skip navigation

CAMPAIGN VICTORY! Clinton Presses Congo on Sexual Violence (The New York Times)

Originally published in:
The New York Times

KINSHASA, Congo — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton landed in this central African country on Monday afternoon, saying she wanted to press for an end to the conflict in eastern Congo and underscore the enormous problem of sexual violence there.

Hundreds of thousands of women have been sexually assaulted by the various warring factions that have battled for control of the east for more than a decade. The United Nations has over 17,000 peacekeepers there, but they have been unable to stop the bloodshed and violence.

“Women are being turned into weapons of war,” Mrs. Clinton said on the plane from Angola to Congo, the fourth stop on her seven-nation African tour. When she meets with President Joseph Kabila and other Congolese officials here on Tuesday, she said, “We are going to press them on working on ways to end this conflict.”

Even as Congo works to put down the rebellions in the region, it must gain more control over its own forces, she said, which aid workers say are among the worst offenders when it comes to violence against civilians.

“Their military needs professionalizing,” Mrs. Clinton said.

In Kinshasa, the capital, Mrs. Clinton visited a hospital and spoke with students at a town hall meeting with students. On Tuesday, she plans to fly to the eastern town of Goma, in the epicenter of the conflict zone, to meet with victims of sexual violence and those working to help them.

Along with the dangers posed by the conflict, there have been several plane crashes on the approach to Goma’s mountain-ringed airport. But Mrs. Clinton said the importance of the visit outweighed the risk. “Lots of concerns were raised and objections, but I said this is something I want to do and we’re going,” she said.

Earlier Monday, Mrs. Clinton was in Luanda, Angola, to meet with José Eduardo dos Santos, who has held the Angolan presidency for nearly 30 years.

His country has played a key role in protecting Congo’s government and in recent years has sent thousands of troops to bolster its forces. Mrs. Clinton said she had asked Mr. dos Santos for assistance in ending the Congolese conflict, and suggested Angolan military advisers could help improve Congo’s forces.

American officials have mostly stayed away from Angola, in part because of a brutal 27-year-long civil war that ended in 2002, and in part because the government had long been an ally of Cuba and the eastern bloc. Angola has not held a presidential election since 1992, and in Mrs. Clinton’s meeting with Mr. dos Santos, she called on the government to strengthen its commitment to democracy, raising an issue that has been at the forefront of her African trip.

In their nearly hour-long discussion, she said, she “underscored the importance of moving expeditiously” on adopting a new constitution and holding presidential elections, and talked about greater transparency in the energy sector, as well as health, environmental, and agriculture issues and improved military-to-military cooperation.

“It was a very full, comprehensive discussion on every issue,” she said.

Angola is one of the biggest oil producers in Africa, and the American government is eager to establish strong relations with the government there because the country is seen as an emerging potential powerhouse in southern Africa. China has been busily rebuilding much of the war-torn country, and hoping in return to secure the inside track on Angola’s crude oil reserves.

Mrs. Clinton also called for Angola to do more to spread oil wealth, saying prosperity for ordinary people “depends on good governance and the strengthening of democratic institutions.” And she also signed an agreement with Angola’s health ministry increasing AIDS funding from seven to 17 million dollars.

Late Tuesday, Mrs. Clinton will fly to Nigeria, which is tied with Angola as the biggest oil producer in Africa. From there, she will visit Liberia and Cape Verde before returning to the United States.

Sharon Otterman contributed reporting from New York.