Grace Under Pressure: Colette of the Congo

By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

Author’s Note: Grace Under Pressure is an on-going series of posts honoring everyday people who courageously and honorably make positive differences in their own lives and the lives of others. It is my own personal affirmation that unexpected heroes reside among us and serve as  quiet but unshakable proof that virtue really is its own reward  — and ours too.

Congo-rape-victim-shields-007Imagine a day where you are confronted by ten women who have been beaten and raped and are desperately seeking your help. Imagine those women have done nothing more than venture out to feed their families knowing full well that armed gangs are hunting them for sport. Then imagine you are confronted by ten more women the next day and then the next and so on in a horrific circulating daily struggle to survive. That is the world of Colette. Colette cannot give her last name for fear of reprisal from the same thugs who torment her fellow refugees at a camp just north of one of the Congo’s provincial capitals at Goma. Fifty thousand displaced men, women, and children are crowded in the camp which lies adjacent to the Virunga National Park.  They are just a fraction of the estimated 250,000 people displaced in East Congo by the civil war despite the presence of the largest U.N. peacekeeping force in the world.

Virunga was Africa’s first national park and established to protect one of the rarest species of animals on the planet — the mountain gorillas of the Virunga Range. The 3000 square mile preserve is a spectacular melange of thousands of other species too, from the velvet-skinned, living fossil known as the Okapi to indigenous elephant, chimpanzee, and giraffe populations. The Park is also home to a particularly murderous species known as the FDLR or the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda. This remnant of the Hutu Power rebel front are engaged in a ruthless civil war against Congo’s ruling party. Many of the FDLR leadership have been linked to the genocidal putsch against the Rwandan Tutsi’s in 1994 as well as international terrorist organizations. Estimates of the Rwandan genocide vary, but conservative figures put the number of Tutsis and their Hutu sympathizers slaughtered between April and June of 1994 at 500,000 to 800,000.
In the Rwandan genocide, rape and sexual mutilation of women and children was an orchestrated tactic of control by Hutu Power to intimidate the civilian population. Thus the rebels of FDLR cannot return to Rwanda without being held to account for their actions in courts, nor could they easily be accepted by a third country. According to the U.S. National Counter-terrorism Center, the FDLR is believed to be responsible for about a dozen terrorist attacks committed in 2009. These acts of terrorism have killed hundreds of civilians in Eastern Congo. Pariahs in most every sense, the FDLR patrol Virunga hunting  wild game for food and humans for sport. They are not the only predators in Virunga; there are many more gangs, factions, and displaced men all hunting women.

The women of the Goma camp receive some humanitarian aid to feed their families but is rarely enough to meet the daily dietary requirements. The only other source of food and fuel lies in Virunga where even Congolese policeman are afraid to venture in the daytime. Thus the women are forced into the Faustian choice between starvation and rape. The women must enter the park under cover of darkness to gather what firewood they can carry to cook their food and to sell in Goma’s  marketplace. They are easy targets for gangs of armed men who rape on average at least ten women a day. Nationwide, the estimates are that 48 women are raped every hour in the Congo. One of the victims was Colette.

Colette occupies a tiny, dark corner of the Goma camp where she runs a counseling center for the rape victims. If emergency medical services are required, she accompanies the victim to the camp medical tent. Colette also intervenes with victims’ spouses to help them understand and accept what has happened. In this patriarchal society, this is no simple task. But mostly, Colette just listens to the stories of these victims. She provides a comforting ear and empathetic touch to counter the uncivilized brutality suffered by these women and young girls.  Colette hopes a long-term solution can be reached to help permanently relocate the refugees even  as the Congolese civil war continues to rage despite UN intervention. For now, all she can do it listen and hope. In a place as dire as Congo, that is still remarkable.

Source:  UN Dispatch

~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

42 thoughts on “Grace Under Pressure: Colette of the Congo”

  1. So so tragic. And a telling juxtaposition, this heroic woman doing the overwhelming and impossible for her fellows – while the leader of the church founded by the guy who would be doing the same retires to seclusion from his golden throne. The Gold that could buy food and water and fuel for these least of God’s children. Shame.

