by Tiffany M. Thompson, MSW
I was unaware of the 2009 documentary “Weapon of War: Confessions of Rape in Congo” until I found it on YouTube. This film is an emotional peregrination through the lives of women and soldiers despoiled by sexual violence. Since 1996, the African nation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been enveloped by relentless civil conflict, according to filmmakers Ilse & Femke van Velzen (2009). The viewer receives a raw glimpse into the inner turmoil of the soldiers who committed these impulsive acts and their survivors.
Weapon of War
“Weapon of War” exposes the atrocities of rape and war through the voices of militia men and a few female survivors. The film opens with five statements that describe the methods and motives of the Congolese militia men. “At time, anyone feels those sexual impulse from the body to get a girl,” narrates the voice of a militia man (van Velzen & van Velzen, 2009).
This phrase sets a tone for the rest of the documentary - one of explicit honesty and self-disclosure. As the story unfolds, the lives of 4 individuals are revealed: Captain Basima of the Congolese National Army, Basima’s wife Nabintu, Commander Taylor of the National Congress for the Defense of the People, and Alain Kasharu - an ex Mai Mai rebel (Rosenburg, 2010).
The history behind this epidemic of violence is difficult to process. Rosenburg (2010) notes that the United Nations estimates that more than 150,000 women, and some men and boys, have been raped in the Congo. Additionally, Rosenburg (2010) suggests that the deficiency of quality healthcare and mental health resources contributes to the biopsychosocial issues in this region. It is evident throughout this film that sexual violence is employed as a contrivance of combat.
Considering the confessions of these militia men, a common theme emerges. They each elude to a sense of loyalty to their commanding officers, a dehumanized view of women, and a belief that the ends justify the means. Captain Basima makes a remarkable journey from perpetrator to family man, social activist, and minister. Basima comments that “soldiers in the military should be responsible for and the bearer of our country security” (van Velzen & van Velzen, 2009). Basima further states, “Security should mean, first respect of women. Soldiers should respect women. So many soldiers have opened up to me telling that women are considered spoils of war after combat” (van Velzen & van Velzen, 2009).
As Basima tells his story, the viewer sees his authentic transformation and the amount of respect he has gained in the community. However, Basima’s wife Nabintu describes a violent, troubled man who was abusive to her because of the trauma of war. Nabintu says, “I was beaten badly. My husband was a different person when he came back from combat. He took his frustration out on me as if he were still in combat” (van Velzen & van Velzen, 2009). Nabintu is illustrating the impact of violence on their marriage and family life.
Commander Taylor’s point of view is clear in the comments he makes about the motivations for sexual violence. Taylor says, “Some militia men believe sexual violence forced the government to negotiate peace talks" (van Velzen & van Velzen, 2009). One can tell by the fact that Taylor’s face is covered and by his body language while seated during the interview that violence is a part of his identity.
And the final character, Alain Kasharu, shares his desire for deliverance, reconciliation, and normalcy in the community. Being an ex-militia, Kasharu reveals his mindset during combat, his struggle to pay for his medical bills, his disenchantment with the army, and his difficult transition into civilian life. As I watched Kasharu go to the therapist, sit in the dark in his humble home, and dig in the trenches for a dollar a week, I was unprepared for the empathy I felt toward him. He states, “I have flashbacks and nightmares. I want to be treated and cured. I want to heal” (van Velzen & van Velzen, 2009). After meeting with the therapist and a representative of a nonprofit organization, Kasharu wants to give the woman he raped a gift to show his remorse (van Velzen & van Velzen, 2009). This shows an unexpected human side to an individual who committed unspeakable acts.
Being that this is a true story, social workers and other helping professionals can gain further insight into rape during war time. Many emotions are displayed by the men and women in this film. Militancy, callousness, conviction, desperation, and vulnerability are shown as each individual confronts the trauma of sexual violence. Each individual handles the effects of anguish in a personal way. This level of resiliency is brought to light in this extraordinary film.
I highly recommend Weapon of War: Confessions of Rape in Congo for social work students, helping professionals, and others who desire an increased awareness about trauma informed care and the impact of sexual violence on survivors and communities.
Rosenburg, J. (2010). Weapon of war: confessions of rape in congo: a step in the right direction. Retrieved from: http://www.weaponofwar.nl/presskititems/Weapon%20of%20War%20-%20%20A%20Step%20in%20the%20Right%20Direction%20-%20Final.pdf
van Velzen. I., & van Velzen, F. (2009). Weapon of war: confessions of rape in congo. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=am6lL8iozB4
Tiffany M. Thompson is a June 2015 MSW graduate of Spalding University.