By Mark Ellis
Between five and six million people have died as a result of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which some have termed “Africa’s World War.” This makes it the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II, with a death toll exceeding Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda and Darfur in Sudan.
Beginning in 1998, the conflict has involved nine African nations. Despite the signing of peace accords in 2003, fighting continues in the mineral-rich eastern portion of the country. The prevalence and intensity of rape and other sexual violence in eastern Congo has been described as the worst in the world.
“One out of three women have been raped in the eastern DRC,” according to Camille Ntoto, founder of Africa New Day, citing figures from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The city of Goma, where Camille is based, was recently overrun by M23 guerrillas for 11 days as thousands of U.N. troops looked on passively. “There was no electricity and in most areas no water,” Camille reports. “The banks were closed and some were looted. The governor’s home was completely ransacked.”
After an emergency meeting between the leaders of Rwanda, Uganda, and DRC – along with intense international pressure — the rebels pulled out of Goma on December 1. They withdrew to a city only 20 kilometers away and vowed to retake Goma at any time if their demands are not met.
“The U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo costs $1.0 billion a year,” Camille notes. “The people are wondering what good do they do?”
Camille also faults the government of Rwanda, which a recent U.N. report implicates in the violence in eastern Congo. “President Kagame comes (to the West) as a savior and visionary, but he is really an assassin and a dictator,” Camille charges, noting that Kagame has been embraced by prominent ministry and political leaders. “He is playing a tricky game; he is not who he claims to be.”
Among the estimated 5.4 million killed in the Congo war, almost half were children. Many died from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia.
“Rape was used as an instrument of war,” Camille reports. “Foreign troops wanted to humiliate the communities, so the men will feel powerless because they were not able to protect their wives.”
Some female rape victims suffer from fistula, a medical condition resulting from a tear between the birth canal and anal cavity. “The soldiers finish their atrocious acts by shoving objects into their private parts, leaving these women in a very bad situation.” The shame resulting from their infertility or incontinence causes some women to be shunned and cast out of their villages.
It was not only foreign troops engaged in rape, but sadly, Congolese men began to imitate the foreigners’ atrocities. “It was the Rwandan and Ugandan troops initially doing this, but the locals took up the practice and now Congolese are doing it to their own women,” he reports. “It was to do with power, tribal strife, and ethnic tensions.”
Camille’s wife, Esther, has ministered to many of the female victims. She would often come home and tell her husband the horrible stories she heard. After a certain point, Camille could no longer listen. Heartsick, he turned to the Lord in prayer.
“What are we doing wrong?” he asked God. “There must be something in the perception and mindset of the men that is completely wrong,” he decided.
As Camille prayed, it became clear that he and his wife had been addressing the consequences of rape, but they had not reached the perpetrators.
In response to God’s leading, Camille spent over a year developing a discipleship program for men he calls “Sons of Congo,” which involves a curriculum and radio programs for men meeting in small groups.
“We are targeting men in churches, prisons, the police and military,” he says. When he launched the program last year, his goal was to reach 500 men. Astoundingly, 8,000 men have completed it.
“Their lives are being changed,” he says. “We’re hearing moving testimonies from the men, and even more importantly, the women.”
“We are the church. We have to be the light of the world and push back with love.”