Profile: Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr Denis Mukwege

Dr Mukwege, the 63 year-old gynaecologist from DR Congo known as ‘Doctor Miracle’, uses his outstanding surgical skills to treat the horrific damages inflicted on women by the most heinous of crimes: rape. Following his first harrowing experience of treating a patient who had been assaulted and mutilated by armed men, he set up the Panzi hospital in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo City of Bukavu nearly 20 years ago, where, together with his colleagues, he has since treated tens of thousands of victims. Today, Panzi hospital cares for more than 3, 500 women a year, with Dr Mukwege sometimes performing as many as 10 operations a day.

‘I started a hospital made from tents. I built a maternity ward with an operating theatre. In 1998, everything was destroyed again. So I stared all over again in 1999,’ he told the BBC in 2013.

Today, Panzi hospital acts as a major health facility in eastern DR Congo, with 370 doctors, nurses and support staff, serving a population of 400,000, including patients form neighbouring countries.

Dr Mukwege says that the conflict in DR Congo is being waged to destroy Congolese women. Wracked by more than two decades of conflict and with numerous armed groups battling for control of the region’s mineral deposits, many different militias have been accused of carrying out the indiscriminate rape of the region’s women. In 2010, a top UN official labelled the country ‘the rape capital of the world’.

‘The conflict in DR Congo is not between groups of religious fanatics. Nor is it a conflict between states. This is a conflict caused by economic interests – and it is being waged by destroying Congolese women,’ Dr Mukwege told the BBC.
In a speech at the UN in September 2012, Dr Mukwege criticised President Joseph Kabila’s government, as well as other countries, for not doing enough to stop what he called ‘an unjust war that has used violence against women and rape as a strategy of war’. Following an attack in his home by gunmen who held his daughters hostages, he fled with his family to Sweden, then to Belgium. However, following a campaign by local women who raised funds to pay for his return ticket, Dr Mukwege returned home in 2013. Although he now lives under the permanent protection of UN peacekeepers at his hospital, Dr Mukwege remains unmoved in his determination ‘to help fight these atrocities, this violence’ (BBC 2013).

He told the Nobel committee in a brief interview that he was in the operating theatre when the news of the prize came through. ‘[…] I was operating and I heard people start to cry and it was so, so surprising,’ he said. ‘I can see in the face of many women how they are happy to be recognised and this is really so touching.’ Crowds gathered at the hospital cheered and ululated to celebrate the prize which Dr Mukwege said was dedicated to the many women who were victims of sexual violence.

The spokesman for the DR Congo’s government, Lambert Mende, congratulated Dr Mukwege, despite his previous criticism: ‘We have had differences with [him] every time that he tried to politicise his work, which however is important from a humanitarian standpoint. But now, we are satisfied with the Nobel Academy’s recognition of the work of a compatriot,’ Mr Mende told AFP news agency.

Born in 1955 in Bukavu, Dr Mukwege went to medical school across the border in Burundi and later studied gynaecology and obstetrics at the University of Angers in France. He was inspired to become a doctor after numerous visits to see the sick with his preacher father. He has received a number of international awards, including the 2008 UN Human Rights Prize, and was named African of the Year in 2009. Alongside Nadia Murad, a Yazidi rape survivor, The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2018 to Dr Denis Mukwege for his role in giving greater visibility to war-time sexual violence. The official committed announcement called Dr Mukwege ‘the foremost, most unifying symbol, both nationally and internationally, of the struggle to end sexual violence in war and armed conflict’.

Original article published by BBC News Africa on 5 Oct 2018.
Edited by NIAS