    And THANKS to all the previous posters with helpful comments and links. I wish I could add one – I look every now and then – the book I read in High School that opened my eyes to the Congo is not online. One has to find a used paper copy of it – but it would be worth the effort. “Congo Kitabu” written by Jean Pierre Hallet is a wonderful background, and a great read and great adventure. Hallet was a Belgian officer, and more, who was there through the Belgian bug-out too – much of the seeds of the current conflict were sown then. On top of the history that he introduces. If anyone can find a copy READ IT! It’s worth it.

    As a kid I also really enjoyed Animal Kitabu too, the only issue I would now find with it would be the observation that Hyenas were hermaphroditic – they do seem that way – it’s a mock-penis thing. Scientists didn’t know about that until way after publication.

  2. Dredd,

    I’ve been on my feet since 8 AM, hospital for 3 errands. local clinic, pharmacy, and a walk of 20 minutes to a´stóre. And the back to the pharmacy. Home now at ca 6 PM.
    New el-conversion for heart flimmer next week and ablation operation March 21. Plus other med stuff.

    The point is that I don’t have the energy to keep up here or even pay close attention to what you post, which you deserve. Will have to content myself with lurking.

  3. idealist707 1, February 17, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    The connection to rape was tenuous but why look a gift horse in the A55.

    I quoted from RWL’s link to Project Censored.

    Which I will quote from again to show the nexus between U.S. tax money and the armed rebels who rape women every day as Mark E has pointed out in his post today:

    In 1998, U.S. military-trained leaders of Rwanda and Uganda invaded the mineral-rich areas of the Congo. The invaders installed illegal colonial-style governments which continue to receive millions of dollars in arms and military training from the United States. Our government and a $5 million Citibank loan maintains the rebel presence in the Congo.

    (RWL link, your re-link of it, and my quotes from it up-thread). There is no getting around the nexus from the raping rebels to the U.S. military and U.S. taxpayer money.

  4. Dredd,

    I studied japanese calligraphy for two years once a week in the evening. An older japanese woman. Venerable and virtually mute when speaking Swedish. Two years of watching her paint over in orange ink our attempts to master the craft.
    No words. Just a mumble or two.

    A year or two later I discovered that she must have been a phony. Suspected it due to other factors earlier***. A book that I had read, had an appendix which I had not noticed before. There in a few pages was what this lady could not explain. I wondered if she could the basics of calligraphy at all.

    If you know japanese script, then you know that they have three ways of writing.
    Chinese style, simplified sound characters to render the sounds of Japanese, and one primarily to render the sound of foreign words.
    I had asked her for the character, of my favorite word, using the style we were using. She was disturbed by my request, procrastinated, but came back later with two calligraphy characters. On a sheet of paper.

    One of my fellow students was learning Japanese and saw the paper and revealed that in fact that it was a rendering using japanese characters for sounds. She could say the word which I had read in an Engish book. The word she said, matched the sound rendered in our alphabet..
    Thus the teacher could not find the China style character in her PC based cheat system.

    But it was a good course in some ways. 🙂
    Whom do you trust? No one! It taught me a new lesson in distrust.

    Good luck with yours.

  5. Great posts, Dredd.

    The last about Congo was a guess by me, and you provided the facts.
    The connection to rape was tenuous but why look a gift horse in the A55.

    Back to the Stones. Watch very carefully a second at the beginning.
    There is man who leaves the scene rapidly to the left of the lead singer.
    He looks black to me. suspiciously like someone I can’t place right now.
    A black USA singer. Slim and long. Any idea?

    Excuse me for not giving the other part more space.
    Getting tired of juggling the world’s problem.
    Said to the folks at JTs that for all their talk they could not encompass all the factors in any one issue, and were powerless to effect a change. So why do it?

