Just as the blizzard 0f praise for Black Panther
was rising to peak intensity my subscription copy of The Economist
arrived. It offered a neat counterpoint to the fantasy of Wakanda, the fictional black African nation — civilized, orderly, far advanced in technology
— of the movie
The cover story is about the Congo, a reliable source of atrocity porn for journalists
since I was in high school.
The low point was the war of 1998-2003 which was, says The Economist
, "the most lethal on any continent in most people’s lifetimes."
It sucked in soldiers from eight other countries. Mass rape became routine. No one knows how many people died of machete wounds, hunger and disease. Estimates range from 1m to over 5m. Four factors fed the war: an external shock to start it; a state too rotten to hold Congo together; vast mineral wealth that paid for weapons and was worth fighting over; and a tangle of ethnic and tribal grievances for warlords to exploit. [Congo’s war was bloody. It may be about to start again; The Economist, February 15th 2018.]
When, fifteen years after the event, war death numbers are not known even to the nearest million
, you're dealing with a seriously dysfunctional state.
For sure this is not Wakanda.
Congo is four times the size of France but has less paved road than Luxembourg … The city [Kinshasa] is one of the least connected in the world. The airport on the English channel island of Guernsey, with a population of 63,000, handles more passengers than Kinshasa’s.
Congolese politics appears not to be very strictly rule-governed. The current President, Joseph Kabila, is, The Economist
tells us, " in the seventh year of a five-year term." He doesn't seem much engaged with his country's stupendous problems.
Mr Kabila has amassed great wealth in office but shows little interest in governing. According to a friend, he is indecisive and introspective. He likes to collect motorbikes and old cars. He spends a lot of time on a farm he owns in Katanga, where he also has plenty of businesses. Some say he plays a lot of video games. He rarely appears in public or gives speeches.
There is of course a school of thought explaining it all as the fault of white people.
Making sense of it all is hard. Mr Kabila’s foes say he has deliberately stoked violence so that holding elections is impossible and he can stay in power. Others mutter conspiratorially that the West keeps Congo in chaos so as to extract its minerals.
Wouldn't those minerals be easier to extract if the regions they are located in were not the playgrounds of rampaging warlords and bandit gangs? But no doubt the white devils have their reasons for keeping the pot boiling.