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What socio-economic data tells us about sexual violence, découpage, and living conditions in the Congo

For those of us who think numbers and statistics can give a useful––albeit partial––insight into political and social dynamics, the Congo frustrates. The are no reliable national political polls, and socio-economic data is usually limited to the extremely limited data compiled by the World Bank and other financial institutions.

Which is why the publication of the Demographic and Health Survey last September was such a boon. This is the second installment of the DHS for the Congo, the first having been published in 2007. The study was carried out by Measure DHS, a private company based in the US, along with the ministries of planning and health.

While the survey is largely focused in social and health data, there are some useful insights into more political issues.

If you want a better life, head to the city.

This might seem surprising to those who have seen the crammed slums of Kinshasa or the squalor of Mbuji-Mayi. But by almost all indicators, life is on average better in urban areas. Women in cities spend double the years of their rural counterparts getting an education (5,4 vs. 2 years). Around 57% of urban dwellers fall in the highest socio-economic quintile, compared with only less than 1% of the rural population––this is calculated based on things they own (fridge, cell phones, radio, etc.) and features of their houses (water, electricity, kinds of floor and roofing). Finally, health indicators are better in urban than rural areas––infant mortality is lower (5,9% vs. 6.8%), malaria too (25% vs. 33% for kids), and access to health care much easier.

Congolese know this. Each year, cities are growing by over 5%, meaning that Kinshasa alone will add 350,000 people this year. By 2025, it will rival Lagos as the largest city on the continent, with a projected population of 15 million. This will change political and social dynamics, including those of protest and elections.

Sexual violence is a problem for the whole Congo, not just the conflict-afflicted East.

Rape by soldiers and combatants is certainly the most brutal and gruesome. But it is not the most prevalent, not by a long stretch. Only 1,1% of women who had experienced sexual violence said that soldiers or policemen were to blame.

When asked about having suffered from sexual violence at any point in their life, the highest prevalence was in Kasai Occidental, a province where the war was relatively short. When asked about sexual violence in the last 12 months, the highest levels were in Bandundu province, where there has not been armed conflict in the past year.

Again, we should be careful not to conflate all kinds of sexual violence. The question the interviewees were asked was a form of: “Have you ever been forced to have sex when you didn’t want to?” This includes Intimate Partner Sexual Violence, as well as gang rape, which is probably more traumatic and carries greater stigma. A report by Tia Palermo et al. in 2011, drawing on DHS data from 2007, confirms that violent rape is most prevalent in conflict-ridden North Kivu, but that other, more peaceful provinces such as Equateur also have very high levels of rape, and that IPSV is highest outside of the East.

Découpage will create the strongest resentments in Katanga, Kasai-Oriental, and Province Orientale.

President Kabila just signed a law creating 26 provinces out of the current 11. The DHS data shows us that wealth is unevenly distributed across the country, which is bound to create trouble during this “découpage” process. The DHS data divides the population into quintiles. In Haut-Katanga (where Lubumbashi and many mines are located), 61% of the population is in the top quintile, compared with 0,5% in Tanganyika (northern Katanga). In Kasai-Oriental, découpage will split the diamond-rich capital Mbuji-Mayi from Sankuru and Lomami, which could also exacerbate ethnic strife between Tetela, Luba, and other ethnic groups.

There are many other gems in the report.

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