Congo Doctor Epitomizes Selflessness and Bravery

A remarkably intrepid man has decided to go back to work in his home country.

Denis Mukwege, a doctor who runs a hospital in the Congo that treats rape victims, has returned after a failed assassination attempt drove him into exile last year. Mukwege has done crucial surgeries for thousands of injured women since the 1990s, and has been internationally recognized for his work. He has received several honors, including one from the United Nations, and has been mentioned as a contender for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mukwege was almost killed in October, evading harm only after flinging himself to the ground. His bodyguard was murdered.

The assailants drove him out—but only temporarily. He returned this week to a hero’s welcome.

“It was as if someone extraordinarily famous had come to town,” reports the New York Times. “Thousands of people craned their necks as the motorcade roared by, cellphones out to grab a snap, an air of expectation and excitement eclipsing all the street noise of clanging Coke bottles and beeping motorcycles. ‘There he is!’ someone yelled. ‘Le docteur!’ ”

The adoration of the Congolese people for Mukwege is understandable and well deserved. Initially, he didn’t intend to go on this path, though.

“When I first started,” he told The Progressive in 2009, “I was a gynecologist expecting to be doing C-sections. I wanted to help poor women, work on women’s health, and maternal mortality was very high, so I thought to make my competence in the operating room available. We saw women coming in with histories of rape and genital mutilation.”

Soon, he perceived the broader causes of the horrors he was being forced to confront on a daily basis.

“You can’t treat the physical trauma without addressing the psychological trauma,” he said. “You can’t stop at treating the psychological, but you have to think about the survivor’s reinsertion into society, which means socioeconomic and vocational programs. You can’t allow these crimes to continue with impunity, which means legal and juridical assistance to try to get justice for victims. And you have to address the political root causes, which means campaigning nationally and internationally against rape.”

It is this broader analysis that was the probable reason for Mukwege being attacked.

“Dr. Mukwege presumably was targeted because of a strong speech he gave at the United Nations last month, denouncing mass rape in Congo and the impunity for it,” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof (a big admirer of Mukwege) wrote in October. Congo President Joseph “Kabila has long been angry at Dr. Mukwege, and the U.N. speech can’t have helped. Meanwhile, Dr. Mukwege has also offended Rwanda with his denunciations of Rwanda’s role in the slaughter and rape in eastern Congo.”

Mukwege has implicated the United States, too, in the horrors afflicting Central Africa, through its indulgence of Rwanda, an ally, and because of its insatiable appetite for Congo’s mineral wealth and its indifference to the suffering there.

Mukwege’s services are sorely needed. Things have recently again taken a turn for the worse in the Congo, with intensified fighting and increasing rapes. Mukwege has detailed for the world the horrific effects of rape as a war strategy.

“The armed group will come to a village, and all the men in the group will rape all of the women in the village, without distinction, publicly,” he told The Progressive. “The objective is to maximize the risk of sexually transmitted infections.”

Mukwege will continue to shine the spotlight on such brutalities—and to treat the victims. He deserves all of our support and good wishes.

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