The Heart of Darkness. Part II

Posted on 15 November, 2008. Filed under: Africa, Human Rights, The world | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Of all the continents, Africa is the most beautiful, the most colourful, generous, vibrant and creative one. It has life, a pulse, music and a heartbeat. It is the richest continent, as well. Rich in resources, people, tradition, culture, history. Rich in promise and potential.  Now you may think I’m biased, but that’s only because you’ve never been there. If you don’t believe me, go see for yourself. But be careful where you go. Because the same riches that hold the promise of prosperity, is a double-edged sword that brings discord, abuse and turmoil. And this is starkly demonstrated in the Democratic Republic of Congo right now.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has a volatile history, drenched in the blood of its people, scarred by greed. Just more than a century ago, it was the private property of King Leopold II of Belgium. He did not shy away from using slavery, extortion, cruelty and abuse to plunder the rich African county for as much as he could. His ruthlessness succeeded in making him an obscenely rich man. It cost the Congo, by some estimates, as much as 10 million lives.

When Harold MacMillan’s “winds of change” blew through Africa, the DRC was not to be left behind. Young, charismatic Patrice Lumumba insisted on practically instantaneous freedom and self-rule for a country that had virtually no citizens with any government experience, no Congolese officers in the army, no Congolese professionals. Less than 100 graduates. But Lumumba was either oblivious to the demands of governance, or deluded to think that he could overcome the lack of skill. Sort of the Sarah Palin of his day. He became the Congo’s first Congolese Prime Minister,

Factionalism, tribalism and greed quickly turned the situation chaotic. Lumumba insisted on and received aid from the USA and the UN, but got upset when things did not go his way. He had unreasonable and unrealistic expectations, and when these could not immediately be met, the young, inexperienced leader decided to use the cold war to his own advantage. But playing the Soviet and the US/UN off against each other, swiftly led to his overthrow and subsequent execution. An old African expression says “When two elephant bulls fight, the grass gets trampled.” Lamumba, either through stupidity or a delusional belief in his own power and importance, had placed himself in the middle of the bull fight.

After a few years of chaos, revolt, looting and mayhem, Col. Joseph Mobutu, later Mobuto Seso Seko, took over, and led the country for the next thirty years. Although he maintained order, it was through oppression, torture and abuse, all the while enriching himself and his cronies, while the Congolese did not receive much benefit from their country’s wealth. Health care, education and infrastructure quickly collapsed, and the rich country plunged deeper and deeper into debt.

In 1997, Laurent Kabila succeeded in overthrowing Mobuto, became president, and assumed the mantle of tyrant and exploiter in charge. In his revolt against Mobuto, he had mustered support from Rwanda and Uganda. Now the piper had to be paid. And when the payment was not satisfactory, more revolts were organised, leading to the involvement of Angola, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Namibia and Chad. Aluta Continua becomes looting continues.

In 2001 Kabila was assassinated, and his son, Joseph Kabila, was appointed as his successor. Kabila Jr has tried with some success to get rid of the foreign influence in the DRC, but that only means there is so much more for those in the country to exploit. At the same time, those that have tasted the prosperity of the DRC, soon grew thirsty for more. Hence the current situation.

That’s the history of the Democratic Republic of Congo in a nutshell. Sadly, it is also the history of many other African countries.

In the next few posts I hope to explore more African countries, their history, failures and successes, and where they are now.

In 1985 I was finishing high school. Young, optimistic, Live Aid captured the interest, the imagination and the passion of my generation. When Bob Geldoff announced Live Eight 20 years later, it triggered an almost opposite reaction in me. I hope to use this journey to help me understand that change better. Because as dispassionate as I want to be about Africa, the atrocities are too haunting, the plight too devastating to ignore. But I want to make a difference that will make a difference.

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    Welcome to my personal soundboard, where I can muse (you might call it ramble on) about things that interest, irritate, infuriate or impress me. In time, I hope this will lead me to understand the meaning of life, the universe, and me.

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