In her piece When Wounds and Corpses Fail to Speak: Narratives of Violence and Rape in Congo (DRC), Ngwarsungu Chiwengo dissects the inadequacies of human rights discourses at conveying suffering. She uses the Congolese genocide as a case study of how the international community pushed pain “further into invisibility.” Chiwengo explains how the west’s post-colonial constructions of Africa are transmitted through the language used to communicate suffering or violence.
This language has effectively muted the voices and erased narratives of individual Africans peoples because it “supports a particular conception of rights and acts to mask power relations and stifles the possibility of engaging critiques.” Further, international acknowledgement and discussion of human rights abuses is marked by the residue of western imperialism, so the representation of African events in western literature, media, and human rights discourse are limited by the underlying power relations between the two regions. “Colonization, religion, and European contact have led to the construction of an African identity of alterity.” Thus, even when the international community acknowledge and discuss human rights atrocities committed in Africa, colonial constructions of African identity permeate those discussions—further broadening the “veil of silence” covering the dead.
The global health crises caused by diarrheal disease also represent a salient example of the suffering of some is silenced by those in power, who control the language used to express pain and decide whose plights will be spoken of and whose will be overlooked. The silence surrounding diarrheal disease reflects the colonial notion that “human life in Africa isn’t worth the same as man’s life any where is.” One article about diarrheal disease calls the completely preventable disease “The Silent Killer” of children worldwide; silent because its victims—who suffer no political agency and extreme poverty—have no voice on the global stage. It is time to give these children a voice.