Woman as Reason: Congo, capitalism and rape

November 10, 2010

From the Nov.-Dec. 2010 issue of News & Letters:

by Terry Moon

The latest tragedy in Congo was so horrific that it actually made a few headlines in the U.S. bourgeois press: for three days at the end of July and into August, well over 200 women including over 50 girls, in the village of Luvungi in North Kivu province, were raped and brutalized while UN peacekeepers were based just up the road. These attacks were carried out by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and the Mai-Mai militia. Since then, Margot Wallstrom, the UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict, discovered that Congo government troops (FARDC), sent to protect the villagers and enforce a moratorium on mining in the mineral-rich area, have been looting, raping, and murdering the people they were sent to protect.


Women who’ve experienced the brutality that is the Congo say, as Wallstrom reports: “A dead rat is worth more than the body of a woman.” The recent rapes in Luvungi included singling out grandmothers and elderly women as a way to shatter social taboos and any semblance of normality or the ability to simply live one’s life. One of these grandmothers described her experience to a New York Times reporter by saying she had hardly eaten “since I was demolished.”

While a BBC reporter was insensitive enough to speak of how rape in war is a usual occurrence, the war in Congo is not the FARDC against the many rebel groups, or the rebels against each other, it is all of them against Congolese civilians. It is a feeding frenzy for minerals, for capitalist wealth. Wallstrom pointed out the obvious: “It is evident that communities in lucrative mining areas are at particularly high risk. The mineral wealth that should be the source of their prosperity is instead the source of their greatest suffering.”

Karl Marx articulated this contradiction in 1856:

“In our days, everything seems pregnant with its contrary: Machinery, gifted with the wonderful power of shortening and fructifying human labor, we behold starving and overworking it; the newfangled sources of wealth, by some strange weird spell, are turned into sources of want….This antagonism between modern industry and science on the one hand, modern misery and dissolution on the other hand; this antagonism between the productive powers and the social relations of our epoch is a fact, palpable, overwhelming, and not to be controverted.”

Congo attests to this “palpable,” and “overwhelming” “antagonism between the productive powers and the social relations of our epoch,” but I wonder if even Marx, who certainly saw his share of human barbarity, could imagine the planned obliteration, the “demolishment” of Congolese women.


The reality of Congo, where 5.4 million have perished since 1996, reveals the breakdown of civilization of which Marx spoke. In our world, more important than human life–especially if that life is Black, African, and female–is Congo’s diamonds and gold, 30% of the world’s cobalt, 10% of its copper, and, critically, 80% of the world’s coltan–a mineral vital for cell phones and electronics. The world was able to seriously hinder the selling of “blood diamonds,” mined in war zones to fund warlords, invading armies, terrorism, etc., most produced in Africa. But fine diamonds are a consumer commodity, whereas so much of Congo’s riches are consumed by capital. This explains why there is no real effort to label “blood” coltan, “blood” cobalt, or “blood” copper–no real effort to stop the flow of materials gathered and mined over and under the raped, mutilated and murdered bodies of hundreds of thousands of civilians.

How long will the world let Congo bleed? Until all the civilians are dead? Until all the women have been raped and mutilated? Until the country is completely plundered of all its natural resources? Sexism is the form that brutality and war take in Congo, and at the same time capitalism is the driving force of the inhumanity that has held sway there for decades. Nothing shows more clearly the necessity for the transcendence of capitalism by a new, and actual human society.

Congo’s first lady, Olive Lembe Kabila, did lead a march of thousands of women Oct. 17 demanding an end to mass rape. Significantly, the march went through Bukavu, where some of the most massive rapes occurred. Now, if she would just demand that her husband’s army also stop raping and killing villagers, that would be something!

As we wrote in these pages in February of 2008: “Capital, with all its wealth, all its guns, all its power, cannot solve the problem of Congo. The solution is a human one and to help unleash its power, we need to extend our deepest revolutionary solidarity to those in Congo who are fighting against war, rape, and the deepest poverty and exploitation. The time is now.”

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