On the evening of October 25, a handful of men carrying guns stormed the house of a Congolese doctor in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The unknown men conducted about a half an hour’s vigil for the doctor’s return, holding his daughters, their friend, and his wife at gunpoint on the floor in wait, according to various people I spoke to who communicated with the doctor within hours of the attack.
With the sound of a horn — Dr. Denis Mukwege at the home’s gate — the gunmen and the family’s security guard, Joseph Bizimana, collided in a desperate moment of chaos, in which shots were fired. Bizimana fell to his death. Shots flew at Mukwege, who ducked, according to my sources and The New York Times. Here is where the story takes on subtle variations: The gunmen tried to wrestle Mukwege into his own car, tearing the keys from his hand; they ran out of ammunition and fled in Mukwege’s car; they fired at the doctor and missed, fleeing as neighbors who heard the shots arrived. The men soon abandoned the car, according to Physicians for Human Rights.
No money or property was taken and the car was left behind, calling into question robbery as a motive. Whether this was a kidnapping or assassination attempt, no one is quite sure, but what we do know is that the attack occurred within a couple blocks of the headquarters of MONUSCO, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo — the largest current peacekeeping force in the world, with more than 20,000 troops. We know that DRC is at the mercy of multiple armed groups, including the notorious M23, FDLR, and Mai Mai militias, which are known for their inhuman mutilations of women’s bodies.
We also know that Mukwege is the world’s best-known doctor treating women who have been raped in that country’s 16 years of conflict. He has treated more than 40,000 women as medical director and founder of the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, eastern DRC, he told me recently. He has operated on more than 15,000 women whose bodies have been ripped apart by sexualized violence, he said. Mukwege is “the epicenter of resistance,” said Stephen Lewis, founder of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which works to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa, and a supporter of Panzi Hospital.
“He is the person who stands as the anchor for survival,” Lewis said. “You lose him and you lose yet another dimension of the struggle.”