Some news has recently come out of the Democratic Republic of Congo. For a change it is not about disease, although ebola is still wreaking havoc among the people. It is not about terrible leaders, of which the country has had more than its fair share – from Mobutu Sese Seko to Kabila Senior to Kabila fils – who even now sits in his palace in Kinshasa, surrounded by armed guards as he plays computer games on his Sony PlayStation. Of course, it is not about King Leopold II of Belgium, the overlord of ‘Congo Free State’ and later ‘Belgian Congo’ whose ‘Force Publique’ worked the Congolese to the bone producing rubber for him, killing off millions of the hapless Africans through overwork and disease at the end of the nineteenth century, going into the twentieth.
Perhaps no other African country has had such a colourful and sordid past as the Congo has had, and experienced the leadership of such a succession of unscrupulous scoundrels who ranged from bible thumping colonialists who believed ardently in the civilizing mission of the white man and his God-given right to other people’s land and minerals, to local warlords in the service of various ‘businessmen’ and foreign companies, latterly mostly Chinese, out to mine precious minerals, who casually slaughtered their fellow citizens and raped women as trophies of a war without end.
For a brief spell, long ago, the Congo appeared to be an African nation destined for greatness, on account of its great natural wealth, which had attracted the Belgians and other Europeans to the land in the first place, despite the ravages of local diseases that were endemic in the jungle, which all too often threatened to decimate the ranks of European adventurers. After the savage horrors of Belgian colonialism, a local man named Patrice Lumumba, mouthing socialist rhetoric, appeared truly to believe in the possibilities of the republic. He became Prime Minister.
But true to the African story, crisis immediately arose among the politicians, with personal ambitions stoking the embers of ethnic tensions. The province of Katanga under Moise Tshombe and South Kasai attempted to secede.
Recently de-classified documents in the USA confirm what had been previously widely speculated – that the inner circles of American power, in collusion with the Belgians, decided that this ‘leftist’ stirring up socialist sentiments in the jungles of the Congo and seeking alliance with the Soviet Union in an emerging country that was potentially the richest in Africa was an existential threat to ‘Western’ interests. ‘Regime change’ – a bye-word for political assassination, was ordered. The pliable ‘President’ peremptorily deposed his activist Prime Minister. Patrice Lumumba was executed by local soldiers on the 17th of January 1961. He had been in office for barely three months before his deposition, and barely a half year before his execution.
As the ‘Western’ plot unfolded, the Army Chief of Staff, a greedy barely literate military officer by the name of ‘Joseph Mobutu’ who suited the ‘anti-communist strong man’ book of the ‘West’ formally assumed power in a coup d’état in 1965. He would wreak untold systematic havoc on an already ravaged people in the ensuing two decades, leading them down the path of a bizarre ‘authenticity’ program in which he changed his name and the name of the nation even as he stole the country blind, buying mansions in Belgium and stashing millions in Swiss banks. The rest, as they say, is history.
After his overthrow in 1997 following the First Congo war – a war that played into the ethnic fault lines of a polyglot state, Laurent Kabila, a Tutsi militia leader, became President.
There would still be no peace for the Congolese. Within a year, the Second Congolese war would be unleashed, which would involve not only ethnic Congolese but eight African countries with ethnic affiliations and geo-political interests in the area. The killing of Congolese citizens, as usual, took place on an industrial scale. Five and a half million Congolese would lose their lives in the war. Most of them would be non-combatants, and a lot of them would be women and children.
After Kabila’s assassination in 2001, he was succeeded by his son Joseph. Joseph, charming, elegant, ever smartly dressed in the best designer suits, has sat over the country to the present day. He has ‘won’ rigged elections, but now even the rigged ‘constitution’ says it is time for him to go. Elections, long delayed, are in imminent prospect in the ‘republic’. Colourful charismatic ‘opposition leaders’ – themselves millionaires and scoundrels no better than the younger Kabila, are jostling to take over power and continue where the Kabilas left off. It is a fine mess.
The common thread in all of the sick drama is the relentless murder and rape of Congolese citizens, at the hands of various militias, and at the hands also of the so-called ‘Congolese National Army’.
Which brings us to the item in the news – to wit that a Congolese citizen, a doctor, has won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2018.
It is so much of an unaccustomed honour for the citizens of the ‘Democratic Republic’ that it has left the hapless Congolese blinking in the glare of positive world attention, despite the fact that the news carries a sweet and sour taste.
Dr Denis Mukwenge is a Gynaecologist who runs Panzi Hospital in Bukavu Province of the Congo. He works eighteen-hour days treating women who have been raped and sexually brutalized. He has treated thousands of women, in the process becoming the world’s leading expert on the surgical treatment of women who have been brutally, repeatedly raped. Sometimes he does more than ten surgeries in one day.
Nothing illustrates the plight of the people of Africa’s richest country, currently 176 among 187 nations in the Human Development Index, than the nature of the distinction achieved by this great African man, which is an enforced response to the living horror that is the everyday life of his countrymen and women.
Africans should celebrate the Nobel peace prize of Dr Mukwenge. After all he could have joined the ‘brain drain’ that has afflicted doctors and other highly skilled citizens of several African nations, including Nigeria. He could have gone for a more prosperous, safer, less strenuous career in France or Belgium. His staying, apart from everything else, exposes him to the daily danger of being shot dead by the militias, or by the so-called ‘national’ army. Sometimes he must despair at what impact his efforts are achieving. For every rape victim he patches up and rehabilitates successfully, there are hundreds of others who cannot reach help. And he is just one citizen, trying vainly to clear the mess of a failing society. He cannot end the wars, he cannot make the young men stop joining the militias, and he cannot make the country’s government, or its army behave better than they have always done.
Perhaps the real impact of Dr Mukwenge’s Nobel Prize will be that it will serve as a call to action for patriotic citizens, especially the elite, of any and every one of Africa’s several failing states, including Nigeria, a sense of shame and horror, mingled with a renewed determination, and crystallizing in a new slogan – ‘We can do better than this, surely!’
, Denis Mukwenge
, Nobel Peace Prize