    The answer I guess is that misery loves company. or cultured smart people like to share the same salon.

  6. Idealist707,

    And here is what the coup has resulted in, including the things Mark E blogged about:

    Western multinational corporations’ attempts to cash in on the wealth of Congo’s resources have resulted in what many have called “Africa’s first world war,” claiming the lives of over 3 million people. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been labeled “the richest patch of earth on the planet.” The valuable abundance of minerals and resources in the DRC has made it the target of attacks from U.S.-supported neighboring African countries Uganda and Rwanda.

    The DRC is minerial rich with millions of tons of diamonds, copper, cobalt, zinc, manganese, uranium, niobium, and tantalum also known as coltan. Coltan has become an increasingly valuable resource to American corporations. Coltan is used to make mobile phones, night vision goggles, fiber optics, and capacitators used to maintain the electrical charge in computer chips. In December of 2000 the shortage of coltan was the main reason that the popular sale of the Sony Play Station 2 video game came to an abrupt halt.

    The DRC holds 80% of the world’s coltan reserves, more than 60% of the world’s cobalt and is the world’s largest supplier of high-grade copper. With these minerals playing a major part in maintaining US military dominance and economic growth, minerals in the Congo are deemed vital US interests.

    Historically, the U.S. government identified sources of materials in Third World countries, and then encouraged U.S. corporations to invest in and facilitate their production. Dating back to the mid-1960s, the U.S. government literally installed the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko, which gave U.S. corporations access to the Congo’s minerals for more than 30 years. However, over the years Mobutu began to limit access by Western corporations, and to control the distribution of resources. In 1998, U.S. military-trained leaders of Rwanda and Uganda invaded the mineral-rich areas of the Congo. The invaders installed illegal colonial-style governments which continue to receive millions of dollars in arms and military training from the United States. Our government and a $5 million Citibank loan maintains the rebel presence in the Congo.

    (RWL’s Link, emphasis added). Those who rape 10 women a day have “sponsors” that any of you outraged are paying for with your tax dollars.

    That is feudal life in the MOMCOM plutocracy folks.

  7. idealist707 1, February 16, 2013 at 9:38 am

    So AFRICOM backed the wrong side. Who could do such a harebrained scheme? I mean if Rumsfeld did it with Sadam, that is no excuse.
    What were our real motives for backing them? Ahah,we wanted them to develop into a cause for war against terrorism. Did they get their training in Fort Bragg, NC?

    Does the secret Pentagon cabal decide? Or is there an input as to where oil, rare earth minerial, or commercial profits made or be had?
    Let us not forget the rule of commercialism established. A worthy goal in our ruters eyes.

    JSOC is just a front (as well as being an operative cente)r. The demon lies elswhere
    General Wesley Clark said that a coup had taken place.

  8. idealist707 1, February 17, 2013 at 4:42 am


    I said snark, but you turned the tables on me.

    Thanks for the classic Rolling Stones. So much music I missed not being tuned in. Was it a cover? Or a song that they had written?
    It was an early work they did on their own.

    It was before Brian died.

  9. Dredd,

    I said snark, but you turned the tables on me.

    Thanks for the classic Rolling Stones. So much music I missed not being tuned in. Was it a cover? Or a song that they had written?

    Forget the questions. You are not my search engine. Searching on internet is also brain-expanding! 🙂

    We should not say the internat. It is the Web that made this all possible.
    Tim Berners-Lee did it at CERN, and gave it to the world. How rich he would be today from licensing? Got knighted! Big deal.

  10. RobinH:

    It was wonderful of you to stop back by after your recent health challenge. It’ s really pretty humbling for me to know you picked this post to let us know your situation. We’re beyond glad that you’re back and we’ll look forward to more comments from your side of the computer monitor.

