"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


camcorders for the congo

I'll be honest. Gettleman's report on Hillary Clinton's visit to Goma was so predictable that I really only planned to skim it. Then I got to this sentence and had to do a double-take:

"Speaking during an unprecedented visit by an American secretary of state to Goma, in the epicenter of Congo’s war-torn east, she said the American government would help train gynecologists, supply rape victims with video cameras to document violence and dispatch military engineers to help train Congolese police officers to crack down on rapists."

Are they kidding? Let's review:
  • $17 million to help rape victims in the eastern Congo: good.
  • Training more gynocologists to perform fistula surgery and to treat victims of gender-based violence: good.
  • Training Congolese police officers to identify, arrest, and hand over for prosecution rapists: good.
  • Clinton actually meeting with local human rights workers & visiting an IDP camp: good.
  • Giving rape victims video cameras so they can "document violence": WHAT?!?
Look. I'm all for doing whatever is necessary to help Congolese rape victims recover. These women and girls need life-skills training, they need medical and psychological assistance, and they need help rebuilding their lives from the ground up. Many of them need to tell their stories, although I doubt most want to do so on YouTube. $17 million is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed to treat the tens of thousands of victims who need immediate help, but the staffs at Heal Africa and Panzi hospitals know how to stretch a dollar. They'll make it work. That money is nowhere near enough to whip the police force into shape (and they need training on more issues than just gender-based violence), but it will certainly help.

But video cameras?!? VIDEO CAMERAS?!? We looked at all the immediate and pressing needs of the people of the eastern Congo - 1200 of whom die every day - and someone at USAID decided that VIDEO CAMERAS are one of the things on which those precious resources should be spent?

I don't even know what to say.


Blogger Steve said...

Video Cameras are inexpensive. They can be purchased for $50/per. And for that small outlay, they can prove to be a great value in terms of the information they gather and for spreading communications.

Imagine if you are a film producer making a documentary about violence against women. You can spend several thousand dollars flying equipment and people to a remote location, or you can have the individuals on the ground do the reporting.

Also, were not the small video camcorders in Iran important during the election for disseminating to the world what violence was occuring on the grand?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009 2:11:00 PM

Blogger Kim Dionne said...

sure, I'm not a big fan of the One-Laptop-per-Child initiative, but given all the good that's about to be done, I'd want to know exactly the bad of ALSO giving camcorders? Is a large portion of the $17m earmarked for the camcorders, reducing a great deal of the funds available to the gyn training? Are the camcorders only American brands, thus supporting some self-interested purpose? Steve is right to point out that the camcorders in Iran were helpful. I'm not familiar with Goma/Congo, but if there is a situation where the police are involved in the crime (or just uninterested in doing their job or just constrained based on evidence), aren't the cameras going to be helpful?

I guess what I'm asking: what does it hurt?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009 2:33:00 PM

Blogger blogsome said...

Oh, yes. While a man or woman records the gang of rapists-often soldiers, police, rebels, mai-mai, gang-rape some unfortunate man or woman, the rapists will go about their evil business and do nothing about a digital recording which would be of undeniable proof of their crime. Putting camcorders in hands of witnesses is an invitation to an additional victim, who him or herself may be raped or killed.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009 3:24:00 PM

Blogger Unknown said...

To answer the question of what does it hurt, I hate to get economical, but there is an opportunity cost to cameras. Certainly $50 seems inexpensive, but for $50 many other things could also be purchased. The critique isn't of the idea of allowing documentation, it's a question of what you forego when you provide video cameras. And with the countless things needed in the Congo, the answer to that question is, you are giving up lots of things.

The cameras did 'help' in Iran, but Iran is a very different country, and everyone cares about electoral violence in Iran for a variety of different reasons- nuclear threats, Israel, fascination with the ME in general. And as bad as accountability is in Iran, it's better there than it is in the Congo, so when videos go up of Iranian violence and the world shames them, things get marginally better. The same would not be the outcome in the Congo, where we've shamed for years.

It's not an issue of "ALSO giving camcorders". It's not as if the budget began at x-level, and then someone thought of cameras and added onto the budget the cost of the cameras. In a world of limited aid budgets, what is the best we can do with our money?

