Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Congo - a review

I do not possess the words to describe this book.
All the words that come to mind don't do it justice enough, but I'm going to give it a try.

Congo is a masterpiece. It is sublime.
I'm not really into non-fiction, but the way it's written makes it feel like you're reading a fictional novel.
The book itself is quite thick, but it goes down very smoothly. You don't struggle to get through the pages. At least I didn't.
The only thing I lacked was time enough to spend on this book, because you can't delve into it for a mere fifteen minutes.
You can't submerge yourself in this story unless you're committed to read a substantial sum of pages, because it needs that investment. The people this story is about are as real as you and me. Some of them are still alive and still coping with that sad history. Others are dead and buried, but the marks they made on this land are still bleeding.
If you're like me, you will not want to put it down. You'll want to read on and on, to keep turning those pages to see what happens next.

Congo is a history of a African nation called Congo, formerly known as Zaïre, formely known as Belgian Congo, formerly known as Congo Free State, formerly known as nothing at all.
Congo was a large slab of land in the middle of Africa, that didn't go unnoticed when Europe was on the train of industrialization. That train huffed and puffed right into the lives of people that didn't known any better.
Leopold II was a man with a dream.
A dream of owning more land than he could handle.
And as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. Congo became his. And it was not for the benefit of its people.
What else but profit would interest wealthy Europe?
Ivory, rubber, copper,... Congo had it all and Europe wanted it badly.
You've got to see the humor in that. Europe has all the intelligentsia, factories and most of all money infused dreams, while so many of the riches of our earth is situated in a country where people led a simple life in line with nature.
What else was there to do but to uproot those people's very existence.
Money goes before all. It did then and it still does.

A quote from Congo

Colonisation = Industrialism + nationalism
sums it up pretty clearly.
And how clever it all came in the hands of Leopold II.

But in the scramble for more, they knocked down more than they cared for.
While trade was going well, re-education couldn't stay behind.
Congo needed to be freed from their pointless existence. They needed to see the big picture. They needed to be taught, and most of all they needed to fear the lord.
But how do you teach a culture divided in so many tribes?
You cut them up, stereotype them and teach their children the differences between one tribe and the other. Say hello to tribalism.
It's hard to believe that many of the unrest that nation still feels today has some roots in teaching an entire generation how they didn't belong together anymore.
Congo transformed into a large cake and everyone wants a piece. But they only want the frosting. They lick it off, and see if they can find another piece still untouched.
Several military rebel groups, some more lucky than the other, all responsible for human, economic and political sorrow, think Congo is out for grabs.

Going through several different styles of government, Congo is confusing.
How could you not be?
First being colonized and patronized by Belgium.
Then forcing a democracy that went haywire almost days later.
Kabila, le père et le fils.
Do I need to say more.

Even today Congo still isn't the democratic nation it could've been.
It has been cared for by the belgians, albeit that they might have treated the locals with a little more respect.
It has been aided by America when Congo supplied resources (uranium, coltan) and provide a playing ground during the Cold War.
Russia just the same. Tugging at that african country to be able to call it theirs was more important  than actually doing something worthwhile.
Today Congo had been adopted by China for its resources, once again, but this time with an extra anecdote of supplying the least of accommodation.
Roads are being laid, hospitals are being build, but there is no contigency. Congo is still a loose cannon, a shot fired in the open.

I could go on and on about this book, I really could, but my only advice is to read it yourself.
Being belgian makes this almost too close for comfort for me but it is a history easily overlooked while so many still suffer the consequences of what happened in a time span less than 150 years.

The last thing I want to give to you is a paragraph that rang so true it stung. I've written it down, don't mind the shoddy translation (I've got a dutch copy).

The etnical violence wasn't a setback in their evolution, not a primitive reflex, but the logical consequence of land scarcity in a war economy serving globalisation - and by that a notice what could happen to an overpopulated planet. Congo doesn't lag behind in history, but is a step ahead. 

That combined with the Chinese influence on African soil, we are in for some surprises.

I've rarely read something that made me think like Congo made me.
If more writers could paint history as beautiful as David Van Reybrouck can, I think history would be more alive today.