Monday, July 27, 2009

The prison in Goma

Recently the New York Times featured an article with the headline "Congo prison called worst in Africa".

And with that, Goma is famous once again. If not for war and erupting volcanoes, why not terribly bad prisons?

The article is about the local Goma prison, and was probably sparked by the most recent incident at the prison. Last month a group of male prisoners got their hands on grenades (don't ask me how) and started throwing grenades in the middle of the night as part of an escape attempt. Soldiers surrounded the prison and began shooting back. The escape attempt was foiled, and in chaos and frustration, the prisoners turned on their fellow inmates, raping at least 8 of the females in the prison.

I don't know whether the Goma prison is really the worst in Africa, that seems like quite a distinction. But the prison certainly is an example of the larger problems in Eastern Congo. It is commonly said that rape has become a weapon of war here in Eastern Congo. But that seems to imply that the rape is a calculated strategy, aimed at achieving some end. And that it is somehow limited to places where actual fighting is going on. I would argue that it is perhaps the opposite. Perhaps war and chaos have become merely tools themselves, in service of something even uglier...self-gratification. Is there rape because there is fighting? Or is there fighting so that people can rape and pillage? All you need is the excuse of chaos, in the form of battle or a prison riot, to help yourself to whatever you want. And this, to me, is deeply frightening. Because when too many young men have developed a taste for the spoils of war, what motivation will they ever have to stop?

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