  11. This blog seems a little out of control now. Complexity in Africa may be one reason, but here are some basics applying to all. About 2.5% of any population from kings to homeless have a hidden fear of others. It’s the ‘Get them before they get you!’ attitude, ignoring the fact that most people are social and want to get along. These guys & girls are all over the spectrum of life, but some work their way to the top & we have that situation today. So please lets not have a chorus to let some covertly evil fellow like Barack Obama do something good about a situation. Better to expose these guys for what they are & don’t fall into the trap of partisan politics while you’re at it.

  12. Thank You Mark for a excellent story.. i havent been online for a few years due to serious health issues but its awesome to finally come back and see that mr Turleys site is still up and all of you are still here i never posted much before but read each and every blog posted. this time around i aim to change that. not just repost your blogs on my fb pages again Thank you !!!!

  13. idealist707 1, February 16, 2013 at 9:23 am

    How is the halo sitting. (Snark?)

    I don’t know, but if I were you I would polish it again (?) or at least for the first time, or the last time, or the next time …. 😉

  14. Go to any European news site and read. The Guardian will do for a start. Al Jazeera.

    Don’t have an African one. The Belgians made them learn French, those that survived the maiming by the Belgians. The worst colonial represson in the whole of Africa. Why were Belgians so? Mystery..

    American news? Good summary provided by another, I don’t need to comment it.

  15. I just responded to the posting about the “news”. This is a perfect example. I learned about this here but hear nothing about it when I go to the “news”.

  16. Good piece, Espo. There is much evil in this world. What I like about your posts are you cover the good and evil in the world. Your posts aren’t polemics, they are edifying and inspiring.

  17. Arm those women with AK-47’s and a couple of 30 round clips and teach them how to use them.

  18. RWL:

    considering most minerals can be mined in far safer places, I am not sure why a large company would go to a festering sh**t hole and mine minerals. Especially if tonnages mined in DRC are less than tonnages mined in other locations due to better technology and higher skilled workers.

    And any way the raping rebels are the ones mining gold with child workers:

    “The conflict-gold rush is thriving in eastern Congo. Because of its skyrocketing price and the ease of smuggling it in small pouches for extremely high profits, gold has become the most lucrative conflict mineral for armed groups in eastern Congo. More than $600 million worth of gold is estimated to leave Congo every year, and armed groups are funding their operations through control of a significant percentage of that amount. As U.S. legislation and supply-chain pressure from tech companies have made it more difficult for them to sell the more cumbersome so-called 3-T minerals—tin, tantalum, and tungsten—rebels and army commanders have increasingly turned to gold.

    Guided by war criminal Gen. Bosco “The Terminator” Ntaganda, who is the subject of an International Criminal Court arrest warrant, the leaders of the new Rwandan-supported M23 rebellion ran an extensive conflict gold smuggling ring in 2011 but was disrupted from this in mid-2012 following Ntaganda’s defection from Congo’s army. M23 is now attempting to retake control of the trade, as it builds alliances with the warlords in control of gold mining areas. Other warlord groups, from the Rwandan Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda to Congolese army generals, have also mined and smuggled gold and continue to trade gold for arms. As the price of gold has hit record levels over the past five years, new gold mines filled with child miners as young as 8 years old have sprung up in Congo, and armed groups are fighting over mines and trading routes.

    There is a six-step process for getting conflict gold from mines in eastern Congo into its final form: jewelry or gold bars for investors. At the mines, the gold is mainly dug up by hand with pick-axes and shovels in dangerous shafts as far as 100 yards into the earth. Fewer than 5 percent of miners are registered with the authorities, and an estimated 40 percent are children. Armed groups and/or army commanders control a majority of mines, forcing miners to work, taking cuts from the miners, and/or taxing traders along supply routes. An estimated 5 tons to 7 tons of gold are produced in the Kivu region of eastern Congo annually—worth between $285 million and $400 million, a large percentage of which ends up in the hands of armed groups that target civilians with rape, murder, and other abuses.”

  19. Great article and information we in our global society should know about. And our major news media bring us news of big gulps in NY, kardashians, Michelle going on a separate vacation, and Mr. O golfing for the 143rd time since becoming president (that’s president with a lower case p).

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