This blogger skimmed “Radio Congo” by Ben Rawlence, published in 2012. It is an autobiographical account of a 2007 trip to still-dangerous regions of the Congo adversely affected by the the country’s four recent wars– in 1964, 1977, 1996 and 2002; the second of which saw eight national armies and twelve armed groups fighting. The author resented having to hand over his “…precious francs to the insatiable Congolese bureaucracy” to interview, among many others, the non-refugees– people who stayed put during the violence.
Two major causes of all that strife is that 90% of the world’s mineral deposits are in the Congo– making it ripe for exploitation, and the fact that various regional ethnic groups hate each other.
Other bad situations the author heard about included: the spewing of lava on Goma in 2002, the demand for higher bribe amounts among local court judges due to economic recovery, and the fact that the incidence of rape in eastern Congo was the highest in the world. There were protection monies paid to soldiers by ten to fifteen thousand miners (in the amount of about $10,000 daily), and by poachers of antelope (whose meat was cheaper than goats’). Animal-park rangers also collected from the latter.
It behooved the local thugs to continue the hostilities. “Peace would mean the unwelcome attention of the government, the advent of commercial mining operations, taxation and the end of their private income… The usual tools of wartime– men and guns– are the deciding factor in most business arrangements and the colonel has the most in the region.”
The author spoke with all walks of life during his travels via hired vehicles and boats. “Each of these towns is a little island community unto itself, with its own radio, market and military command.” In Bujumbura, he encountered Americans whose U.S. government contract called for training the Burundian military. When Rawlence told people his main goal was to visit Manono, they thought he had a death wish. On the way, he ate chili, goat stew and tea in Walikale before he was told to leave, as foreigners were banned from that area. He was shoved onto an airplane loaded with tin ore to be smuggled back to Goma.
“Often the best way to solve a difficult problem in Congo is to get drunk.” The author went to a night club whose door sign proclaimed the wearing of vests, sandals and guns to be banned. In Magunga, the author was obligated by his hosts to attend Christian mass on Sunday morning, as all villagers did. It was a multilingual service; in Swahili, Kibembe and Kinyamulenge. The music ranged from drum and choir to car-battery powered electric piano.
Read the book to learn about the lives of the numerous refugees from Congo’s neighbors and about a boatload of other distasteful circumstances to which the author became privy– glutton for emotional trauma that he was.