Thursday, 17 October 2013

Everybody wants a piece of the Congo...


As with all resolutions, (especially gym-related ones) I have stayed true to my word for the first day. I have gone out as soon as possible to the gym with a strange, unnatural amount of vigour for a teenager. A little part in the back of my head knows for a fact that within a few days the trainers will be kicked into embarrassed exile underneath the bed and never show themselves again for fear of offending the cake that I am consuming with the correct amount of vigour (you can never be too energetic when it comes to cake). I realise that this is the second time that I have used an exercise metaphor in an article, and please don't be fooled that I do more exercise than is absolutely required of me by the school. Exercise, for me, is almost as bad as maths. Anyway, weird, unrelated metaphors aside, here I am. I don't bother telling you who 'me' is, because nobody else would still be rambling on about completely pointless, piffling and boring things nine lines into the article without making any reference at all to anything remotely historical. Again, please feel free to skip this article if you can deal with the guilt.
 So. History. History History History. The funny thing is, this post sounds like I had no idea what to write and so started rambling weirdly, but I honestly have wanted to write this article for ages. Sorry. Okay.
 Basically, the other day I watched 'Dan Snows History of the Congo'; partly because I know nothing about the Congo, and partly because I know nothing about Dan Snow, and had heard they were both interesting. I have to say that I was simultaneously pleasantly surprised and crushingly disappointed. You'll have to work out which topic induced each emotion, but I’ll give you a tip: This article isn’t called 'Everybody wants a piece of Dan Snow'. The Congo, however, blew me away. It may be due to my primary school education that I mentioned in another post, where my lessons on Africa can be summed up by the first sentence of my history lesson: ''It was ours, but we gave it back''. I won't lie; it didn’t really cause an unquenchable thirst for knowledge of African history to rise up in me, never to be truly quelled. Turns out that the Congo is actually pretty interesting, who knew? So basically, in the 1800s the Belgians didn't really have much of an empire. Or an empire at all, in fact. And Britain, big old Britain that was just across the water, had a massive whopping great empire. So it made perfect sense, really, for Belgium to own a little bit of land for itself, a 'place in the sun'. When I say Belgium, I mean King Leopold II, who for the sake of my hands we'll call Leo from now on. But Leo's a King, and has no intention of holiday-home shopping for himself, really, so he sends off the famous explorer, Sir Henry Morton Stanley to find him somewhere, preferably in Africa. Imagine Bear Grylls meets 'Location, Location, Location'. So anyway, off pops Henry and he comes across the Congo, which was a little bit of a gold mine in terms of natural resources, and decides that its a pretty good prize to take back to Leo, who had been waiting a little while for him. Leo likes what he hears, and pretty much takes the Congo, acquiring the rights to the land in 1855. Leo turns a little bit nasty in the quest for ridiculous amounts of money and starts exploiting the Congolese in order to run a new railway right through the Congo and also for the rubber trade, which made Leo very rich (which could in some way be confused with 'happy'). However, to keep such a trade going a large amount of rubber was needed, and the seeing as it would cost money to bring over Belgian labour, it seemed logical to use the Congolese as labour. And this is where I get a little bit angry. It does that sometimes, History, makes me really annoyed at things that happened way before I was even born. But basically it was decided that a really great idea was to scare your labourers into doing what you want, and the best way to do that was violence. Oh yeah, great idea. So the practise became to cut off the limbs of Congolese that were not thought to be working hard enough. Because obviously somebody with only one hand will be able to work faster than somebody with two. (It’s the stupidity, really, that annoys me). And because they were not being looked after in any way, disease set in. It is thought the half the population died in the period that the Belgian’s were in charge, as a direct result of disease or exploitation.  The Congo then stopped being owned by Leo and became owned by the Belgium parliament, which they didn’t really want to do, but it improved the situation for the Congolese a little bit.
 And then the bit I love happened. Because Henry, and Leo, and even the Belgian government overlooked one tiny, inconsequential thing. They failed to pay any attention to the people. Good old ordinary, average, brilliant people. Because the people of Congo weren't content to be exploited and used any more. And finally, they decided to do something about it. Because although they were treated awfully, they were still people, with rights. And people with rights should fight for them.
 So that’s what they did. Patrice Lumumba and his MNC Party won an election, and independence was achieved shortly afterwards in 1960. Yay for the Congo. But don’t get too settled, because everything soon goes mental again when a crises between the two leaders Lumumba and Kasavubu leads to Lumumba being kidnapped and executed. Since then, the Congo has been through three civil wars and a weird cold war period in which the bloke called Mobutu seized power in a one-party state and did this whole 'personality cult' thing, which never ends well. But basically, tats all I really know about the Congo. I'll try and find out more, but not now, because food is calling me. And you never ignore food.
 So there we are. My own 'History of the Congo'. Eat your heart out, Dan Snow.


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