The DR Congo: Wars, Resources, Politics and History

The most overused explanation for the continuing chaos and warfare in the DRCongo is its fabulous and legendary resources (gold, copper, cobalt, uranium, diamonds, coltan, timber, water, etc.). Recently, thanks to Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost, the public can connect today’s situation to what happened a century ago. This book was not only a useful reminder of the genocidal impact of Belgian conquest on the Congolese people, it also provided a graphic, raw illustration of the principles by which political and financial leaders having been ruling the world as a whole. However it was AFTER the Leopoldian Regime (1908) that the demographic decline of the population was most notable; and it was in 1921 that one of the greatest figures of Congolese resistance, Simon Kimbangu (founder of the Kimbanguist Church) was arrested. He died in prison, 30 years later, in 1951.

With Independence on June 30, 1960, the possibility arose for the Congolese people as a whole to enjoy the wealth of their country, under the leadership of a government led by Patrice Emery Lumumba, the first and only elected Prime Minister the country ever had. His assassination and the disposal of his body in an acid bath were meant to act as a deterrent to any other would-be disciple.

Extreme and exemplary punishment has always been part of the strategy to ensure that indigenous peoples anywhere on the planet are crushed into submission to the system. In 1706, the King of the Kongo, lobbied by Italian Capuchin missionaries, arrested Kimpa Vita (aka Dona Beatriz) and her daughter and had both burned alive. Her crime was her opposition to slavery.

Throughout their history, the Congolese have never had the possibility of really deciding by themselves, for themselves, on the future of their country—leading some to argue that the DRCongo’s wealth has been more a curse than a blessing. By themselves the resources do not trigger wars; it is the manner in, and the purpose for which they were sought and extracted that led to terror and violence. The colonial state and the repressive structures which went with it (army, police, and legal system) were never transformed to serve the interests of the former colonial subjects.

They could not transform it because their most precious resource, the one which hardly receives any attention in the press, was maimed and tortured into submission, into forgetting that they do not have to beg anyone for recognition of their humanity. This happened when the “discoverers,” having exterminated the Arawaks and the Amerindians, turned to Africa for cheap labor and invented Atlantic Slavery. However, the unmarketability of humanity makes it our (not just the Congolese’s) most precious resource. The rationale for treating indigenous peoples all over the planet as less than human has been a constant of the system. IT IS THAT TREATMENT WHICH HAS TO BE CHANGED. Unless this happens, having the right price for more or less of diamonds, gold, copper, uranium, timber, hydroelectric power, cobalt, coltan, oil, will not change much. Milan Kundera, a nonindigenous person, understood this when he wrote the following words:

The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long that nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was… The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

–From The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

2-26-06