Sophie becomes first British royal to travel to Democratic Republic of the Congo

The countess is visiting the African country at the request of the Foreign Office.

03 October 2022

The Countess of Wessex has become the first member of the royal family to travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Buckingham Palace has said.

Sophie is carrying out an official visit to the African country at the request of the Foreign Office.

The Palace said on Monday that the countess’s 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.

Royal visit to Democratic Republic of Congo
The Countess of Wessex arrives with Lord Ahmad (Jane Barlow/PA)

She is being accompanied by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Prime Minister’s special representative on preventing sexual violence in conflict.

Security will be tight for Sophie’s visit, which had been planned for many months before the death of the Queen.

In its recent history, the DRC has endured years of civil conflict in what has been called Africa’s world war, with the loss of up to six million lives through fighting or disease and malnutrition.

A peace agreement was signed in 2002 but violence continued in some areas, requiring a large United Nations military force to try to maintain order.

This August, Africa’s second largest country faced rising regional tensions in the east, with weeks of deadly protests against UN peacekeepers.

Royal visit to Democratic Republic of Congo
Sophie during a meeting in Bukavu, South Kivu Province (Jane Barlow/PA)

Sophie’s visit is taking place in the run-up to the International Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative Conference in London next month, which is being hosted by the UK Government and which the countess will attend.

She publicly committed herself to supporting the UK’s work helping victims of rape, sexual violence and exploitation in war in 2019.

Sophie said last year that hearing survivors’ stories of sexual violence has taken her to “some very dark places” during her work to raise awareness.

“Every story I am told is pushing me forward. I feel obligated to tell people this is happening – it is their story to tell and I support them,” she added.

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