Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Congo to New York: 'Lumo', the story of rape victims fighting for hope and dignity in the DRC

I would so love to read a ‘good news story’ about the Democratic Republic of Congo but what I am able to find online on most major news sites are stories about conflict and suffering and poverty. Fortunately I have a good female friend and neighbor who hails from Kinshasa, the capital city of the DRC, and we sometimes have a good laugh as she tells me anecdotes about her own life growing up in the Congo or about the lives of her family and friends who still live in the vast central African nation.

The following post about the road to recovery and normalization for a young Congolese woman victimized by gang rape and the subsequent injuries to her physical and psychological well-being may qualify as a ‘good news story’, in that it shows how the determination and resilience of the women and girls at the Heal Africa hospital in Goma (eastern DRC) together with a lot of help from a heroic doctor and his staff and sponsor partners from the U.S.A. and other countries can do a great deal to help at least some of the rape victims in the eastern Congo heal and feel wanted and useful in a community again.

I was delighted and surprised this past weekend while viewing the CNN ‘Inside Africa’ program to see an interview with one of the original Congo Crew* (see below) group of blog authors. Louis Abelman of the Goma Film Project and editorial assistant at The New York Times was interviewed along with director/producer Nelson Walker III about their recent release of the documentary film ‘Lumo’. The film is about the life of women and girls in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo who have suffered mass rapes and brutality at the hands of some of the most inhumane militia members, government soldiers, and child soldiers the world has seen in a very long time.

The documentary focuses on the recovery of Lumo Sinai, a 22-year old Congolese woman who as a young girl was gang-raped by marauding soldiers/militiamen during the outbreak of the Congo Wars following the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Lumo like 100,000’s of other women and girls in the eastern DRC has suffered for years with the psychological trauma and physical injuries caused by these brutal rapes. Lumo has a fistula, a debilitating medical condition that affects thousands of mass rape victims in the eastern DRC today. Obstetric fistulas are the type where a female’s reproductive organs and/or rectum has been damaged so badly that she no longer has control over her urine and bowel movements. Typically, a hole is torn between the woman or girl’s vagina and bladder leaving the victim continuously incontinent (leakage of urine from the bladder) accompanied with an offensive smell. Here is an excerpt from the PBS Point of View (P.O.V) website about the September 18th, 2007 airing of the documentary on the PBS TV network in the U.S.A.:


Twenty-year-old Lumo Sinai was engaged to be married and going about her daily chores when she fell victim to an act of brutality of "Africa's First World War" — rape as a tool of political terror. On the road to her village, Lumo and another woman were kidnapped and gang-raped by one of the groups of marauding soldiers vying for control of the eastern Congo in the wake of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Lumo suffered not only the trauma of rape, but was soon afflicted with a resulting fistula, a chronic condition that leaves women incontinent and typically unable to bear children. Her affliction led to rejection by her fiancé and most of her family and village. Violently robbed of her future, Lumo faced a future of shame, loneliness, ill health and poverty.

"Lumo" is an intimate look into a woman's tragedy and healing process, and, by extension, into the scourge of rape that marks the war-torn politics of central Africa. "Lumo" is also the story of a remarkable African hospital that works tirelessly to restore the physical and mental health of women suffering in an epidemic of fistula caused by rape. The hospital's self-called "Mamas," African women who work tirelessly as healers, even flouted traditional prejudice and government policy by leading a march in defense of women's human rights. But "Lumo" remains most of all Lumo Sinai's story as she struggles through four failed surgeries and searches for strength to face the future — whatever the outcome of one more surgery by the hospital's dedicated doctors. ..

…The end of the Rwandan genocide sent thousands of Hutu militiamen, the Interhamwe — who were responsible for the mass murder of Tutsis and moderate Hutus — fleeing to the Congolese forests, where they were pursued by the new Tutsi-dominated Rwandan army.

