On Thursday night, five armed men broke into the residence of Congolese human rights activist Dr Denis Mukwege, founder of Panzi hospital in Bukavu, DRC. After holding his two daughters and their friend at gunpoint for half an hour, the armed men forced Dr Mukwege out of his vehicle as he arrived at his residence. Dr Mukwege's security guard tried to alert neighbours about the situation, but was fatally shot at close range by the armed men. The gunmen then fired more shots at Dr Mukwege, who narrowly escaped death by throwing himself to the ground. The five men fled the scene in Dr Mukwege's vehicle – their identity and whereabouts are unknown at the moment.
Who is Dr Denis Mukwege? He is the main street of hope for thousands in eastern Congo. He has stayed in a warzone for 14 years and practised medicine with bare medical resources and witnessed the unbearable enacted on the vaginas and bodies of women day after day. He has invented surgeries to meet the acts of cruelty and has helped repair 30,000 rape victims. He has opened and maintained a hospital providing ongoing care in a place with no roads, no water, no electricity, minimal internet or phone and rampant insecurity.
He has driven Essence Road in Bukavu every day for years, a rutted path that can take 40 minutes or four hours to navigate, depending on the events or weather, just as he has travelled this planet speaking again and again. He has told the excruciating stories of the rapes and tortures over and over at the US Senate and White House, at the European parliament, the Canadian parliament, at Downing Street, in Brussels, in Paris and across the US.
He has done this and has been the head pastor at his church and a teacher and a fundraiser and a mentor of hundreds of doctors and the head of the Panzi Foundation, which is responsible for opening justice centres and the City of Joy. Everything he does, he does with dignity, kindness and composure. He is beloved. In any village in South Kivu, his arrival is much like the arrival of the pope – throngs of people greet him, thousands of women whose lives he has saved or healed or touched celebrate him. We have few heroes in this world, few who have given their lives and souls for the safety and health of their people.
Few who are driven by such purity of love and service. I stopped my life when I met Dr Mukwege. I followed him to the DRC. His goodness, his devotion to the women, made me more generous, compelled me to give myself fully. A hero walks among us and his people.
Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, founded the City of Joy, a centre for survivors of sexual violence in Bukavu with Denis Mukwege and Christine Schuler-Deschryver