Skip to content

A Day of Dead City in Bukavu: Response to the attempted assassination of Dr. Denis Mukwege

November 5, 2012

Halloween conjures images of all things spooky and scary, dark and macabre- a haunted cemetery below a sinister sky with thunder and lightning, angry spirits and wailing ghosts.

Halloween is not celebrated in Congo. But on October 31st this year in Bukavu, the mid-day sky darkened and the cracks of thunder exploded in the sky. People stayed indoors, the streets were close to empty. Offices closed. Schools closed. Bukavu was a dead city for the day.

Dr. Denis Mukwege. Photo credit Radio Okapi, Creative Commons

Civil society leaders had declared last Wednesday a Dead City Day for Bukavu, in order to support Dr. Denis Mukwege, doctor and founder of the PANZI hospital, who narrowly survived an attack at his home the previous week (25 October). Official and commercial offices were asked to close their doors and residents to stay at home and meditate for the good of the country.

Our office closed for the day as well, and Jamie and I and the other expats worked from home for the day.

And I meditated on Dr. Mukwege and the violence that he stood against that sought him out at his own home, juxtaposed by ironic coincidence with morbid Halloween, and the eerie weather of rainy season. It was a somber day.

Dr. Mukwege’s extraordinary work and his tireless advocacy for women in Congo has been a source of inspiration for me since I heard him speak in New Orleans in 2008, and even more so now with my work in gender-based violence in Congo.

Because he is no ordinary doctor. Eve Ensler, in an article in The Guardian, explains:

Who is Dr Denis Mukwege? He is the main street of hope for thousands in eastern Congo. He has stayed in a warzone for 14 years and practised medicine with bare medical resources and witnessed the unbearable enacted on the vaginas and bodies of women day after day. He has invented surgeries to meet the acts of cruelty and has helped repair 30,000 rape victims. He has opened and maintained a hospital providing ongoing care in a place with no roads, no water, no electricity, minimal internet or phone and rampant insecurity…

He has told the excruciating stories of the rapes and tortures over and over at the US Senate and White House, at the European parliament, the Canadian parliament, at Downing Street, in Brussels, in Paris and across the US.   LINK TO FULL ARTICLE

Last week, 5 gunmen broke into Dr. Mukwege’s house while we was not there and held his wife and two daughters at gunpoint for half an hour until he arrived. As he pulled up to his house, shots were fired, narrowly missing Dr. Mukwege as he dove to the ground, but hitting and fatally wounding Joseph Bizimana, his security guard.

The gunmen then fled in Mukwege’s car, but then abandoned the car shortly afterward.

Was this a random robbery? A personal grudge? Or part of a bigger plot? We can’t really say for sure, but Lauren Wolfe in an excellent article (The Misogyny Behind an Attempted Assassination of a Man in Congo) in The Atlantic explains what may have been behind this attack:

No money or property was taken and the car was left behind, calling into question robbery as a motive. Whether this was a kidnapping or assassination attempt, no one is quite sure, but what we do know is that the attack occurred within a couple blocks of the headquarters of MONUSCO, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo — the largest current peacekeeping force in the world, with more than 20,000 troops. We know that DRC is at the mercy of multiple armed groups, including the notorious M23, FDLR, and Mai Mai militias, which are known for their inhuman mutilations of women’s bodies.

We also know that about one month before the attack, Dr. Mukwege gave a powerful speech at the United Nations about the continued violence in Congo (another excerpt from Wolfe’s article:)

“I would have liked to say, ‘I have the honor of representing my country,’ but I cannot,” [Mukwege] said. “In effect, how can one be proud of belonging to a nation without defense, fighting itself, completely pillaged and powerless in the face of 500,000 of its girls raped during 16 years; 6 million of its sons and daughters killed during 16 years without any lasting solution in sight?”

Not only did Mukwege outline the reality of a country — of women — at the mercy of war, he pointed fingers in a way that few seem willing to do when it comes to one of the world’s greatest disregarded crises. He blamed the international community, which has “shown its fear and lack of courage during these 16 years,” for its inaction, and, perhaps more crucially for this narrative, he put a bull’s-eye on the perpetrators.

“We do not need more proof, we need action, urgent action to arrest those responsible for these crimes against humanity and to bring them to justice,” Mukwege told UN member states and U.K. Foreign Minister William Hague, who was also in the room that day. “Justice is not negotiable. We need your unanimous condemnation of the rebel groups who are responsible for these acts.”  LINK TO FULL ARTICLE

The implications of a targeted attack on such an important figure are grave.

On one level, this was a close call in an attempt to silence Dr. Mukwege’s outspoken disagreement with the status quo. As Musa Okwonga puts it in an article in The Independent, Dr. Mukwege almost became the newest Great African Martyr.

The Great African Martyr is a shadow that hangs over much of the continent’s recent history. So many of its most-loved sons and daughters were brutally murdered before they had a chance to complete their humanitarian deeds, for which Africa today is undoubtedly far poorer… People who struggled on against the odds whilst the world looked on anxiously, but ultimately from a comfortable distance: and whom, when they each met a demise of unutterable cruelty, the world then mourned and for the most part gently forgot.

This cannot happen to Dr. Mukwege. He cannot be someone whom we wistfully remember at dinner parties and conferences for years to come. His rightful place is not as some premature photo on a dusty mantelpiece. No. We have had too many Great African Martyrs, and he will not be another.  LINK TO FULL ARTICLE

On another level, regardless of the outcome of this assassination attempt, it is an incident meant to instill fear among anyone who would speak out.

It sends a clear message “We can get to anyone, anywhere, anytime.”

Since the attack, Dr. Mukwege and his family have since left Congo for the time being, and it’s uncertain if/when he will return to continue on with his admirable work.

For the moment, although Bukavu has come back to life from its Dead City Day and Halloween is over, the images and feelings of spooky and scary, dark and sinister, morbid and macabre, are lingering here in eastern DRC.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Aunt Melodee permalink
    November 8, 2012 5:25 am

    Katie, what a sobering and frightening story of a great hero. Please take extra care of yourselves.


  1. [link] Shocking attitudes point to deep misogyny in Congo « slendermeans
  2. Shocking attitudes point to deep misogyny in Congo |

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: