia  to ask why they use Rape in the manner they do. The Hutu are wanted by UN for their part in the Rawandan genocide and thus are pretty much in hiding in the jungle, 200 miles away from the nearest city and medical facilities. Predictably, he was unable to find them, but did meet the Mayi-Mayi. The Mayi-Mayi are Congolese militia, originally set up to defend themselves against the Hutu militia who the Government were basically allowing to overrun the country. Whilst they claim it is no longer the case, it seems they also systematically use rape as a means of control and in addition use child soldiers – Reports of the Hutus and Mayi-Mayi, having got together in a town 30 miles away from the UN base and systematically gang raped 100 women and children over a 4 day period, disproved their assertion.


Ross met up with an ex child soldier called 'Satan', so named because he was so evil when he was part of the Militia. He was forced to join at the age of 12, he indicated that a quarter of the militia at that time were children and that training was brutal. Being “beaten at the drop of a hat..was the symbol of our training." He indicated that many child soldiers were also recruited by the Government and thus children were often forced to fight each other. He admitted to having participated in rapes from around the age of 13/14, generally ‘as part of a group… Sometimes they were following commands to do so, but not always. All it took,’ he said ‘was one person to start it and the rest joined in.' He also admitted to mutilating women afterwards and his excuse was that ‘it was war’. ‘Satan’ has never been tried/convicted for any of these crimes and his identity was hidden from us to preserve his anonymity. Ross, who could see him, indicated that he was extremely young and showed no remorse. Given that he was co-opted as a child and thus effectively brainwashed, that attitude was unsurprising. More worrying to me is the fact that there are legions of men out there like him; to remove that mindset from the country will not be a simple task.


Ross moved on to an area where a number of mineral mines are situated. This area is controlled by the CNDP, an organisation formed to guard against the Congolese army and Congolese rebels who regularly attempt to take over the mines. He specifically went to visit a Coltan and Colbalt Derivative mine. Colbalt Derivatives are used to make sodler and Coltan is used in the manufacture of electronic capacitors and in consumer electronics products such as cell phones, DVD players, video game consoles and computers. There is a continuous battle for control of the mines between the Militia and the Congolese army. Where they don't control mines, the Militia set up roadblocks on the way to mine and demand ‘taxes’ to allow safe passage, accompanied by threats of rape and murder for resistance. As with most African mines, people mine manually, back breaking work for which they are paid a pittance - having no idea where their output goes or what its used for. In fact, it goes to goes to Goma were its processed and sold for considerably more than they are paid, to large electronics producers. Mines in the Congo contain 2/3rds of the Colbalt Derivative used for this purpose in the world - production of it is essentially funding the war. As Ross pointed out, the laptop I'm writing on and the phones we use on a daily basis, probably has blood on it from the Congo. Not a pleasant thought...

Ross finished up by indicating that it is the 40th anniversary of the Congo’s independence towards the end of this year and the UN, who have been present in the most dangerous area, trying to keep some semblance of order, are supposed to pull out at that point. One can only imagine what will happen when the Militia are left unchecked. As the Doctor we met at the top of the episode put it ‘It will be a catastrophe...It happened in Bosnia, after 3 months the world intervened…Ten years in Congo...Murder and rape are so common place..It’s become the norm…Nobody stopping it” My question is why?

More info on organisations that are attempting to help click here . to watch last night's episode (and I recommend you do) it's on Sky player.

Next week Ross will be in Mexico and I will be glued to the screen.

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