Their struggle became entangled with a long-running insurgency against the crumbling Mobutu regime and cross-border tensions with other nations, helping to fuel the First and Second Congo Wars. The latter, lasting from 1998 to 2003, involved nine African nations and some 20 armed groups and led to the death of nearly 4 million people, earning it the epithet of "Africa's First World War." As in some other African conflicts, child soldiers, drugs, superstition and a virulent terrorizing of women characterized the fighting.

Lumo Sinai was a victim of this war. About the rape, she puts it simply enough: "They destroyed us." Forsaken by everyone except her mother, she finds that village healers can do little to relieve the symptoms of her fistula — especially the incontinence that so shames and marks her. But she does learn about "counselors searching for raped women." They represent a hospital in Goma, supported by HEAL Africa, which offers nothing less than a miracle — reconstructive surgery that has a high success rate of reversing the effects of rape-induced fistula, even allowing women to give birth.

End excerpt from PBS P.O.V. – read more about Lumo

The PBS website also has text and video interviews with some key people involved in the making of Lumo including the filmmakers, Lumo and Dr. Jo Lusi of the Heal Africa hospital for rape victims in Goma, Pamela Schifman of UNICEF (a lawyer and child protection specialist working on the global crisis of rape and violence against women as an act of war) and playwright and women’s rights activist Eve Ensler of (see related articles and resources below).

CNN anchor and correspondent Isha Sesay interviewed John Prendergast of the ENOUGH Project to Abolish Genocide and Mass Atrocities for the Inside Africa program. Prendergast (bio) is well known to many of us who follow news on conflict crisis in the Sudan and the DR Congo and he has served as the Director of African Affairs for the U.S. National Security Council (Clinton administration) and as an advisor and resident expert on Africa for a long list of internationally recognized panels and organizations, the most recent being the International Crisis Group headquartered in Brussels.

Inside Africa host Femi Oke interviewed Ben Kalala, President of the Congolese Community Organization of Atlanta and a candidate for governor of Kasai Oriental province in the historic DRC elections of 2006. Unfortuantely there was no one-on-one follow-up interview with President Joseph Kabila of the DRC who was visiting Washington D.C. and Arizona last month (see CNN’s Jeff Koinange 2006 interview with President Kabila).

Related news articles and online resources

PBS P.O.V. Films
Lumo film update: Return to the Congo
Interview with Pamela Schifman (UNICEF): Ending Sexual Violence
Conversation with Eve Ensler: Femicide in the Congo, hosted by Michelle Kort

Lumo - about the filmmakers

Goma Film Project – official website for the documentary film “Lumo”
Co-director/producer Louis Abelman’s blog (retired) “Telegraphe Congolais

Heal Africa – home of the Heal Africa hospital and project in Goma, DRC

UNFPA – Ending Violence Against Women

UNIFEM Women War Peace – a portal on women, peace, and security & UNICEF
The Congo Campaign & Stop Raping Our Greatest Resource - UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict

Glamour magazine online
Women left for dead---and the man who’s saving them, August 2007

Black Looks: Carnival of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

CNN ‘Inside Africa’ program on the DRC – transcripts and videos
DRC war fears (program segment video with President Kabila in Washington D.C. and the John Prendergast interview)
Congo Conflict Solutions (program segment video interview with Ben Kalala, President of the Congolese Community Organization of Atlanta)
Women in the DRC - Rape as a tool of war in the Congo (interview with Lumo co-directors Louis Abelman and Nelson Walker III)

CNN Anderson Cooper 360° blog: This is not a fairy tale, 10/05/06
Rape, brutality ignored to aid Congo peace, 05/24/06
Congo president on military rapes: ‘Unforgivable’, 06/01/06

The New York Times
Rape Epidemic Raises Trauma of Congo War, 10/07/07
Television Review of ‘Lumo’, 09/18/07
Video: Hearing the Horrors of War (Liberia), 10/31/07
Seeking Hidden Accounts of Atrocity, 10/31/07
Congo’s Army Clashing with Militias, 10/25/07
Congo by Rail: Filthy, Crowded, and Dangerous, 09/04/07