And also, what happens to someone in a country where 1200 people die per day and they pull out their camera to record their rape? Is that really the purpose?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009 4:37:00 PM

Blogger nienaber said...


Kudos to you..gave you a nod here


Tuesday, August 11, 2009 5:19:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Thanks SO much for the link, Ninenaber!

Lori hits on the issue perfectly here (aside from the practical concerns outlined by blogsome). Just as a simple cost-benefit analysis, $50 on camcorders would be a huge waste for your average Congolese rape victim. In Goma, about 50% of households subsist on less than 50 cents US per day. That's not enough to survive; most of those families alternate days to eat one meal (adults on 1/2 of the days, children on the other half). I sincerely doubt that most of them will think the trade-off of food for malnourished children ($10 a week), or access to essential medications ($1 to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission), or a salaried police force that can protect civilians ($50 per cop per month), or fistula repair surgery ($300) is less important than whether they can videotape their experiences.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009 7:29:00 PM

Blogger nienaber said...

I don't know if you have read my work on the waste and fraud perpetrated by conservation orgs..but word on ground I am getting now is that RAPE AS BUSINESS is getting big now..$20 of every $2000 making it to ground...

It is exhausting trying to figure this all out

reach me at info@thelegacyofdianfossey.com if you wish



Tuesday, August 11, 2009 8:10:00 PM

Blogger euphrony said...

Also on the camcorders - don't they contain coltan, and wouldn't distributing large numbers of them simply increase the demand for the mineral "they" say should be curtailed to stop the violence? Or don't they believe that?

On a side note, I spent the day at the San Diego zoo (fun fun fun!). At a feeding for the gorillas, the trainer who was given the presentation brought up coltan and cell phone recycling. He mentioned it as a way to decrease the amount new coltan needed, which would potentially help to curtail illegal coltan mining in protected lands (thus benefiting the lowland gorillas).

I need to start reading your blog more again. I've missed a lot in the last few days since you've gotten settled in. And kudos on the quotes!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009 11:06:00 PM

Blogger David Sasaki said...

If we're serious about cost-benefit analysis than it would be better if we all spent less time criticizing what is being done and more time getting involved to help improve the program, no? I don't understand what posts like this achieve.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 3:57:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

David Sasaki, I don't understand why you would criticize a post that raises awareness of proposed interventions and fosters a discussion. Who is to say that these people are not trying to be involved in influencing the program? It sounds like you're saying a blogger shouldn't react. Several people on this thread have proposed solutions.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 7:42:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Euphrony, yes, as a matter of fact, it would contribute to the coltan problem. I am fascinated that the zoo is pointing this issue out. And, thanks!

David, congogirl summed it up. I'll be happy to examine the program and come up with alternatives when the State Department releases information about it. Until then, all we have to go on is what's been reported in the press, so the ability to react is limited. But it does seem like an enormous waste of resources that could be well-used in other areas.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 10:05:00 AM

Anonymous Andrea Bohnstedt said...

Sod camcoders. It's clearly teddy bears that are needed:


Wednesday, August 12, 2009 2:23:00 PM

Blogger Lil said...

A friend just pointed your blog out to me. Nice work, and couldn't agree more on NYT coverage and the camcorders. I've linked your post to my own as well.

Thursday, August 13, 2009 1:51:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



Friday, August 14, 2009 8:00:00 AM

Blogger the little travelers said...

i know some of these programs are gathering USED camcorders/ cameras/ cel phones, laptops- meaning ones that over-consuming americans have shoved in drawers or tossed in the trash because they ran out and bought the latest model. not all camcorders being sent to places in africa are instead of food. people are building entire businesses off one single item of american trash- that doesn't cost anything other than effort and some postage- and a willingness to act of course.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009 11:10:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

It's still about opportunity costs. Postage to the Congo isn't cheap (especially since there's no functioning postal system), and the electricity to charge the camcorder batteries alone will cost a fortune - if they can get electricity or find a generator, which is doubtful given the fact that most of the rapes take place in areas where THERE IS NO ELECTRICAL GRID.

Sorry, but I just view this as another example of well-intentioned but poorly thought-out aid that won't make a damn bit of difference to anyone.

Thursday, October 22, 2009 11:42:00 AM


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