Mwacha Malisho Felix is 38 years old and the father of 7 children. He is the mwami of Lo’Ochyo II, a quartier of Mboko. He has been mwami since 1995, when he succeeded his grandfather. I interviewed Mwacha outside of his home on a hill overlooking Lake Tanganyika. As we spoke, we were soon surrounded by perhaps two dozen curious children, who jostled to get closer and hear the conversation between the strange mzungu and their neighborhood mwami.
Mwacha first had contact with SOS FED in 2010, when he first spoke with Mariamu Bashishibe, the center manager in Mboko. At first, Mwacha cooperated with SOS FED in helping bring survivors of sexual violence come to the SOS FED center to receive assistance. Eventually, Mwacha began working with SOS FED to help reintegrate beneficiaries in his community. Together with SOS FED reintegration officer Wilondja Lubunga, Mwacha has helped reintegrate 12 women back into his community.
In order to change a family’s attitude on survivors of sexual violence, Mwacha will pay the family a visit and speak with them. Mwacha said that he gives the family “advice”, telling them that the rape was not the woman’s fault, and therefore they have no motive to reject and ostracize her. In speaking with husbands, Mwacha often uses an example to show them the reason of his argument; if the husband was the one who had been raped in the fields, how would he feel if his wife rejected him? This is often a rather convincing argument, according to Mwacha, especially since there have been reported cases of male members of armed groups committing acts of sexual violence against male civilians.
In doing pre-reintegration visits to families in Lo’Ochyo II, Wilondja is always accompanied by Mwacha. However, Mwacha also visits members of his constituency on his own to further lobby for the re-acceptance of survivors of sexual violence. In any case, Mwacha said that multiple visits are always required before a family is convinced to re-accept a survivor.
Mwacha said that before he began raising awareness and educating his community with SOS FED, many husbands would expel their wives if they had been raped. However, he now says that much fewer men in his community ostracize their wives if they have been violated.
Do the members of his constituency re-accept survivors of sexual violence simply because of the authority of their mwami, or do they truly see the wisdom of their mwami’s counsel? Mwacha firmly believes the latter. He says that his best form of counsel is living by example; years ago, he told me, his own wife was raped by Burundian rebels, and yet he has stayed with her and has never held her responsible for the incident.
“You see,” Mwacha gestured to his wife, seated beside him with a child in her lap, “my wife is right here, I never left her!”
To Mwacha, his own example is a powerful witness to his constituency, destroying the myth that a survivor of sexual violence brings shame to a family.
Posted By Walter James
Posted Oct 7th, 2011