The Guardian (UK)
Hundreds of thousands raped in the Congo Wars, 11/14/06
The Deadliest War in the World, 05/28/06

Great blogs focusing on news and life in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Eye on Africa by Mvemba Phezo Dizolele

(Mvemba is a independent journalist and Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting fellow)
Global Voices Online – Democratic Republic of Congo (aggregated blog posts)

*The Original “Congo Crew” of bloggers (2004-2007)
The Salon of News and Thought by Ali the Malau
007 in Africa by Dorothy: Honouring African Women
Breaking Hearts in the Heart of Darkness by Sahara Sarah
Carl the Pilot (see Carl’s archives 2005-2006 for Congo posts)
Congo Girl – Adventures of a retired armchair traveler
Kim Gjerstad in Congo (see archives)
Congo Watch by Ingrid Jones
Elia – Lulu on the bridge (see archives, text in Spanish)

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Blackgirl On Mars said...

Dag dude, this is heavy stuff. It's interesting cause I'm in Dialogue with another sister right now living in another European country who is lamenting the way in which she is being treated by Black Brothers in the same country. She also spoke about the how rampant rape is in South Africa, where she is from, and how the vestiges of growing up in such a country has influenced not only the speed in which she walks the streets, but the floor on which she lives on. Rape. Every human's fear--to be taken without consent. Rape is not a sexual assault but an act of violence and as we can see, a political weapon. Which is why I so identify with Phoolan Devi so much. She just upped and shot the s-o-b's who raped her...and the rest, as I like to say, is her story. But they did come back and kill her.
I was telling this sister who I'm in dialogue with about Mary Daly and her whole theory about the rape narrative. How as Christians, we are grown up with the rape narrative of how God TELLS Mary she is going to bear his son. He doesn't even ask, much less show up himself--he sends someone else. She writes about the tacit message to little girls about this. I was like, Wow, when I read it.
Try reading my story "Little Lost Leeza" on my blog to get an idea of some our experiences--Substitute Brooklyn for wherever else in the world. Rape is the ultimate political weapon against women...I know I am not telling you anything new and my hats go off to those who are dedicating their lives to helping these human beings pick up the pieces. How did the world get like this? How is it that some people's lives are rendered, tacitly, to be worthless by a system? We really need to get to the bottom of these questions especially, I dare add, we in the Black community cause what we are doing to each other is the ultimate expression of self-hatred.

Lisa Hickey said...

I am an avid blogger at Wildlife Direct, the Gorilla Protection blog. I found this site searching for news regarding the status of the current fighting. This is a very interesting and informative site. I have added it to my favorits. Lisa, California

Blackgirl On Mars said...

You don't have an email that I can see, but I wanted to share this with you, in case you haven't heard and perhaps start a discussion:
>POV: african woman sets herself on fire to protest racism
============ ========= ========= ========= =====

http://www.opamizik .com/board/ viewtopic. php?t=6758& start=0&postdays =0&
postorder=asc& highlight= &sid=1679b5cf8e0 68ba613e46801421 205db
African Woman Sets Herself On Fire To Protest Racism

The horrifying sight which traumatized shoppers and office workers in the
centre of Luxembourg City last week has now been labelled as a protest against
racism. The Belgian woman of Congolese origin who set herself alight in the
middle of Place d’Armes told witnesses that she was doing it to protest against
racism, moments before she carried out the desperate act which has left her in
hospital fighting for her life.

Maggy Delvaux-Mufu, a mother of three in her forties, alerted several
national newspapers late on Tuesday morning last week that she would be burning
herself alive on place des Martyrs at 12.45 am, before setting out accompanied by
her husband to walk through the centre of town to her macabre rendezvous. The
police were alerted and officers were deployed to the Rousegärtchen. But the
woman changed her plan when she came across a group of journalists gathered to
cover an event organised by the ‘Mouvement écologique’ on Place d’Armes,
opposite the Cercle municipal. She soaked herself in petrol before confronting the
members of the press, announcing that she was about to sacrifice her life to
protest against racism. Moments later, she struck a match, turning herself into
a human torch in front of hundreds of people.

