Term Paper: Congo and African Studies

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Congo and African Studies

Those who are conquered always want to imitate the conqueror in his main characteristics-in his clothing, his crafts, and in all his distinctive traits and characteristics." -Ibn Khaldun

This assertion, from the fourteenth century, is most definitely not an inarguable one. Many conquered peoples undoubtedly harbor hate and resentment for their conquerors, especially those who were defeated in a vicious manner. A more insidious phenomenon, though, is the tendency of a conquered people to become like their conquerors once they are themselves again victorious. By "conquered," it should be noted that a violent battle is not the primary significance of the word-conquered may refer to economic defeat, business takeovers and cultural evolution ("cultural imperialism" is one term bantered around in this realm) as well as to violent physical oppression.

The conquered people may not adopt the behaviors of their conquerors consciously; they might even try to avoid endeavors and systems installed by their one-time rulers. Similar to the phenomenon in sociology that has proven individuals who suffer abuse during childhood are more likely to become abusers themselves, nations who were mistreated as colonies have difficulty transitioning to self-rule without repeating the mistakes of their "parent" countries.

A modern example of this behavior is that of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DROC), a Belgian colony until 1960. The colonial history of Congo includes genocide, forced labor, exploitation of the country's natural resources, and impoverishment of the peasantry. Upon gaining independence, no one can doubt the Congolese people's desire to move away from these tragic events. Unfortunately, the recent history of the DROC is littered with political strife, assassinations, economic instability and impoverishment, and genocide. How much of this may be attributed to the Belgian colonization has not yet been determined and may never be a quantifiable figure; however, there is a strong case that the Belgian colonial influence is a significant factor in the climate of the present-day DROC.

A plan to demonstrate the hypothesis that Belgian colonialism heavily influences the current Democratic Republic of the Congo in this essay. First, I will present a brief history of oppressive actions perpetrated against the people of the DROC by their colonial government from 1890-1960, the Belgians.

In the next section of the essay, I will examine specific behaviors of the post-colonial Congolese (both positive and negative) which mirror the behaviors or characteristics of the Belgian rulers, and explore how these similarities came to exist. I will also investigate alternate reasons for these similarities, other than my own hypothesis. In the final part of this essay, I will weigh all of these factors in considering if my above statement has been justified by this examination of influences.

ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL AFFAIRS OF THE DROC

The current situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is one that has garnered international humanitarian attention for its oppression. A 2005 Human Rights Watch report spoke of civilians being attacked by the army, sexual assaults on civilian women by soldiers, and the persecution and murder of human rights activists.

The citizens of the DROC live in fear of the ethnic and racial strife of the region spilling over into their village. In addition to this tension between villages and between soldiers and civilians, political strife is also common. As recently as 2001, the president of the nation, Laurent Kabila, was assassinated, throwing the nation into even more turmoil. Kabila was assuredly not a bastion of political freedom himself; upon being sworn in as president in 1997, he outlawed political competition and most likely supported the genocide of Rwandan Hutu refugees to the DROC. During this time, the bloodshed and atrocities were so severe that the United Nations, for a short while, sent peacekeeping troops to the DROC in order to restore order.

Prior to Kabila's tenure as president, the DROC had only one other leader-Mobutu Sese Seiko, a colonel in the army during the colonial period-who had served since 1960. Mobutu, during his thirty-year era as prime minister and then president, heavily influenced the current situation in the DROC. His political and economic practices shaped the country for years after he died, from his encouragement of foreign investment in the Congo's plentiful natural resources to the nationalization of these firms in an unsuccessful attempt to increase employment in the nation. These exploitations-first of the DROC's mineral and other natural resources, and then of Congolese workers, followed the intent, if not the letter, of previous exploitations of the nation and its citizens by the Belgian colonial power.

All stated intentions aside, Mobutu's behavior as well as that of Kabila during the late 90s did not make much more "progress," in terms of creating an egalitarian society with a profitable, stable economy than the Belgian colonials had done. Mobutu, in fact, so devastated the Congolese economy that in 1993, he issued a new batch of currency that was declared as having no monetary value and inspired a rampage by the army which killed fifty civilians when they were paid with the new currency.

The destruction of the DROC's natural resources continues in the era of self-governance unabated from the era of colonial exploitation of minerals, precious metals, and animal products (i.e ivory). Some observers postulated that the exploitation of the Congo's resources actually got worse under self-governance due to increased demand and an increased need for income. One Congolese journalist noted that the DROC was "too vast, too rich, and too poorly developed; Congo possesses too much mineral wealth for its own good, and this incites lust in the hearts of foreign governments." For example, the DROC exported 19,000 carats of diamonds in July 1998, while Rwanda, a nation of similar diamond mining capabilities, only exported 1,500 carats.

There are fabulous riches being pulled out from underneath us, but the population does not benefit at all. Instead, we suffer," said one Congolese resident about the situation. This current mood of instability and exploitation makes the residents of the Democratic Republic of the Congo at least as fearful of the government and as impoverished and persecuted as they were under Belgian rule; the injustice is likely harder to bear now, when it comes at the hands of countrymen instead of foreign rulers. As these incidents and recent history show, the current governance situation in the DROC is one that is similar in its failures to the Belgian governance of the first half of the twentieth century.

This governance, from King Leopold II's late 19th-century, semi-secret endeavor to create a colony in the Congo through the nation's 1960 independence from Belgian rule, exploited the region's natural resources for profit, abused the labor force in mining and harvesting rubber, and, under Leopold, committed genocidal acts against the Congolese without redress or retribution. The history of Belgian governance is permanently tainted by Leopold's egregious abuses of power, his implicit endorsement of genocide by the army, and his avaricious usage of natural resources. The exploitive effects of Belgian rule can still be seen in the DROC, as I will demonstrate in the following section.

EFFECTS OF BELGIAN COLONIALISM IN THE DROC

The lingering effects of Belgian influence in the Democratic Republic of Congo are predominantly negative; however, it would be unfair to characterize this influence as one hundred percent detrimental. As such, I will first discuss a few benefits that the DROC has gleaned from its time as a colony.

One is the basic infrastructure which exists. Although the current infrastructure may be run down, imagine instead if there were none at all. Colonization provided this basic system of roads and similar public assets. In a related vein, the Belgian's attraction to the natural resources of the area led them to establish mines, prospect for valuable minerals, and in turn, provide a source of income for the DROC via its exports. If handled responsibly and not exploited (which, sadly, is not the case today), mining the precious metals and stones and harvesting rubber and other resources could serve as a viable stream of income for the nation and lessen its dependence on foreign debt and aid.

It is impossible to remain unbiased, however, when considering the lasting effects of colonialism on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The detrimental effects far outweigh the slight benefits, and the harm done to the DROC over the years is far more substantial than any residual benefits gleaned from the Belgian colonization. The most tragic legacies left by colonialism are the memories of the barbaric genocide perpetrated by militias of colonial powers; in the Congo the lopping off of hands as punishment for not meeting a rubber harvesting quota was common.

This legacy of abuse and torture exists in the collective unconscious of a nation, although the practice may no longer flourish; the imprint of abuse and torture at the hands of a colonial power still reside in the psyche of Congolese, tempering their trust of outsiders and influencing their ideas of how productivity is created in a labor force. Leopold's utter abandonment of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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