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Congo Collapses…Again (1)

November 1, 2008

Washington Post piece on the Congo

A week ago, students at the University of Denver, most associated with the Korbel School of International Studies (where I teach), both grads and undergrads held a week of activities called `Congo Awareness Week’. The highlight of the week was a talk given by Guy Patrice Lumumba, son of the famous Congolese nationalist leader, first elected president of the Congo who was – with the connivance of Belgium, the United States and the United Nations – turned over to his political enemies in Katanga and then tortured and assassinated. According to Belgian journalist Colette Braeckmann (Le Dinosaur) Lumumba’s body was then dissolved in sulphuric acid so that a future grave site would not become a shrine for would be nationalists.

We’ll never know if Patrice Lumumba’s vision for the Congo and for Africa would have worked. His was `the road not taken’. But we do know that the road taken and directed by one Mobutu Seku Sesu for 35 years was one of economic collapse, olympic gold medal – level national theft (led by Mobutu himself), decades of oppression and ill conceived economic projects which in the 1990s left the Congo prostrate and open to the plague – a politically motivated plague – that would result in 6 million deaths in 10 years, the collapse of the state as a viable institution and untold suffering for the Congolese people. The United States, using Cold War logic, supported Mobutu from beginning to end and in a very real way, Mobutu’s failure is also America’s failure – perhaps its most dramatic one – in Africa. Yet throughout these recent years, even with the political chaos, the mines of the Eastern Congo and Katanga have continued to produce, the country’s wealth extracted often to the benefit of its neighbors (who are doing the extracting).

Guy Patrice Lumumba, Lumumba’s fifth child, would only be born six months after his father’s death.

We listened to Lumumba and his traveling associate, Maurice Carney, national coordinator of Friends of the Congo, tease out and explain some of the economic and political roots of the current crisis. I’ll try to follow and explain these themes and the events in the Congo in the weeks ahead.

At the University of Denver, we are trying to put together an on-going project to address the Congo humanitarian crisis and to look for political solutions that could defuse it. The initiative could not be more timely. More soon

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