DR Congo on Friday congratulated crusading Nobel Peace Prize winner Denis Mukwege for his “very important work” in helping women recover from rape and sexual abuse but accused him of mixing humanitarian work and politics.
Mukwege was operating at his hospital in the country’s east when the news broke, sparking cheers, hugs and wild ululations from his co-workers and admirers.
“I was in the operating room so when they started to make noise around (it) I wasn’t really thinking about what was going on, and suddenly some people came in and told me the news,” Mukwege told Norwegian daily VG.
He later dedicated the prize to women victims of conflict and violence around the world.
“This Nobel prize is a recognition of the suffering and the failure to adequately compensate women who are victims of rape and sexual violence in all countries around the world,” he said, speaking outside his clinic.
“It’s an important step towards this long awaited reparation that we all owe to these women who have suffered so much,” he said.
“For nearly 20 years I have witnessed war crimes committed against women, young girls, tots and babies,” Mukwege said, adding that he had operated on some 50,000 women victims of rape and sexual abuse.
Reacting to the news of the prize, DR Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende told AFP: “The government congratulates Doctor Denis Mukwege for the very important work he does although there are often disagreements between us.”
“We have had differences with Denis Mukwege every time that he tried to politicise his work which however is important from a humanitarian standpoint,” Mende said.
The 63-year-old doctor has regularly spoken out against a spike in sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and criticised long-serving President Joseph Kabila, who is due to step down in December after prolonging his mandate, saying: “We are governed by people who don’t love us.”
– Mukwege ‘not infallible’ –
Mukwege had asked the Congolese in early July to “peacefully fight” the Kabila regime and said the long-delayed December 23 presidential election would be marred by fraud.
The following month Kabila finally pledged to step down after 17 years and designated his chosen successor.
“He erred in thinking that President Kabila wanted a third term,” Mende said, adding: “He is not infallible.
“We think that the recognition by the Nobel (committee)… is merited but we will continue to oppose whenever anyone tries to mix humanitarian work with politics.”
Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi was far more generous, tweeting: “I can say it: I am proud to be Congolese.”
Another opposition figure Vital Kamerhe said: “This distinction is an honour for DR Congo and the whole of Africa.”
Mukwege has treated tens of thousands of victims of rape at Panzi hospital which he founded in 1999 in South Kivu province.
Known as “Doctor Miracle”, he is an outspoken critic of the abuse of women during war and has described rape as “a weapon of mass destruction”.