Nobel laureate Denis Mukwege gets a hero's welcome in Congo

Dr Denis Mukwege is welcomed before addressing the crowd on Dec 27, 2018, in Bukavu.
Dr Denis Mukwege is welcomed before addressing the crowd on Dec 27, 2018, in Bukavu.PHOTO: AFP

BUKAVU, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO (AFP) - Thousands of people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo turned out on Thursday (Dec 27) to welcome Nobel Peace Prize laureate Denis Mukwege, the surgeon who helps women recover from the trauma of rape.

"We won! We won!" sang Ms Mamy Magasine as she improvised a celebratory rumba in a rain-soaked courtyard in Bukavu, in the eastern province of South Kivu on the border with Rwanda.

"He is the pride of Congolese women, and even women of the whole world," said Ms Magasine, the local head of the country's ministry for families.

A little earlier, Dr Mukwege arrived on a United Nations flight and was driven into the city with an escort of UN peacekeepers.

Dr Mukwege's Panzi hospital has treated tens of thousands of victims of sexual violence in his war-weary native province of South Kivu.

But since an attempt on his life in October 2012, he lives inside the hospital compound under the protection of UN peacekeepers.

Wearing a scarf bearing the national colours, he arrived to a rapturous reception from the crowd, composed mainly of women, in front of a local college.

"We will build a a more beautiful country than before, with peace," he said.

 
 

Dr Mukwege showed the crowd his Nobel prize and said the US$400,000 (S$547,000) prize money that came with it would be ploughed back into treating the women under his care.

"This is a beautiful day for me, this prize is your prize, protect it! Let's build a lasting peace," he added, to applause.

Speaking mainly in Swahili but passing sometimes into French, Dr Mukwege also called for the creation of a compensation fund for victims of sexual violence and urged UN member states to contribute.

'IT'S HIM, OUR PRESIDENT'

"Why not a special tribunal for the Congo?" he added, referring to past examples of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

He drew more applause after calling for a state of law, adding: "A country without violence, it's a bit difficult, but it's not impossible."

Dr Muwkege arrived a day after the country's election panel announced yet another delay to presidential, legislative and municipal elections in troubled parts of the country, provoking violent protests.

He noted that no local politicians had turned out for this event, said the electoral process appeared to have stalled, and called for the Constitution to be respected.

In a recent opinion piece for the New York Times, Dr Muwkege urged President Joseph Kabila to give up power, but he did not go that far in Thursday's speech.

However, he urged all those in power to "measure the gravity of the situation to avoid chaos".

"We're sick of it," he added, to the delight of the crowd.

President Kabila has been in power since 2001, following the assassination of his father and former president Laurent-Desire Kabila.

He was to step down at the end of 2016 after two terms in office. But instead, he stayed on, invoking a clause in the Constitution that enables a president to stay in office until a successor is elected.

"It's him, our president, because he speaks of peace," said one young member of the audience after Dr Mukwege's speech.

Dr Mukwege shared this year's Nobel Prize with Ms Nadia Murad, the Iraqi Yazidi woman campaigning for people after herself surviving as a hostage of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants.