“Interview” with Judith Wanga

Bit of a heavy post to kick off with. An interview of sorts with Judith Wanga via the magic of formspring.

From her own site (http://judithwanga.wordpress.com)

“Judith Wanga is a journalist, writer and English with Politics graduate. Recently the subject of the BBC3 documentary titled The World’s Most Dangerous Place for Women, Jude also campaigns and speaks at events highlighting the plight of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). She currently lives in North London.”

I had the pleasure of encountering Judith at the Congo Now! event last Friday, and while we did not dance, we’ve twittered and formspring’ed. The Congo Now! event at the South Bank was quite something. Much credit should go to Tamsin Larby for the work she put in.

Apologies for the random nature of the questions, but they were just off the top of my head! Also, the questions had a character limit, hence their brevity.

Do you think the recent discovery of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth will lead to a similar situation as DRC?

I sincerely hope not. Afghanistan is different to Congo in that it’s much more high profile and, to put it bluntly, more people know about it. For Afghanistan to end up in a similar situation to DRC it would require the world to suddenly stop caring about it and for it to disappear from the news. I don’t think that will happen, but it is a very real threat that Afghanistan will be exploited for it’s minerals much in the same way DRC is 😦

I agree on Afghanistan. Alan Doss, former head of MONUC (UN peacekeeping mission in Congo now known as MONUSCO), said the only way to stop the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army – rebel Ugandan group active in Congo) was to kill them. Considering the LRA has many child soldiers, what would you do?

Alan Doss is incorrect. There are many charities, like Search for a Common Ground who do amazing work to help child soldiers. What I would do would force the government of Uganda to better resolve the situation. Museveni is not faultless in all of this, neither is Kagami or Kabila and yet they are not being held to account for the destruction that their actions are wreaking on the Great Lakes region.

Most of these child soldiers are abducted or forced in against their will. For them to be slaughtered with the aim of stopping the LRA would make us as bad as the LRA.

(Note by AA – War Child is another fantastic charity doing great work in this area)

I agree with you once more, although I do believe the leadership of the LRA need to be dealt with severely and SSR (Security Sector Reform) actually work. As for the Congo Now! event, did you not feel there should have been more on what the audience could do?

I agree that they do need to be dealt with more severly and SSR does work, I just don’t think culling them is the answer. A reactionist group would just spring up.

With regards to the event, what we have noticed in past events is that it does sometimes get hijacked and the discussion moves from the actual theme of the evening to a more politically-leaning one.

I can’t tell you how many times I have been on a panel where we are discussing the atrocities occuring to women in the country only for it to end up a debate with members of the audience as to which group is to blame and who should be arrested and effectively only speaking about the very male problem of the country. It was decided that, so as not to distract the main theme of the evening that the event would be closed to audience participation.

Also the event was attended by a wide range of people, some were finding out about Congo maybe for the first time. In some respects, we wanted this to be more learning based rather than offering the audience advice on what they can do.

Of course, on the leaflets we gave out information on where to go to find out more.

What could the UK government do to improve the situation for human rights defenders in DRC, in light of the recent deaths?

well the UK is the biggest bilateral aid donor to the DRC. We fund some great programs, but the money could be spent more efficiently. With regards to the situation for Human Rights defenders, the UK should put pressure on the UN to find a stable solution for the DRC. It’s no good giving aid if we look the other way and allow the Congolese people to continue to be exploited and those who speak out murdered.

We can’t claim progress in the DRC when those who speak out against the government are then murdered. That is not progress, that is regression.

I was made aware that past events had turned into debates, but I meant purely a one way exchange. I understand your rationale however. I thought the evening was excellent and I wish I had brought someone to dance with.

no worries about the anonymity! If you want to learn more in terms of what you can do to help, the BBC blog for my documentary has a whole slew of charities where the money goes directly to those affected.

I’m very big on knowledge. I believe that once we are all made aware of the situation then there can be no excuse for not acting.

Right now, it’s easy to say “oh I didn’t know this was happening, otherwise I would’ve done something”

Well if we spread the knowledge of these atrocities, then that can no longer be an excuse. Then people will have to truly examine their conscience and ask how they can sit by and watch a country be systematically destroyed for no other reason than the fact that it is naturally rich in resources.

So if you tell one person of the plight of women in Congo, or if you tell a class, or your workmates, you are helping without having to donate a penny.

Thank you for attending and I’m glad you enjoyed the evening. You should’ve come and asked me for a dance! I’m very obliging 🙂

A phrase that comes up at work a lot is “put pressure on X”. What does that actually amount to?

for me “put pressure on X” amounts to just calling louder for action, for a solution. The best place to start is obviously the government but in order for effective pressure to be put on the government, enough people have to feel strongly enough to do something about it and that can only be the case if more people know about it.

That’s why my message is always about educating ourselves on the situation in Congo, and then educating others. Once enough people are calling for action, we won’t be ignored for much longer.

Very idealistic of me, but I am quite the idealist 🙂

A recent report suggested that most rapes were being committed by civilians. How would you combat this? Aside from SSR reform, a changing of attitudes is required.

I touched on this at an event and also in my documentary. The attitude towards women in the Eastern DRC is quite negative and very controlling. I wondered if this was not the reason why rape had been such an effective weapon of war.

In order to combat this the civilians need to be educated on the rights of humans, to actually be able to differenciate what is rape and what is not (incredibly there are a lot of men out there who don’t believe what they are doing constitutes as rape)

Education and a change in cultural attitudes towards women may well be the way to go on this front. This is just my personal opinion on the situation of course.

See, answers like that I don’t tend to get when I speak to others in the know about the region. One wonders, if they do not consider what they’re doing to be rape, what then is their idea of “rape” …AA

I asked this exact question! Women for Women International did a survey and do male education in the Congo and at their event on Tuesday where I was on the panel, one of the quotes they got from the men was “now we are both consenting, the sex is so much better” and therein lies the problem really. It’s a combination of a negative cultural attitude and a lack of education on rights and gender equality

(As a point of clarification, when I said I don’t tend to get answers like that from other people, with the exception of my boss and a few of the NGO folk, the answer to the rape problem by the UN and government types tends to be solely focused on security. Considering its civilians doing the majority of the rapes, that’s not necessarily going to be enough. – AA)

Feel free not to answer. I have no “personal” connection to the Congo (eg ethnic origin). Only professional. Sometimes the things I hear are almost too much. How do you hear/see the things you do and yet continue? I can guess but I’d like to hear. AA

wow, this is a toughie.

For me personally, I have to continue. My parents are out there, my sister, my brother in law, my nieces, so much of my family. I have to continue for them.

I have to continue for all the amazingly strong people I met whilst I was out there. When you hear their stories and you see how strong they are even though inside they’re incredibly fragile on the inside, and you want to keep going for them, to tell their stories until they can tell it for themselves. To speak up on their behalf until they can speak up for themselves.

And with that, my first post on my new “work” blog (as opposed to my personal blog) is done! Thank you to Judith for letting me use this interview.

stay frosty,