The Horror

In Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness one of the last words Kurtz says is “Horror.” Whatever criticisms might fairly be levelled at the novella, as a word to describe the last number of years in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Horror would be pretty close to ideal.
The immensity of the problem there is difficult to comprehend. The Belgians had made practically no effort to help the country during their rule of it and made no more effort to prepare it for independence. With independence in 1960 there was an immediate army mutiny and in 1965 Mobutu began his cleptocratic reign which only ended in 1997. The Rwandan government blamed Mobutu for supporting the Hutus who had massacred some 800,000 Tutsis in 1994 prior to being militarily defeated. In 1997 the Rwandans invaded alleging that the war criminals who had been involved in the genocide were hiding in refugee camps in DRC and were attacking ethnic Tutsis there. What followed has been described as Africa’s First World War involving Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Uganda
which resulted in over 5 million deaths and supposedly ended in 1999 with the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement. Whatever the proclaimed reasons for getting involved in the war, the neighbouring countries were all involved in plundering the vast wealth of DRC and had very little interest in helping its population.

Peace agreements and ceasefires have come and gone: the latest round of fighting has resulted in a summit in Nairobi which is again trying to end the violence. However, the ethnic divisions along with the vast natural wealth of DRC will always provide a potentially explosive mixture which will tempt all sides to try to gain personal wealth just as it did Kurtz. Sadly as in Conrad’s book those who suffer the most, the local population; will remain afflicted by poverty, disease, starvation and death.

  • Dewi

    For my edification Turgon why do you call it a “novella”?

  • Turgon

    Dewi,
    Apparently a novella is a short novel. It is indeed quite a short book, my copy has 96 pages (I have just checked).

  • Dewi

    My copy is with my blasted sister so can’t contradict you. Great book though – worthwhile reading Jared Diamond on the Rwanda nightmare – I think it’s called “Why Societies collapse” – she’s got that also…

  • latcheeco

    Dewi its a novella the way “Of Mice and Men” is a novella, because of its brevity. Of course they don’t know brevity in Wales; just look at the town names 🙂

  • Dewi

    latcheeo – let’s just try and keep on the topic….like I do all the time !!

  • Dewi

    I wonder if this is the first job for Obama.

  • latcheeco

    Incidently the story of the military defeat of the Hutus and the Tutsis victory and how it was achieved in Rwanda is an interesting one because of the nous with which they achieved it through cute planning.Also interesting is the destabilising effect the Tutsis had on their neighbors before and after their victory (before through usurpation of their neighbors’ armed forces and after by the relative success of their governance).

  • Dewi

    More interesting is why it happened. Diamond hyphothesisis a Malthusian reason…..I know I keep on but he’s really clever.

  • RepublicanStones

    Didn’t the Belgians perpetuate the whole mess with their insistence on the Germans previous class/racial differences which were effectively fosted upon the indigenous populace?

    Rwanda is a good example of the poison of colonialism.

  • Dewi

    “Didn’t the Belgians perpetuate the whole mess with their insistence on the Germans previous class/racial differences which were effectively fosted upon the indigenous populace?

    Rwanda is a good example of the poison of colonialism. ”

    Yep – but the post colonialst experience is pretty worthy of a case study.

  • latcheeco

    Dewi,
    I hope your not suggesting that two post colonial tribes might knock seven bells out of each other and destabilise the region. Because the Welsh and Scots get on fine.

  • Dewi

    Diamond suggests that the combination of over population with the technological situation of Rwanda was the primary driver of the conflict. Pretty persuasive.

  • Harry Flashman

    “Didn’t the Belgians perpetuate the whole mess”

    Yes of course, because as history has conclusively proven, Africans only want to slaughter their neighbours because Europeans make them do it.

    It’s always whitey’s fault.

  • KieranJ

    “Yes of course, because as history has conclusively proven, Africans only want to slaughter their neighbours because Europeans make them do it.”

    Too true. If not for the colonists, Idi Amin would have been a river to his people.

  • Greagoir O’ Frainclin

    “It’s always whitey’s fault.”

    Indeed it is!

    ….and King Leopold & CO made a very nice living for themselves!

  • picador

    Next weeks’s Dispatches should be worth a watch. It’s about witchcraft in west Africa (yes, I know this thread is on east Africa). And on a related note African albinos are living in fear of their lives – again witchcraft is the prime cause. As Kurtz said ‘The horror! The horror!’

    Perhaps if this recession / depression really kicks in our societies will regress to medieval times. I hope not!

  • latcheeco

    Pic,
    I’d say African albinos should probably head for Alaska and hide out with all the artic camouflage they could use up there, but then again doesn’t the governor have her own African witch doctor so that’s probably a non-runner.

  • IRIA

    I recommend the book that i’m currently reading: “King Leopold’s Ghost”. It’s about the Belgian King’s desire for a colony and what went on there. Great book, sad, sad stuff.

  • Dewi

    On a slightly positive note I met today a Black South African supporter – a first for me.