Delvaux-Mufu’s husband and passers-by jumped on the burning body, attempting
to stifle the flames with coats and jackets. The scene made several people
feel unwell and many witnesses who filled the square at lunchtime were
traumatised by the woman’s shrieking screams of unimaginable pain. The flames were
already extinguished when police, rescue services and the fire brigade arrived at
the scene. One person is reported to have vomited after seeing the woman being
transported into an ambulance. The events in Place d’Armes have also started a
controversy regarding the authorities’ lack of psychological support for
witnesses. Delvaux-Mufu was taken to the Bon Secours hospital in Metz, where she
is being treated in a specialised ward for burns and is fighting for her life.
Grand Duchess Maria Teresa visited the woman and her family at the hospital
last week. RTL television was the first to run a news flash about the incident
on its website on Tuesday afternoon last week. 352 reported the bulletin in its
news in brief section, shortly before going to print. Events preceding the
incident only came to light later on in the week.

The 42-year-old Belgian citizen and her husband had been facing financial
difficulties. They had recently indebted themselves by buying a Citroën garage in
Oberwampach, before realising they were missing the documents that would
allow them to set up a business. Delvaux-Mufu wrote a letter to Le Jeudi
recounting her story of bureaucratic difficulties and economic despair. “I’m against
all forms of violence, but day after day, my family and I have to endure moral
violence, discrimination, insults and much more from Mr Juncker’s
administration”, she said in the letter published last week. Money problems had driven the
woman to desperately plead her case at the Prime minister’s office early on
the same day of the incident. Her threat to burn herself alive on Place des
Martyrs after being turned away by the authorities caused government officials to
contact the police. A city-wide search was organised, but nobody could
foresee the woman would change her plans."

BRE said...

Lisa of Wildlife Direct, thank you for your visit and I am happy that you were able to find some useful information here. The Wildlife Direct blog has been listed in my blogroll for many months and I am very supportive of the great work conservationists and ecologists and natural scientists and park rangers are trying to do in the many biodiversity hotspots and natural parks and wilderness preserves around the world.

Lesley-Ann (Black Girl on Mars), girl don't you start no stuff about how God didn't ask Mary permission for the Immaculate Conception and get all those religious extremists (on both sides of the aisle) worked up and everything. I ain't gonna have none of that at Jewels now, you here me?....:-)

However, I can follow your thinking and will read your post as referenced "Little Lost Leeza" to get a better understanding about what you mean. I've never heard of Mary Daly or Phoolan Devi but I guess I will learn about them soon.

Also, thanks for the heads-up on the tragic injuries suffered by the Congolese woman in Belgium. If you can find the time, re-post that information in a shorter version as the text in your original comment contains line breaks in the middle of several sentences. You can cut & paste from the original online news article to MS Word (or an equivalent app), remove the text formatting and apply new formatting, then re-paste that text in a new comment.

We didn't hear anything on the state-run TV news networks here in Germany about this incident in Belgium, at least not yet. Irregardless, the decision made by this woman to set herself alight in order to gain public attention was the wrong thing to do in my opinion. One thing is for sure, she's gettin' lots of attention now.

Koluki said...

Hello there BRE,

Thanks for one more of your very informative articles.
I really admire your commitment to women's issues - if more brothers had it we'd surely make some progress in the fight against all sorts of violence against women.
I just regret that no investigation seems to be ever done on men who rape, e.g. their motivations and how they deal psychologically with their acts, how they relate with their victims afterwards, etc. I can imagine it wouldn't be easy to get men to talk about these issues but then again women aren't always as open about them either.

I also received the story about the Congolese woman who set herself on fire through an email last week. I was tempted to post it in my blog but then came to the same sort of opinion you express about it... plus, I couldn't bring myself to look at the pictures, let alone post them. But, that's just me, maybe if the story is fully confirmed someone should follow it up and get to the bottom of it (you can see it here:

You may want to have a look at this blog for positive stories on the DRC:
it's one of this year's BOB nominees.


