Congo: The World’s Open Wound


No one can read the Nicholas Kristoff’s two recent opinion pieces in the New York Times  and The World Capital of Killing ( Feb 6),  and The Grotesque Vocabulary of Congo (Feb.10) without a sense of wonder.  Wonder that we should expect something else from a place that Joseph Conrad chose as the location for his famous novel The Heart of Darkness.

Congo is the locus of an on-going genocide so horrific that it defies understanding.  A rapacious and unending civil war, has led, over the past ten years to a death toll which was estimated at 5.4 million as of April 2007 and rising at 45,000 a month.  That would leave the total today, after a dozen years, at 6.9 million.   Kristoff points out that new forms of human degradation have entered the Congolese vocabulary such as autocannibalism, where victims are forced to eat their own flesh and re-rape, where rape victims are selected over and over again for the same treatment from invading militia.

Evelyn Gordon rightly asks what has happened to the world’s  major human rights organizations  such as Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders, both of whom barely report on the region, despite the estimated loss of 6.9 million lives over the past ten years?  For while these organizations issue extensive reports on abuses of human rights in developed countries, most particularly the United States and Israel, Congo is barely mentioned.

The answer, of course, is that information gathering is so much easier in developed countries and therefore those countries become more natural targets of these well funded organizations.  But I have another question:

Where are our greatest celebrities on this issue – you know the ones who are always raising a hue and cry about the developed world’s appalling parsimony when it comes to Africa.   Where is Bono, that champion of African rights regarding foreign debt, unfair trade and AIDS/ HIV or Bob Geldoff, hero of  1984’s We Are the World  and Live 8 celebrity  concert and recording extravaganzas?  Or Madonna and Angelina Jolie, who have both adopted African children and voiced their distress over poverty on the continent?  Why, instead of blaming poverty  and unfair trade practices for Africa’s grievances, are they not paying greater attention to the basic inhumanity of the warring parties in Congo and bringing the human rights industry to account for failing to adequately address the participation of neighboring Rwanda,  for its possible role in war crimes next door.  Or  then, the failure of  Congolese president, Joseph Kabila, to arrest Gen. Jean Bosco Ntaganda, wanted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges or the failure of just about anyone to monitor the minerals trade from Congo that warlords  use to buy guns by exporting gold, tin or coltan?

Ten years ago, I read Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost and had been appalled by the rape of that country by the Belgian king Leopold II  in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.  Since then,  I came to see Congolese instability as largely a legacy of colonial intervention.

But I was dead wrong.  Congolese brutality, fratricide and cannibalism long preceded Western intervention.   Cannibalism is a particular legacy of a very challenged past. In 2003, Sinafasi Makelo, a representative of Mbuti pygmies, told the UN’s Indigenous People’s Forum that during the war, his people were hunted down and eaten as though they were game animals. In neighbouring North Kivu province there has been cannibalism by a group known as Les Effaceurs (“the erasers”) who wanted to clear the land of people to open it up for mineral exploitation.  Both sides of the war regarded them as “subhuman” and some say their flesh can confer magical powers.

In the West we cannot account for such basic inhumanity, but clearly not much that the West does or does not do can quell the atavistic urge for a return to barbarism.  Hold all the rallies you want, pour all the money and trade gifts you can into the country;  Without a basic understanding of  the  atavism that is the Democratic Republic of Congo, the world will  never come to grips with this true heart of darkness on our planet.

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2 Responses to Congo: The World’s Open Wound

  1. AnymnEmalay says:

    I enjoyed reading your blog ~ thanks for posting such cool content.

  2. Shannon says:

    Overall an insightful article but your last paragraph makes me ask whether you’ve been to the DRC. As one who has, I feel compelled to say that, whilst, yes, there is darkness in that land, the hearts of individuals are no darker than those elsewhere in the world. In fact, the majority of them are as appalled by these practices as we are, except they have the added trauma of having lived through them. Consider the Stanford Prison Experiment; people who went in with ‘western morals’ and yet did horrendous deeds.

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