Congo: The Epic History of a People
David Van Reybrouck
From the beginnings of the slave trade through colonization, the struggle for independence, Mobutu's brutal three decades of rule, and the civil war that has raged from 1996 to the present day, Congo: The Epic History of a People traces the history of one of the most devastated nations in the world. Esteemed scholar David Van Reybrouck balances hundreds of interviews with a diverse range of Congolese with meticulous historical research to construct a multidimensional portrait of a nation and its people.
Epic in scope yet eminently readable, both penetrating and deeply moving, Congo—a finalist for the Cundill Prize—takes a deeply humane approach to political history, focusing squarely on the Congolese perspective, and returns a nation's history to its people.
proof that he had no control over his troops, not even his own elite troops, rather than any demonstration of active malice on his part. Mobutu had wanted to show that he was a powerful figure with powerful principles; Kabila had to hide the fact that he was a weak figure surrounded by feeble institutions. But there was no hiding: soon enough, Kinshasa was buzzing with rumors that Kabila was hooked on cocaine—no, that he spent the whole day playing with his Nintendo—no, that he had been shot and
well informed. During our talk, I fill ten pages with notes. He tells me how it had all started in Guangzhou in 2000, when a group of West Africans, Senegalese, and Malians, arrived within a few months of each other. They stayed at a Muslim hotel close to Tianxiu. He tells me how easy it was to obtain a visa back then, even for six months, even for a year. What a difference compared to the situation today, where you’re lucky to receive a visa for just two weeks, he sighs, where people go
exist on various themes. Their cross-sectional perspective makes them worth noting here. Concerning education and science one has the work of Ruben Mantels, Geleerd in de tropen: Leuven, Congo, en de wetenschap, 1885–1960 (Leuven/Louvain, Belgium, 2007), as well as that of Benoît Verhaegen, L’enseignement universitaire au Zaïre: De Lovanium à l’Unaza, 1958–1978 (Paris, 1978). Kuvuande Mbote has written about architecture, as has Bruno De Meulder in Een eeuw koloniale architectuur en stedenbouw in
along the route under construction. The job was finished in 1898. At the festive opening, white people trundled along from Matadi to Kinshasa, a nineteen-hour journey, in tuxedo and décolleté. Along the way there were fireworks and here and there blacks in uniform stood and saluted. At some of the stations the travelers were treated to hymns sung by the choirs from the local mission posts, accompanied by a rickety harmonium.51 The celebrated narrow-gauge railway was in fact merely a a tramway
broke out, Unilever took a beating as well. A kilo of palm oil went for 5.9 francs in 1929; by 1934 that was down to 1.3 francs.25 The company felt obliged to recoup a portion of the losses from its workers. By the mid-1930s, they were paying only three centimes per kilo of palm nuts, rather than twenty.26 That led to a great dissatisfaction. The state boosted taxes while the company scuttled its compensation. Things could not go on that way for long. Here too, socioeconomic unrest manifested