Writing in the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books, Adam Hochschild provides a compelling description of “more than a decade of a bewilderingly complex civil war” in eastern Congo. The piece is required reading for anyone interested in learning more about the region host to the world’s deadliest war.
Hochschild understands the history of predation in Congo. His book King Leopold’s Ghost explored the atrocities committed by the Belgian King Leopold, who tyrannically controlled the Congo Free State from 1885 to 1908. In lucid detail, Hochschild described the cultivation of Congo’s “red rubber” and the work of those activists in Africa and Europe who fought for change.
In this latest piece, Hochschild explores the violence-plagued region with the detailed eye of a writer looking to teach a new audience about the complexities of the ongoing war. In a single paragraph, he hits on a series of key conflict drivers and adroitly demonstrates the interconnectedness of the region’s problems:
Four problems, above all, drive Congo’s unrelenting bloodshed. One is long-standing antagonism between certain ethnic groups. A second is the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the two million or so people who flowed across Congo’s porous border in its aftermath: Hutu killers, innocent Hutu who feared retribution, and a mainly Tutsi army in pursuit, bent on vengeance. The third is a vast wealth in natural resources—gold, tungsten, diamonds, coltan (a key ingredient of computer chips), copper, and more—that gives ethnic warlords and their backers, especially Rwanda and Uganda, an additional incentive to fight. And, finally, this is the largest nation on earth—more than 65 million people in an area roughly as big as the United States east of the Mississippi—that has hardly any functioning national government. After Laurent Kabila was assassinated in 2001, his son Joseph took power in Kinshasa, and won an election in 2006, but his corrupt and disorganized regime provides few services, especially in the more distant parts of the country, such as Goma, which is more than one thousand miles east of the capital.
Stories from the field are juxtaposed with this well articulated description of the causes of violence throughout the article. Included in Hochschild’s narrative are frank discussions of sexual violence and rape used as a weapon of war, described with a careful eye toward demonstrating how women who themselves have experienced such violence now work to help others. These discussions are difficult. Raising awareness about the horrors of sexual violence is crucial, but it is also necessary to ensure that eastern Congo’s women, whose strength and courage in the face of atrocities defies imagination, are not portrayed simply as victims. They are survivors, and Hochschild deftly paints them as such.