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Resources and Rape: Congo’s (toxic) Discursive Complex

  • Ann Laudati and Charlotte Mertens
Abstract:

In the last decade, the rapes (of women) in, and the metaphoric raping (of natural resources) of, the Democratic Republic of Congo have received unprecedented attention from media, donors, and advocacy groups. Beginning in the early 2000s, these two narratives (the involvement of armed groups and state forces in illegal resource exploitation and the widespread prevalence of sexual violence in eastern DRC) merged to form a direct cause-consequence relationship, in which rape is framed as a tool for accessing mineral wealth. Through an analysis of media articles and reports of human rights organizations, this study traces the making of this rape-resources narrative, juxtaposing it with wider academic debates and critical scholarship. The narrative effectively focuses attention on a narrow set of actors and spaces in Congo’s conflicts, highlighting each of those actors/spaces in particular ways while obscuring the role of others. Because of this, key dynamics are missing from the narrative, such as historical context, gendered conflict dynamics, and armed group/civilian activity and mobilization, which are critical to understanding the scale and scope of violence in the region more broadly and the perpetration of instances of rape more specifically. The unraveling of the rape-resources narrative reveals its toxicity in limiting effective interventions and in closing down alternative narratives.

Au cours de la dernière décennie, les viols de femmes et les viols métaphoriques des ressources naturelles de la république démocratique du Congo [RDC] ont reçu une attention sans précédent de la part des médias, des donateurs et des groupes de défense. Depuis le début des années 2000, ces deux récits (l’implication de groupes armés et forces de l’État dans l’exploitation illégale des ressources naturelles et la prévalence généralisée de la violence sexuelle dans l’est du RDC) se sont assimilés pour former une relation directe de cause à effet, dans laquelle le viol est présenté comme un outil pour accéder aux richesses minérales. Par le biais d’une analyse d’articles de presse et de reportages provenant d’organisations de défense des droits de la personne, cette étude retrace la fabrication de ce narratif viol-ressources, le juxtaposant avec des débats académiques et d’études critiques plus vaste. Ce narratif attire efficacement l’attention sur un ensemble limité d’acteurs et d’espaces dans les conflits du Congo, soulignant chacun de ces acteurs/espaces de manières particulières tout en obscurcissant le rôle des autres. De ce fait, certains éléments clés sont absents de ce récit, tel que le contexte historique, la dynamique des conflits sexospécifiques et la mobilisation de groupes armés/civils, qui sont indispensables pour comprendre l’ampleur et la portée de la violence et cas de viol dans la région, plus précisément. L’exploration du récit viol-ressources révèle sa nocuité de par sa capacité à limité des modes d’interventions efficaces et à réduire la possibilité de récits alternatifs.

Na última década, as violações (de mulheres) na República Democrática do Congo e a violação metafórica (dos recursos naturais) do país foram alvo de uma atenção sem precedentes por parte dos media, dos doadores e das sociedades de advogados. Desde os anos 2000, a combinação destas duas narrativas (o envolvimento de grupos armados e de forças do Estado na exploração ilegal de recursos, por um lado, e a incidência generalizada da violência sexual na RDC oriental) criou uma relação direta de causa e efeito, na qual a violação é enquadrada como um instrumento para aceder à riqueza mineral. Através de uma análise de artigos de imprensa e de relatórios emitidos por organizações de direitos humanos, o presente estudo reconstitui o percurso desta narrativa que liga violações e recursos, justapondo-a a um conjunto mais abrangente de debates académicos e de pensamento crítico. De facto, a narrativa foca-se num conjunto restrito de atores e de espaços dos conflitos no Congo, realçando determinados traços dos atores/espaços, em detrimento do papel desempenhado por outros. Por esta razão, há dinâmicas fundamentais que estão ausentes da narrativa, tais como o contexto histórico, as dinâmicas de conflito baseadas no género, bem como a atividade e a mobilização de grupos armados / civis, que são essenciais para compreender de um modo mais profundo a escala e a abrangência da violência naquela região e de um modo mais específico a ocorrência de casos de violação. Ao descodificarmos a narrativa que liga violações e recursos, revelaremos a sua toxicidade, quer dizer, o modo como ela limita a possibilidade de intervenções eficazes e impede a existência de narrativas alternativas.

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Author names are ordered alphabetically and both authors contributed equally to the production of this article.

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