ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Congo's Many Plunderers

Some of the rebels in Congo who turned against Laurent Kabila are principled people who did so because Kabila did not live up to his democratic promises. But for many rebels gold and diamonds matter more and the civil war is less about ideology than about who is going to continue the plundering. The country is in effect split in several pieces and half a dozen neighbouring countries are backing one faction or another.

Many people today often seem surprised that Africa is in such bad shape. The old Soviet gulag is no more; in eastern Europe they’ve opened the secret police files; in Latin America military dictators are almost all gone. Why does Africa lag so far behind? Many of its states haven’t bothered to stage an election, much less an honest one, in years. Its economy is largely a wreck. And now, ominously, Congo, the vast, mineral-rich country that is one-thirteenth of the continent’s land mass, is embroiled in what has been called “Africa’s first world war”. The country is in effect split in several pieces, and half a dozen nearby nations are backing one faction or another.

Given Africa’s history, however, its current troubles should be no surprise. For the last four hundred years, to be an African – and especially to be a Congolese – has meant, above all, to be plundered. First came the slave-traders, who shipped millions of Africans across the North Atlantic in chains to the New World. We think of slaves as coming from west Africa, as indeed was the case with most of those brought to the American colonies. But central Africa fell victim as well: traders captured millions more Africans from the Congo River basin and surrounding territories and took them on the shorter trip across the South Atlantic to Brazil, to be worked to death on coffee plantations. And the slavers didn’t just raid the central African coast; they ranged hundreds of miles into the interior.

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