Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to war-ravaged eastern Congo yesterday was unprecedented for a top American official, heartening to activists and -- by Clinton's own reckoning -- extremely emotional. Yet the blogosphere is seizing on one detail of her $17 million plan to fight Congo's shocking epidemic of rape. See if you can guess which item in this New York Times recap has some Congo-watchers pulling out their hair:
Yes, Camcorders-for-Congo has some detractors.
Texas in Africa wonders how U.S. officials who surveyed the human and emotional carnage of Congo decided that rape victims needed to be videotaped: "Many of them need to tell their stories, although I doubt most want to do so on YouTube."
More to the point, perhaps Wronging Rights points out the terrible irony that the camcorders may contain coltan, which is one of the minerals that the Enough Project says is at the heart of the Congo conflict. Clinton herself pointed out the direct connection between these "conflict minerals" and the violence that's believed to have killed millions over the past decade.
I understand the outrage, but I can't say that I share it. Rape already carries a crippling stigma in Congo, as in the rest of the world, and one of the reasons doctors and aid workers find it so difficult to fight is that people are afraid to come forward. Some are even laughed at. No amount of money can kill that stigma, but maybe information, deployed responsibly, can.
We know how empowering a simple technology like the cell phone can be. I'm no medical expert, but I can imagine how cameras, in the right hands, could help. Doctors would have visual records of certain cases. Victims might slowly come to feel that speaking out about their injuries isn't a shameful thing. Sure, electricity is in short supply in Congo but I don't imagine that victims will be taking the cameras home to their villages to gather dust, nor do I expect that the responsible people who care for these folks would videotape people without their permission. And let's be honest: in the scheme of $17 million, cameras really aren't a big deal.
Besides, on a day where one Somali website is reporting that U.S.-bought weapons may be ending up in the hands of Islamist insurgents (I haven't been able to confirm this, and at least one reliable intelligence source believes it could be Islamist propaganda) Camcorders for Congo hardly seems like a candidate for Worst American Idea for Africa.