If you search the internet for histories of sexual violence in DRC you will find a number of stories about different militia groups raping Congolese women. There are different opinions about whether rebel groups in general rape the local population or not. Rebels often need and rely on the support of the local populations to survive. Hence, using rape as a political strategy may be a bad idea. Large opposition groups, such as Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC, a rebel group which has turned into a political party), may not gain advantages of raping locals. This would reflect badly upon the leader and the leader has therefore reason to discourage rape. However, there are so many militia groups in DRC that it is hopeless to say something general about all of them. Due to the fact that both the Congolese government and some militia groups have interests in the mining sites in the country, rape can be used to break down the communities surrounding the mining sites. (Eriksson-Baaz and Stern 2013, pp. 67-70) Without going into details of every single militia group in DRC (there are plenty), which you can do your own research about, this post will focus on the main opponent of Kabila, Jean-Pierre Bemba.
Kabila’s main opponent Jean-Pierre Bemba was found responsible for war crimes and sexual violence in war. Bemba was the first person ever convicted by the ICC for sexual violence in war. However, Bemba’s troops did not rape Congolese women. Instead Bemba was convicted due to happenings in the Central African Republic. The president of the Central African Republic, Ange-Félix Patassé, asked his friend Jean-Pierre for help when he had trouble with rebels in his own country. When Bemba’s men went to the Central African Republic to help Patassé, they raped thousands of women. In the Central African Republic, they acted on the behalf of Patassé. Hence they acted on the behalf of the government, not as rebels. Many supporters of Bemba say that Bemba is not responsible for what his men did in the Central African Republic. He did not rape anyone himself, so he is not responsible. Bemba cannot control his men. This logic is flawed in many ways. Why would Bemba not be able to control his men, while Kabila being able to control his? The fact is that in DRC, the soldiers who rape women seldom meet any repercussions. As stated in Eriksson-Baaz and Stern (2013, p. 45): “it is more likely that the perpetrators will find their way into the corridors of power than to a prison cell”. When rape is used for political aims and the most likely outcome of an act of rape is that the perpetrator will be promoted, there is no doubt about Kabila’s responsibility. This is why the international community talks about it as “rape as a weapon of war“. There are no reason to treat Bemba any different. He knew what his soldiers were doing and should have had a “zero rape policy”. Nevertheless, Bemba is now back in DRC. He filed for an appeal and the conviction was overturned. Bemba was acquitted and has now returned to DRC, where his supporters are overjoyed. There are presidential elections in DRC on December 23 and Bemba is banned from running. Kabila will not be running, but he says he might want to run for president again in 2023. Will the fact that neither of these men will become the next president save DRC from its civil war? Since the war has been going on for the past 57 years and there are too many economic interests making money out of the fact that there is a civil war in the country… I highly doubt so. If the civil war in the DRC suddenly would end one day and a new Lumumba would unite the country, that would completely redraw the geopolitical map and change the global economy as we know it. Since economic interests want the prize of cobalt to remain low, these forces want there to be a civil war in DRC. Is it possible to have an ongoing civil war without either rebels or government soldiers raping locals? Of course, it is possible, however rape as a weapon of war is not limited to DRC – it has been used in many wars. In other words, Kabila may be responsible, but changing president of the DRC will most likely not solve the issue with rape as a weapon of war in DRC.