What the hell is the DRC? Or, should I say, DR Congo which let's face it, we all read as "Doctor Congo" at some time or other.
I was telling some friends about a graphic novel I was given for my birthday that goes by the name of "Unknown Soldier: First six comics, reads very well, although it is basically the classic anti-hero 'modern' reading of the superhero. Bulgy bloke wearing some kind of facial impediment/mask; a bit moody, a bit attractive, carrying moral ambiguity and a great big fat weapon; goes in to wargasm at the slightest opportunity, thus affording lots of chopped off heads, blood sloshing around the page like an abattoir... you know the sort of thing? Transfer that identikit character to the Democratic Republic of Congo during the African World War. Lots of research, lots of DVD's of Congolese natural surroundings, villages and stuff used as reference material for the illustrator. It's really not bad (just formulaic, which you can say about a hell of a lot graphic novels), and I read it on the way to work.
That then got me interested in finding out a bit more than the stuff I already knew about the DRC ie: rape of the land, the Belgian King Leopold, absolute rabid lunatic leading the Lord's Resistance Army, unbearable *unbearable* human consequences... the injuries to those left alive by the Lord's Army are and were so unbelievable, I'm sure that many of them wished that they had been the ones that died. 5 million people died, and yet the western media only really talked about it on specialist 'foreign correspondent' news programmes. I remember listening to "Our correspondent" on Radio 4, and, similar to the appalling horror the Haitian people went through recently, I found that the radio left so much for your imagination to fill in, it was actually far more horrific than watching news footage. Not that there was much of that with the DRC wars. I had to switch the radio off because the story a little boy was telling, about him having to watch his sister raped and killed, then have to kill his best friend with a machete (because if he hadn't, he would have been killed himself)... I felt weak for turning it off, so later read his story on the Beeb news website. I'm sure I mentioned it on here at the time (can't find the URL now, annoyingly, but search for Congo and there's a ton of Foreign Correspondent stuff on the Beeb).
So. The story of the DRC up to where they are today is worth an investment of time, if only to think - surely this must be the very worst experience of colonialism and post-colonial breakdown on the planet. Surely? Surely they're over the worst? In Africa, it can be difficult to sort the wood from the trees. Here's a couple of links to whet your appetite:
The Wikipedia DRC page gives a potted history which makes clear what the country was like before, and after colonialisaton. If you're not scraping your jaw from the floor, I'd be amazed.
And here's a brilliant blog by a Congolese bloke called Alex Engwete. Firstly, to take you right up to date after the Wikipedia history, here's Alex talking about the military/political deal that took place between the DRC and Uganda at the beginning of 2009, which has succeeded in annexing part of the country, and made the violence worse, in Alex's (and many other Congolese' opinions): "Two African Scumbags of the year 2009". He's not mincing his words, and he backs up his argument with good sources. And in case you want some more of Alex's great, rambling writing, here's the front of his blog which, joyously at present features front page a trip he recently made to Edinburgh. His descriptions of his, and his fellow countrymen/women flying are excellent.
Whilst I was noodling around Google I came across a few links discussing Congolese graphic artists and the possibility of some home grown graphic novels about the African World War. Tantalisingly a little out of reach for a cursory search, I'll do my best to come up with something, they're bound to be well worth surfacing. Meanwhile, the interesting news is that "Unknown Soldier" is now painted by a Congolese artist, Pat Masioni, so the later copies, from about 13 onward, will be even more authentic looking than the early ones.