Forever in chains: The tragic history of Congo

congo crisis

 

One of the Belgian hostages during post-independence Congo Crisis in 1960.

 

Misfortunes appear seemingly associated with the history of Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DRC as we now preferably call. Even its geographical existence itself, in agonizing terms, is a ‘colonial wound’, already carved by the personal ambitions of King Leopold of Belgium more than a century prior. Firstly known as ‘Congo Free State’, King Leopold brutally exploited his approximately all his subjects, mutilating their hands for failing to fulfill quota required by his private company. It was estimated that 10-30 million people died from 1885 to 1908, the year the colony was taken over by Belgian government directly. Renamed ‘Belgian Congo’, the colony underwent rapid economic growth, and near its independence in 1960, it became the most industrialized colony in the whole continent. Nonetheless, skills and technology transfer were virtually nearly non-existent, as bulk of the expertise was managed by a tiny white Belgian community, no more than 90,000 strong, against more than 16 million Congolese people, of whom only a few dozens had ever accomplished higher education.

As independence came, anti-Belgian sentiment was overwhelmingly terrifying; thousands of businesses were ransacked and looted, and the entire economy came into a complete stoppage. Another three-decade authoritarian rule by Mobutu Sese Seko, meanwhile, foresaw a relative political stability and a stronger Congolese identity under another more authentic African name, Zaire, but corruption remained severe in nearly all aspects. With his downfall in 1997, the whole nation plunged into an African-sized ‘World War’, by which more than 5 million civilians and soldiers died until 2003. Right now, the country ends up on the lowest bottom of the world’s poorest, desperately dependent on its mineral resources. It’s not to say the future remains bleak, but at the very least, the country needs a serious leader to unify the population, shed a light and cast a new hope on its own people, otherwise the country will not survive long, and simply end up as ‘a mere colonial wound’.

Read the whole article, published in 2006, in The Independent.

 

Excerpt:

 

Other testimony disclosed how Belgian officers ordered their men “to cut off the heads of the men and hang them on the village palisades, also their sexual members, and to hang the women and the children on the palisade in the form of a cross”. This blood-curdling business carried on for more than 12 years before word leaked out. One of the first to blow the whistle was the captain of one of the riverboats that transported the ivory and rubber downstream to port. His name was Joseph Conrad, and eight years later he wrote a book that has shaped the emotional language in which white people discuss Africa.

It was called Heart of Darkness. The atmosphere it conjures is of fetid fever-ridden ports in an Equatorial river basin surrounded by dense tropical rainforest. It is a climate of persistent high temperatures and humidity, as enervating to the soul as to the body. It is a world of madness, greed and violence, centred on a charismatic ivory trader called Kurtz who turns himself into a demigod to the local tribes and gathers vast quantities of ivory. Eventually, he dies – “The horror, the horror,” his last words.

When the book was published in magazine serial form in 1899, it did not just expose what Conrad was to call “the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience”. It also gave backing to the writings of a man whose campaigns on the Congo the public had been reluctant to believe.

ED Morel was a clerk in a Liverpool shipping office who began to wonder why the ships that brought vast loads of rubber from the Congo returned carrying no commercial goods, but only guns and ammunition. He began to investigate the Force Publique and concluded that Leopold’s well-publicised philanthropy was in fact “legalised robbery enforced by violence”. He wrote: “I had stumbled upon a secret society of murderers with a king for a croniman.”

Both Israelis and Palestinians are losers in this conflict

Palestinians salvage their usable belongings from the rubble of their homes

 

An impartial, blatantly-honest food-for-thought by Daniel Barenboim about the eons-old conflict that encompasses all aspects. You can view the original article in The Guardian.

Here’s his brief essay.

 

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Both Israelis and Palestinians are losers in this conflict

There can be no military solution. Both sides need to acknowledge the other’s suffering and their rights

I am writing these words as someone who holds two passports – Israeli and Palestinian. I am writing them with a heavy heart, as the events in Gaza over the past few weeks have confirmed my long-standing conviction that there is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is not a political conflict but a human one, between two peoples who share the deep and seemingly irreconcilable conviction that they are entitled to the same small piece of land.

It is because this fact has been neglected that all the negotiations, all the attempts at brokering a solution to the conflict that have taken place until now, have failed. Instead of acknowledging this true nature of the conflict and trying to resolve it, the parties have been looking for easier and fast solutions. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts when it comes to solving this conflict. A shortcut only works when we know the territory we cut through – and in this case, nobody possesses that knowledge as the essence of the conflict remains unknown and unexplored.

I have deep sympathy for the fear with which my fellow Israelis live today: the constant sounds of rockets being fired, of knowing that you or someone close to you might get hurt. But I have profound compassion with the plight of my fellow Palestinians in Gaza, who live in terror and mourn such devastating losses on a daily basis. After decades of devastation and loss on both sides, the conflict has today reached a previously unimaginable level of gruesomeness and despair.

I therefore dare to propose that this may be the moment to look for a true solution to the problem. A ceasefire is of course indispensable, but it is by far not enough. The only way out of this tragedy, the only way to avoid more tragedy and horror, is to take advantage of the hopelessness of the situation and force everybody to talk to one another. There is no point in Israel refusing to negotiate with Hamas or to acknowledge a unity government. No, Israel must listen to those Palestinians who are in a position to speak with one tongue.

The first resolution that has to be achieved is a joint agreement on the fact that there is no military solution. Only then can one begin discussing the question of justice for the Palestinians, which is long overdue, and of security for Israel, which it rightfully requires. We Palestinians feel that we need to receive a just solution. Our quest is fundamentally one for justice and for the rights given to every people on Earth: autonomy, self-determination, liberty, and all that comes with it. We Israelis need an acknowledgement of our right to live on the same piece of land. The division of the land can only come after both sides have not only accepted but understood that we can live together side by side, most definitely not back to back.

At the very heart of the much-needed rapprochement is the need for a mutual feeling of empathy, or compassion. In my opinion, compassion is not merely a sentiment that results from a psychological understanding of a person’s need, but it is a moral obligation. Only through trying to understand the other side’s plight can we take a step towards each other. As Schopenhauer  put it: “Nothing will bring us back to the path of justice so readily as the mental picture of the trouble, grief and lamentation of the loser.” In this conflict, we are all losers. We can only overcome this sad state if we finally begin to accept the other side’s suffering and their rights. Only from this understanding can we attempt to build a future together.