I am extremely disappointed with the statement that Samantha Power, the USAID Administrator, released last Friday in reaction to a press release that French NGO, Medicins Sans Frontiers (Doctors without Borders) released on May 9 titled 'Alarming numbers of sexual violence victims in camps around Goma'.
To quote the press release, "In just two weeks, more than 670 victims of sexual violence have been treated by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams in camps for displaced people around Goma...This represents 48 new victims per day".
The French NGO continues, "almost all the victims treated by our teams are women and the majority recount being attacked while searching for food or firewood outside of the displacement camps. In Rusayo, Bulengo and Kanyaruchinya, more than half of the victims also reported being attacked by armed men".
What I see the Medicins Sans Frontiers statement highlighting is the fact that people fleeing the fighting are being assaulted in the government-controlled environs of Goma. In fact, not only are they being raped in places where they should be protected by their security services, they are seemingly being raped by their very own security services.
Now, reading Samantha Power's statement, you'd think that these unfortunate victims of sexual violence were attacked in M23-controlled territory. She used a big chunk of the statement trying to create a link between M23's actions and the sexual violence taking place.
She then went further, randomly roping Rwanda into that mix by insisting that it was "imperative that the Government of Rwanda cease its support to M23 and withdraw its troops from the DRC." And although the Government of Rwanda has denied this allegation, it has also stated that it had every right to protect Rwandans from possible attacks emanating from the DRC, whether from the Congolese armed forces or their partners, the FDLR genocidal militia. After all, as was noted by the December 2022 UN Group of Experts Report, as well as the US Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs, Robert Wood, the Congolese army is collaborating with armed groups in eastern DRC, especially FDLR.
The question is, was Samantha Power's statement truthful? No! As noted by the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO), 38% of all instances of sexual violence committed in the five eastern DRC provinces of Nord Kivu, Sud Kivu, Ituri, Maniema, and Tanganyika are by agents of the state. The other 62% are committed by the over 250 armed groups in the area.
So, what do these statistics tell me? That pointing the finger at M23 is just an excuse. Assuming that the rebels actually committed rape, why should they be selectively condemned, while ignoring all the evidence of the crime of rape committed within displaced people's camps in government-controlled areas? What I especially take umbrage at is using the plight of the unfortunate women being raped in these displaced people's camps to push a political narrative that ignores the facts on the ground.
Never mind the fact that nowhere in the MSF press release is there any mention of Rwanda vis-à-vis sexual violence in the Goma area. The key takeaway from the MSF statement is that not only is the Congolese government not only doing nothing to provide clean water and other essential services to its displaced citizens, but it's also not even keeping them safe. MSF rightly puts the onus on the Congolese state to do its job. Unfortunately, instead of following MSF's lead and speaking unequivocally to Felix Tshisekedi's government, Samantha Power has chosen not to (maybe because she's worried to offend Tshisekedi, bearing in mind his recent state visit to Beijing, and the US's geopolitical tug of war with China).
Whatever her motive is, by trying to make it seem like the instances of sexual violence in Goma were caused by the M23 rebellion's offensive actions since 2021, she's ensuring that the people wholly responsible for creating this violence, namely the DRC government, remain without censure.
At the end of the day, it is my strong belief that the sexual violence we are seeing in that region is a result of a weak, dysfunctional Congolese state. And until the root causes of the instability and dysfunction are solved, this violence will continue. With or without M23 and Rwanda.
The writer is a socio-economic commentator.