Congo: One Hundred Years of Colonialism, Dictatorship and War (1908 - 2008)

21 November 2008

Friends of the Congo/

Saturday, November 15, 2008 marked the
100-year anniversary of the removal of
the Congo from King Leopold II of Belgium as
his own personal property. Global
outrage of the King’s brutal rule
resulted in his losing the Congo treasure
trove on November 15, 1908.

Leopold II accumulated spectacular wealth for
himself and the Belgian state during
his 23-year dominion (1885 – 1908) over
the Congo. During this period an
estimated 10 million Congolese lost their
lives while Leopold systematically looted
the Congo of its rubber and ivory riches.
Congo was handed over to Belgium who
ruled as a colonial power from 1908 to 1960.
Congo finally got its independence
on June 30, 1960 when Patrice Emery Lumumba,
its first democratically elected
prime minister took office. Unfortunately,
the western powers, primarily the United
States and Belgium could not allow a fiercely
independent African to consolidate
his power over such a geo-strategic prize as
the Congo. He was removed from power
in a western backed coup within weeks and
assassinated on January 17, 1961. Belgium
apologized for its role in Lumumba’s
assassination in 2002 and the US still
downplays its role in Lumumba’s
assassination. The US replaced Lumumba with
the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and backed him
until he was overthrown in 1997.
The overthrow of Mobutu unleashed an ongoing
resource war that has caused deep
strife and unbearable suffering for the
Congolese people, particularly the women
and the children. It is estimated that Congo
has lost nearly six million people
since the 1996 invasion by Rwanda and Uganda
with support from the United States
and other Western nations.

A century later, Congo is at another
crossroads. In spite of the advances in
and the shrinking of the world, it is curious
that there is such silence around
the suffering of the Congolese people due to
the exploitation of powerful corporate
and foreign forces beyond its people’s
immediate control. Unlike the early
1900s, remarkably, today there are few if any
voices the likes of Mark Twain who
wrote King

Leopold’s Soliloquy,Joseph Conrad, The
Heart of Darkness (Often misread as Congo or Africa being dark but
he was referring to the dark hearts of the
exploiters of the Congo), and
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes
fame who wrote Crime in the Congo.

The Congo Reform movement that drew from the work
of African Americans such as William
Sheppard and George Washington Williams and
led by European figures such as Robert
Casement and E.D. Morel gave birth to the
modern international human rights movement.

One hundred years later we are again calling
on the global community to be at
the side of the Congolese. This time, there
is one fundamental difference,
the Congolese are agents in this narrative
and the call this time is not a hand-over
to a colonial power or neo-colonial
institutions but rather to the people of the

The clarion call is for the combating of the
forces (local elites and rebels,
foreign governments, foreign corporations,
and multi-lateral institutions) that
have the Congolese people in a death trap.
The charity prism of the humanitarian
industry is not the answer. It only
perpetuates dependency and dis-empowerment.
Should Congo be truly liberated, the
Darfurizaton (emptying of
agency from the afflicted people) of the
global movement in support of the Congo
must be avoided at all cost. Congolese must
be agents rather than objects in the
pursuit of the control of their land and
their lives. The sovereignty of the people
and control and ownership of the riches of
their land is the fundamental human right
for which we must advocate. It is a call not only
for the Congo but the entire African

Become a part of the global movement
to Break the Silence as the Congolese pursue
true sovereignty and liberty.

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