While the Congolese population desperately hopes for the first peaceful transition of power in the country’s history, yet another violent overturn of a dictatorial regime seems inevitable. While militias are formed and violence intensifies, the Congolese doctor, Denis Mukwege, is seen as a beacon of hope in dark times.
With close to 80 million citizens, and a surface which covers more than two million square meters, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the biggest country of sub-Saharan Africa, which functioned as the ‘backyard’ of Belgian king, Leopold II in its early days (1870 and 1908).
When the Belgian king went bankrupt – due to his megalomaniac spending – his private colony became the possession of the Belgian government. Subsequently, after the Second World War and many years of imperial exploitation, the Belgians started to fear for a war on independence as seen in Algeria. Consequently, the European imperialists accelerated the DRC’s independence process, leaving the country in the hands of unexperienced politicians at the 30th of June, 1960. Five years of destabilization, violence and fear were the result, initiating the coupe d’état of Joseph-Désiré Mobutu. The former journalist immediately changed the independent Congo – which he indicated as ‘colonial’ – into dictatorial Zaïre and enriched himself for many decades (while supported by his Western allies) at the expense of the Congolese population.
A second violent transition of power was inevitable. Eventually, the Rwandan genocide induced a devastating conflict, during which Laurent-Désiré Kabila overthrew Mobutu. After five years at the Congolese throne, the old Kabila was shot dead by one of his child soldiers, clearing the road for his son, Joseph Kabila, who was 29 years old at that time. ‘Little Kabila’ is still in office today, even though his reign has expired last year according to the Congolese constitution. As a result, a peaceful and democratic transition of power seems impossible once again. In the continuous fragile Eastern Congo, violence currently intensifies while militias are formed to fight against Kabila’s army and mercenaries. Within in this fairly complex struggle for political power, troubled and endangered by the astonishing violence in north-east Congo, a gynecologist works tirelessly in his Panzi hospital, located in South Kivu. As a light in Congo’s darkness, dr. Denis Mukwege continues to treat the numerous women and children who became the victim of sexual violence over the last decades. In addition, dr. Mukwege is a reputed and internationally respected human rights activist who is shortlisted for the Nobel Peace Prize each year. Unsurprisingly, many Congolese people, especially women, are putting their fate into his hands, hoping for a better future.
Aside from helping the many women and children to get well and rebuild their lives, his empathic strengths enable dr. Mukwege to intriguingly expose the atrocities in Congo to the rest of the world. Due to his ability to compellingly carry out his message for a better Congo where the rights of women and children are guaranteed, many ask Denis Mukwege about his political ambitions. ‘What is your opinion about sitting president Kabila?’ and ‘Isn’t it an idea to run for office during the next elections?’ are frequently asked questions by journalists and TV-hosts. Dangerous questions for the gynecologist, who already survived an attack on his life a few years ago. Criticism or political ambitions from a popular figure like him are not received well by his opponents. Neither by Kabila, nor by the many rebel groups which are active in the region of Panzi hospital. Consequently, dr. Mukwege always admirably refrains from making any political or critical statements, without losing his own opinions and activism out of sight.
Secondly, looking at the fragile and anarchic political situation in the DRC, dr. Mukwege is more of value as a human rights activist and doctor in his hospital, than as an oppositional politician in an authoritative state. Because in his current position, he has an important voice in the international community, exposing the atrocities and weak leadership taking place in Congo. Consequently, this enables dr. Mukwege to point out the moral responsibility of the international community, multinationals and neighboring countries. An influential position, in which he can effectively fight for a better future, without being gagged by opponents, which will probably happen when he would enter the political arena of Congo.
For more about this remarkable man and contemporary hero, please have a look at the documentary – ‘The man who mends women’ – about his work in Panzi Hospital. Find the trailer below.