Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex is visiting the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) at the request of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
The Countess is the first Member of the Royal Family to travel to the DRC, and Her Royal Highness’ visit will focus on addressing the devastating impact of sexual and gender based violence in conflict, while supporting and empowering survivors and tackling the stigma they face.
Read more about Her Royal Highness's work to support women in conflict around the world.
Monday 3rd October
On Monday, The Countess of Wessex undertook engagements in Kivu, in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Her Royal Highness was received by His Excellency Théo Ngwabidje, the Governor of the Southern Kivu Province.
The Countess met representatives from TRIAL International; a non-governmental organisation which is dedicated to fighting impunity for international crimes in conflict, as well as providing legal support to survivors of conflict related violence and human rights violations as they seek justice.
The Countess also met representatives from the Pole Pole Foundation, which was shortlisted as a Finalist for The Earthshot Prize in 2021 – a global environment prize, founded by Prince William and The Royal Foundation to discover, accelerate, and scale ground-breaking solutions to repair and regenerate the planet.
Her Royal Highness heard about the Pole Pole Foundation’s conservation work, which not only protects the gorillas of the Kahuzi Biega National Park from poachers, but supports local communities by giving them the skills for alternative, nonexploitative livelihoods.
The Countess of Wessex met Pole Pole’s founder, Mr John Kahekwa Munihuzi (Papa John), who gave Her Royal Highness a Congolese name, Umoja Mama Louise.
In Congolese tradition, people are called ‘mama’ or ‘papa’ followed by the name of their eldest child. Umoja means unity in Swahili.
The Countess attended a dinner with civil society organisations, where she discussed challenges on preventing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence.
Tuesday 4th October
Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex has visited world-renowned surgeon and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr Denis Mukwege’s Panzi Hospital, where Her Royal Highness has seen first-hand the pioneering and critical medical treatment provided to those who have endured brutal, conflict-related sexual violence and trauma.
The Countess spent time with the survivors being cared for at Panzi, and spoke to the Hospital’s dedicated team of experts. 3,500 babies born of sexual violence in conflict are delivered each year at the Hospital, and Her Royal Highness heard about the vital support given to mothers of babies born of sexual violence in conflict.
Together with Dr Mukwege, The Countess of Wessex then visited the Panzi Foundation to hear about the holistic approach that has helped to rehabilitate over 70,000 survivors of conflict-related sexual violence since 1999. As well as healing physical wounds, Dr Mukwege’s team works with survivors to overcome their trauma, and support their reintegration into society, providing them with the skills to rebuild their lives, and bring their abusers to justice.
The Countess also visited the City of Joy, a transformational and nurturing project designed to allow women survivors of conflicted-related sexual violence the space and opportunity to come to terms with their trauma, as well as equipping them with the skills and confidence to take on leadership roles in their communities. Her Royal Highness met survivors and those who support them. The City of Joy was the subject of an award-winning documentary in 2016.
Wednesday 5th October
The Countess of Wessex has travelled to Rwanda today. Her Royal Highness met the country’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Gender and Family Promotion in Kigali.
The Countess then attended a round table discussion with non-governmental organisations working to address gender based violence in Rwanda.
Next, The Countess visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre.
The Centre is a place of reflection, which was established in the spirit of reconciliation to commemorate those who lost their lives in the 1994 genocide.
Her Royal Highness laid a wreath and signed the book of condolence.
Earlier this year, The King and The Queen Consort visited the Memorial while in Rwanda for CHOGM.