12 Nov 2013

Dr Jo Lusi: healing the wounds of men’s inhumanity to women

When I last met Dr Jo Lusi, he was in his scrubs in a hospital in Goma, in the Congo, explaining to Angelina Jolie and William Hague why he believed he had found God in a woman’s vagina.


Although he had a broad smile on his face as he was speaking, this was not some kind of joke which had got lost in translation. Dr Jo was explaining his sense of disbelief at the barbarism of the men who, by some estimates, have raped two million Congolese women.

And he was also trying to convey a sense of his mission – to repair the appalling internal injuries sustained by the women who come to his hospital in Goma.

World’s most unlikely couple

That was back in March, when the world’s most unlikely couple – Hollywood film star and foreign secretary – visited Dr Jo, as part of a campaign to tackle warzone rape. Now, the Congolese surgeon has left his work in the jungle to come and tell politicians and officials gathering in London tomorrow what they need to do now.

The M23 rebel group, whose soldiers carried out countless atrocities, has been defeated. But Dr Jo points out that 20 other militias are still terrorising the country, and women have little confidence of the protection of the Congolese army – because many of its soldiers rape with apparent impunity.

Dr Jo tells me that before he left Goma for the political jungle here, he operated on a dozen women in a single day, but a lack of space in his hospital prevented him and his colleagues rescuing dozens more.

It was his English wife, Lynn, who was the driving force behind the hospital. She tragically died of cancer last year, and Dr Jo misses her terribly. But he draws inspiration from her constantly, repeating to me her mantra that “nobody is fit to live until they’ve discovered what is worth dying for”.

Worth dying for

And it’s this mission – to rescue the Congolese women from the rapists, repair their hideous wounds, and reconstruct a society savaged by war – he believes is a cause worth dying for.

His work frequently leaves him in tears, or so angry he admits he hurls his medical scalpels to the floor. It’s also left him in danger of reprisals, and as a result four policemen sleep at his house.

So although there were those who doubted what a Hollywood A-lister and her unlikely political ally could do to ease his country’s desperate plight, he says he’s immensely grateful for the campaign which is now gathering pace.

Enslaved by rapists

William Hague gave Dr Jo his own book on the life of William Wilberforce. The foreign secretary has compared the campaign against warzone rape with the struggle against slavery, and it’s a parallel Dr Jo himself echoes, saying the women he treats have been enslaved by the rapists.

A devout Christian, Dr Jo pays Mr Hague the ultimate compliment, telling me the Wilberforce biography is now his new bible, which he carries with him for inspiration and to give him courage as he battles to the heal the wounds of man’s inhumanity.

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