Dr Mukwege: from Congo's Nobel winner to presidential hopeful
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Dr Mukwege: from Congo's Nobel winner to presidential hopeful

Denis Mukege earned the epithet 'the man who mends women' from the title of an acclaimed 2015 film about his work
Denis Mukege earned the epithet 'the man who mends women' from the title of an acclaimed 2015 film about his work

BUKAVU (DR CONGO) - Congolese surgical gynaecologist Denis Mukwege, who won the Nobel prize for his work with rape victims, is renowned at home for his boundless energy and biting criticism of the central African country's government.

The pioneering doctor, who on Monday announced he would run for president, is best known for founding the Panzi hospital and foundation in conflict-torn eastern Democratic Republic of Congo DRC) after witnessing the horrific injuries and diseases suffered by rape survivors.

In 2018, he was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Yazidi activist Nadia Murad for efforts to end sexual violence as a weapon of war.

At the time, Mukwege was one of the leading critics of then-Congolese president Joseph Kabila, who lost an election after 18 years in office that year, and ceded power to incumbent President Felix Tshisekedi.

But the doctor has remained as critical of the new government as he was of the last.

"We condemn the liberticidal drift of the regime", the 68-year-old posted on social media in early July, condemning the detention of a member of the political opposition.

A family man with five children, Mukwege is also well known for speaking out about the conflict in eastern Congo, a mineral-rich region where militias have wreaked havoc for three decades.

One such militia, the M23, has captured swathes of territory since late 2021 and pushed over one million people from their homes.

Mukwege has blasted the government's decision to invite East African countries to deploy troops the defeat the rebels.

On June 30, on the anniversary of the DRC's independence from Belgium, he said his native country was still not truly sovereign and called for a "democratic revolution" to spur new leadership.

- Sexual violence-

The son of a Pentecostal pastor, Mukwege was born in 1955 in the then-Belgian Congo, and studied medicine in neighbouring Burundi.

After his studies, he returned home to work at Lemera hospital, in eastern Congo's South Kivu province, where he encountered women suffering from genital lesions.

Mukwege subsequently left to specialise in gynaecology and obstetrics in Angers, France.

He returned to Lemera in 1989 to run the gynaecology department and stayed as the First Congo War broke out in 1996. The war devastated the hospital, however.

In 1999, Mukwege set up the Panzi hospital in South Kivu's capital Bukavu.

Initially designed as a maternity facility, the hospital became a rape clinic as the surrounding region descended into the Second Congo War, which was marked by severe sexual violence.

Mukwege has recounted how the hospital's first patient was a rape victim who had been shot in her genitals.

- 'The man who mends women' -

He earned the epithet 'the man who mends women' from the title of an acclaimed 2015 film about his work.

He says the war on women's bodies is still raging in the DRC.

The regional wars that devastated the country in the 1990s and 2000s have ended, but brutal militias continue to plague the east.

Mukwege's tireless advocacy has landed him in trouble on several occasions.

In 2012, he escaped an assassination attempt. And he currently lives under protection of UN peacekeepers at his Panzi foundation, when he isn't giving lectures abroad.

The doctor has also found himself at the centre of tensions between the DRC and Rwanda.

In 2021, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame denied that his country's troops committed crimes during their involvement in the regional wars of the 1990s -- and implied that Mukwege was part of an anti-Rwanda conspiracy.

Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi hit back: Mukwege is a "figure of national pride," he said, adding that the Nobel laureate had "all of our support".

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