Clinton in the Congo, and the real message gets lost.
by Nancy Johnston
THE BALTIMORE SUN
August 13, 2009
The UN reports that there have been 200,000 acts of sexual violence in the Congo since 1998, 65 percent against children. Since January, more than half of the thousands of rapes reported were perpetrated by the Congolese army, according to Human Rights Watch. That is to say nothing of the more than 2 million displaced citizens, and 5.4 million who have died in connection with the war waged against rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda.
An AP report which detailed the $17 million of aid the U.S. has pledge to end such violence described the scene at a refugee camp Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited.
“Residents told Clinton that women and young girls and boys are often victimized by rape when they leave the camp to gather wood or tend to outside gardens. One camp official said a young boy had been raped on Monday.
“One of the two victims Clinton met had been gang-raped after her husband and four children were killed. The other, eight months pregnant at the time, lost her baby and was found by hospital workers in a forest where she had stumbled.”
There are no words for the horrors these people have faced in the past decade.
But if you’ve watched the news those horrific statistics and stories didn’t register. That’s because Secretary Clinton’s umbrage over a question about a Chinese loan offer became the story, instead of the corruption of officials and the sexual warfare being waged throughout the country.
At a news conference, a student in the audience asks Ms. Clinton what Mr. Clinton thinks about a disputed Chinese contract, and she reacted harshly. It’s unclear what the student was thinking — did he misspeak, meaning to ask for President Obama’s opinion, instead of Bill Clinton’s?
Did the translator ask the wrong question? Did one or the other of them think it appropriate to question our top diplomat about her husband’s opinion, rather than her own? But the point is that the narrative has switched from life-and-death issues that everyone should be united against, to another “Shrill Hill” sound bite.
“Poor Hillary,” her detractors and supporters both say, “She was just so tired! And it must be so hard to see Obama light up the world in his travels; and that Bill, saving those journalists from North Korea, stealing her thunder.”
To which I say, give me a break.
Hillary Clinton has been a professional politician, a U.S. senator, a presidential candidate and she is now the secretary of state of the United States of America. She has nothing to prove to the commentators and the pundits; her job is to advise the president on foreign affairs and enforce the policies of the USA.
She was not a petulant child craving recognition, nor does she need your defense. Secretary Clinton had a point to make, and it was this: I am the representative of the most powerful country in the world, and you will respect both my office and me as a human being.
While you’re at it, why don’t you show that same respect to the women of the Congo?
In a country where being female might be a death sentence and rape is used as a weapon against the population, this is not a point to be made lightly. Perhaps it wasn’t diplomatic, but it was entirely appropriate for Clinton to defend her position and her dignity in a place where so many wives and daughters have no defense or recourse.
So don’t pity Hillary, who in your mind has to compete with her powerful husband and boss. Pity the millions of Congolese who are suffering.
And get alongside her, whether as a feminist or a human being: There’s plenty to find offensive in this situation without falling back to either Clinton hatred or misogynistic punchlines.