King Leopold’s Ghost

Part of me wonders what it was like in the colonial and pre-colonial era. A book called King Leopold’s Ghost, by Adam Hochschild, has been on my wishlist to read for some time. I imagine it would give insight into the roots of Congo.

Looking at the once beautiful colonial housing along the vast Congo river, I imagine it was a beautiful city in its hay-day. However, at that time, during the reign of King Leopold, things were anything but beautiful. Attributed to the slaughter of millions people, and the degradation of society, King Leopold’s mark on history is being rewritten in European history books. However, in the city where he once reeked havoc, they still have a statue in his honor.

Then I wonder what it was like before colonialism. One could say that parts of Congo have been less affected by outside influences, but I don’t believe that even the most remote of places in Congo have existed in a vacuum. They have certainly felt the impact of colonialism and the outside world, even if they haven’t reaped the benefits.

I imagine that parts of the culture have indeed been maintained, but I believe that a great deal has been degraded through now decades of fighting. On the one side you have ethnic tensions driving the on-going militant battles in Eastern DRC, stemming from the days of the Rwandan genocide.

Today you have people just trying to survive. Last night I looked at a hand written letter, as is the normal means of official communication here in DRC, that was from a community that we help serve, to the government. They letter basically said that the FARDC (the Congolese army) was not serving its duty to protect the people of this village. They requested that the government remove the inept army, causing more harm than good, and let them defend themselves against the various rebel armies in the area.

It is a sad state of affairs when lack of government pushes people to defend their homes or flee. Yet this is an ongoing part of life for far too many people in Eastern DRC.

Given brutal past and present, it is hard to envision Congo pulling out of such historical pressures. It is hard to differentiate the effects of colonialism when they are now such a part of the global story. One thing is true in Congo, you can feel the ghost of colonialism like an unshakable presence.


Leave a Comment