BRE said...

Thank you Koluki for your visit and your kind words. I think that there are many men around the world who care a great deal about the global problem of violence against women but their voices and actions to help stop it are not being heard and seen (in the media) as much as their female counterparts.

The culture of violence against women and girls in many societies can only be solved when everbody (women and men) are working together to end it and to help the victims. Education about respecting the rights of all humans, especially the rights of vunerable women and girls, must start at an early age and continue throughout adulthood.

I am always delighted when you stop by for a visit and leave a comment, and thank you very much for the lead on "good news" stories about life in the Congo. Hope that you will be writing about the big EU-Africa Conference hosted by Portugal next month and please send me a "Heads Up" message if you do cover it at your blog.

Koluki said...

Thanks BRE.
I'll sure let you know if I post something on the EU-Africa meeting in Lisboa.

Meanwhile, I've just posted an article (sorry it's too long, but I hope it's worth reading) on African Intellectuals in the Diaspora and would very much like to have your comment on it.

Thanks in advance.

elia said...

BRE, good to see that you are talking about Congo again. I still haven't seen Lumo (only the trailer) but I'm looking forward to it. I have seen The greatest silence, which I also recommend to those interested in the issue of sexual violence in the DRC, although I must say I didn't really like the approach of the filmmaker (white new yorker) to put herself in the film as a kind of co-protagonist.

About the Glamour article, I have just read this interesting reaction to it, which I recommend to you although, once again, I don't agree with many of the opinions of the author (too many conspiracy theories for me to swallow). But he has a few good points about the approach of many articles/documentaries about Africa done by white Westerners (see documentary above). They tend to overlook the root of the problem and give a general impression of the West as good-doers that just want to save Africa (does Africa need to be saved? I don't think so, and I agree with Uzodinma Iweala article in the New York Times).


Ps: Thanks to link to my blog, although I have moved to a new address and if you want to link to my Congo posts, you can just link here . Thanks!

BRE said...

Thank you Elia for stopping by to read this post about the crisis of mass rape in the eastern DRC. I will update my blogroll to point to your updated blog address for posts about the DR Congo.

Also, thank you very much for the link to the documentary film "The Greatest Silence" by the award-winning filmmaker Lisa F. Jackson. She may be a "white female New Yorker" but she is also a woman filmmaker with a large following and a lot of clout in the world of cinema and television. According to the documentary website, the filmmaker Lisa F. Jackson was also a victim of gang rape.

Elia (aka Lulu on the Bridge) ladies and gentlemen! One of the original members of the Congo Crew of blog authors who helped to educate so many of us about life and death in the DRC. Noch mal, Gracias Elia.

elia said...

BRE, I didn't mean to say that Lisa Jackson doesn't have the moral authority to do a film about rape, or that she didn't make a film worth watching, that's why I recommended it (and linked to its website). I'm just getting a little tired about films that, in order to talk about African problems, put a white person in the middle of the ordeal, I guess to seek greater empathy from audiences in Europe or the US. The result might be a very well-made, compelling film, and full of truth, but I just wish there were more African protagonists, that's all.

BRE said...

Elia, I didn't mean to lecture you about the filmmaker Lisa F. Jackson, I was just pointing out a few facts about her taken from the documentary website. I hope that you did not take offence as none was intended.

One thing that I found interesting at the PBS website for the documentary film "Lumo" is that they went into great detail about the filmmakers' experiences in Goma and eastern Congo. Lumo and the Congolese rape victims and hospital staff were placed at the center of the viewer's attention and the women also took part in the filmmaking process as amateur cinematographers and editors.

Unfortunately I have only seen the film trailers for "Lumo" and "The Greatest Silence" but will keep an eye out for their debut in Germany.

Again Elia, thanks very much for your comments here and your visit.