Clinton Heads To A Congo Torn By Violence

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The State Department has said Hillary Clinton wants to "put a great deal of focus on the issue of sexual and gender-based violence, which is occurring in the eastern Congo." Host Liane Hansen speaks to Jeffrey Gettleman, East Africa bureau chief of The New York Times, about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continues her 11-day 7-nation tour of Africa in Angola today. With its large supplies of oil and liquefied natural gas, Angola is one of the more stable nations on the continent, and today's visit should be a relatively quiet one. More difficult will be Secretary Clinton's trip tomorrow to the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been wracked by war and horrific atrocities in its eastern regions.

After meeting with President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa, Secretary Clinton will move on to Goma, where she will meet with survivors of the conflicts and some of the hundreds of thousands of victims of brutal rapes. Jeffrey Gettleman is East Africa bureau chief for The New York Times. He's traveling with Mrs. Clinton on her tour of Africa, and he's on the phone. Thank you for your time.

Mr. JEFFREY GETTLEMAN (East Africa Bureau Chief, The New York Times): Glad to be here.

HANSEN: You've reported some very graphic stories from the region around the border of Eastern Congo and Rwanda. What can Mrs. Clinton expect to find when she gets there?

Mr. GETTLEMAN: Well, I think she'll find some really serious problems. Congo is the wound in Africa that just keeps bleeding. This war has been going on for 13 years. So many things have been tried. A huge U.N. peacekeeping force, the various high-level diplomatic missions and contacts just like what Mrs. Clinton is doing, peace treaties between Rwanda and Congo, regional summits, local peace treaties, disarmament programs. So many things have been tried and nothing is working.

And I think people are beginning to speak of what they call Congo fatigue, this sense that this war has metastasized to the point that there is no obvious solution. So she's going to have to come up with some new program or at least start talking about new ideas because nothing so far has worked.

HANSEN: Rape has become a weapon of war there and one of your most recent articles told stories of male rape victims. Does Mrs. Clinton hope to accomplish anything on their behalf?

Mr. GETTLEMAN: I'm not sure. She's made women's rights and the advancement of women a theme of this Africa trip. And I think in Congo that's a big part of her mission is to connect with these women who have been brutalized and terrorized by the armed groups in Congo. U.N. officials call Congo now the rape capital of the world. And what caught my eye a couple of weeks ago is I heard a few isolated reports about rapes against men, and this was something new because women have been brutalized for years, but the fact that it's degenerated to the point where men are raping men, I think is a sign of how lawless, chaotic and violent the place has become.

HANSEN: What else will be on the table when Mrs. Clinton talks with President Kabila?

Mr. GETTLEMAN: Well, there will be a few issues on the table. Congo's development and stabilizing the entire country is a goal of just about every Western diplomat that comes into the region. Congo is a real lynchpin in Africa. When Congo shakes, Africa trembles. It's a huge country. It borders nine different nations. During its conflicts, it's dragged in its neighbors. It's an embarrassment of riches in many ways. There are so many minerals there: gold, diamond, tin, high-tech elements like coltan, which are used in electronics and computer. There's even oil.

So the idea with Congo is it's this huge country waiting to blossom, but it has so many problems that the diplomats in the area want to try to put it together. I think trade and infrastructure and helping Congo's overall development are going to be some of her main talking points besides addressing the conflict in the East.

HANSEN: Jeffrey Gettleman is East Africa bureau chief for The New York Times and is traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her African tour. Jeffrey, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. GETTLEMAN: Glad to be here. Thank you.

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