When we arrived in Kinsangani, Orientale Province of DRC, it was clear right away that things were different. The city reminded me immediately of Kinshasa and Bujumbura, with its wide boulevards and colonial feel. In fact, the city feels as though it never left the colonial era.
Most of the buildings date back to the colonial period, and thanks to the excellent architecture of the day, are still structurally sound after a century. Though they appear as though they haven’t been painted or maintained since then, that is merely the affect that Congo has on things. The only proof of maintenance is that the city would have been covered over by jungle had it not been maintained!
We hit the ground running, meeting with various contacts to discuss the situation around sexual violence in Orientale province. By the time the afternoon was over, it was clear that things were a bit different here. Each person echoed what the last had said, pointing out the reality that Orientale remains an untouched zone of DRC. People pointed to Goma and Bukavu, as the civilized areas of Eastern DRC; explaining that the reality of the area was due to a high level of ignorance.
Looking at the statistics given to us for the area, it was clear that we were dealing with something different here. Whereas most of the media around sexual violence in DRC revolves around the violent and public attacks by militants against women to break down the community structure, there is another more private horror occurring.
The data was clear, there are high numbers of molestation and incest happening in this area. The majority of reported cases were against children, as they are more likely to speak up or face medical issues due to rape. Women are better at hiding it to protect against stigma and loosing what little they do have. Month after month you scroll through the data to see crimes against 3 year olds, 5 year olds, you hear about stories where an 8 year old was discovered when her entire insides were destroyed. It is painful just to here such stories.
Then we move on to discuss the legal aspect of sexual violence. I’ll do an additional post about this, as there is too much to say just here. But suffice to say, that the entire legal system is broken. The lawyer we spoke with says that the only thing in their favor is that the laws exist to prohibit sexual violence, other than that, the rest is simply broken.
Next we spoke to a foreign priest who has been living in Kisangani for the last 24 years. He shakes his head as he says that he cannot begin to describe the horrors that he witnessed during the war. He says that after the war, international actors appeared, but the local population was only willing to take their money, and nothing else. Since then they’ve basically chased out the NGOs, leaving mainly the UN and International Red Cross as major actors. Clearly there is a great need for assistance, but a lack of willingness or interest to accept such help.
So for now, Orientale remains a relatively untouched area of the world. But then again, it is not untouched. It clearly bares the marks and scars of colonialism, but without the benefits of a functional government, legal, education, health, or any other system. Clearly things are different here.