  • Greenflag

    Dewi ,

    ‘Diamond hyphothesisis a Malthusian reason’

    Which followed on from the ethnic hatred bolstered by imperial rule cause.

    Worth a read is Diamond’s chapter on the Hutu/Tutsi conflict . In one region of of Rwanda -the Malthusian hypothesis ‘won’ out over the ethnic cleansing brigades in that Hutus exterminated some 5% of the local population -all Hutus bar one Tutsi woman who happened to own a lot of land and was the polgymous wife of a Hutu.

    Those Hutus who were killed by their fellow Hutus in that region were according to Diamond made up of the ‘rich ‘ particularly larger land owners, and also the poorest landless class who were driven into joining various ‘militias ‘ to get ‘food/land’ and killed each other in competition for ‘vacated’ land .

    So what made this region of Rwanda different ? Population density was over 1,000 per square mile as compared to 750 in other areas were the Tutsis were the target .

    Europeans in their history have had ‘similiar ‘ mass killings for reasons which on the surface were ideological, tribal or religious.
    The economic history of central europe in the 16th century ( a warm period climatically) is replete with comments on the country ‘teeming with children ‘ and bishops proclaiming that there had better be a war soon or the country will be destroyed by overpopulation .

    Sure enough the wars did come but not for a few decades . It was called the 30 years war and it’s estimated that some 7 million people died of war and war induced famine and disease as several armies marched around central europe from France to Austria , Italy Germany and Bohemia proclaimimg that their ‘version ‘ of God -Protestant or Roman Catholic was the correct one . The Malthusian hypothesis at work under the guise of true ‘religion’ In the present day Congo the guises are ethnicity and emeralds .

    Britain during it’s industrial expansion and rapidly growing population avoided the Malthusian ‘crunch ‘ be exporting millions of excess people to other parts of the world in imperial conquest .

    Ireland and in particular the south west of the country and the west (congested districts ) had the highest density of population in Europe in the 1840’s . The continuing sub division of small plots in Ireland in the 1800’s sounds not too dissimilar from Diamond’s comments on the same process in Rwanda in the 1990’s.

    Diamond points out that a high density of population does not by itself cause ‘genocides ‘ . The examples of Netherlands , Belgium and modern Japan with population densities of over a 1,000 per sq mile . What sets off the mobs is the growing emisseration of a large part of the population whether brought about by overpopulation , economic disasters or ‘tribal ‘ politics pursued by those who stand to benefit if either group A or B are ‘defeated ‘ .

    The Nazis found their scapegoat -the Communists found theirs , the Spanish Inquisition found theirs . The ‘wolf’ has never any difficulty in smelling out the ‘requisite ‘ lamb .

    Let us all beware the fundamentalists of religion or politics for that is the game they end up playing sooner or later even if many of them never intended to 🙁

  • Greenflag

    harry flash ,

    “It’s always whitey’s fault.”

    In the world wide mass killing league table from 1900 to 1990 (Listed in Jared Diamond’s Third Chimpanzee’ the ‘whitey’s ‘ are way out in front of all others . Most of their ‘victims’ were fellow ‘whiteys ‘ -they just spoke a different language or had a different religion or politics or belonged to the wrong class at the wrong time.

    The Africans are way down the list -But the Asians advanced a few places as the 20th century came to a close with Vietnam , Cambodia , Korea, Indonesia , Bangla Desh and India Pakistan etc .

  • Shirley McGuffin

    At today’s Commemmoration Service, we had to listen to praise for “brave King Albert” of belgium. He was of Leopold’s spleen. James Connolly summarised the Belgians well.
    Gambia is a good African country. The leader, who can’t read or write, is a great cleptomaniac and has awarded himself all sorts of military and educational honours. Didn’t we do a good job there, chappies?

  • Greenflag

    Dewi ,

    ‘On a slightly positive note I met today a Black South African supporter – a first for me. ‘

    Methinks the South Africans were a lot happier than the Canadians at Thomond Park 🙂

  • Greenflag

    Dewi ,

    To add to the above ‘Malthusian theme much of the agrarian unrest in Ireland 1750 through 1840’s and even later can be attributed to ‘land’ hunger only different in degree from the Hutu /Tutsi conflict . In a country where ‘land’ is the only wealth as it was /is in Rwanda today, or as in 19th century Ireland and with no family ‘planning ‘ then eventually ’emisseration’ leads to political upheaval and worse . Differential emigration rates as between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland 1920 through to recent times with 3 RC’s emigrating for every 1 Protestant helped to keep the lid on NI from blowing off before 1969 .

    There’s a lesson in there for today’s world – post the ‘neo conservative ‘ emisseration revolution but as it’s happenin in far off Africa it has no relevance for the ‘fat ‘ West 🙁

  • Dewi

    GF – all good stuff – thanks (Wales not at all bad – great to see us competing in the brutal stuff for once. Well done Ireland)