Undergraduate thesis, June 2007
In Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness,’ first published in 1899 and years later subject to a polemical but much-needed critique by one of Africa’s most prolific writers, King Leopold’s colonial project in the Congo is described as ‘the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience.’ More than a century later, after a protracted war in which an estimated 4.2 million citizens perished and the nation’s stability was invested in the UN’s largest peacekeeping force to date, Conrad’s oft-repeated phrase is, tragically, just as pertinent.
Yet despite such baffling statistics, the Congo receives only cursory attention in the international media. When Western news analysts do find something of relevance to disseminate to their audiences, it remains unknowingly tainted by the same discourse which animated the historical narratives of European travelers and writers such as Conrad, seeking to project an image of this other world as antithetical in its “triumphant bestiality” to civilized European society. To be sure, Conrad’s writings carry overtly racist descriptions considered unacceptable today, but the simple act of using the title “Heart of Darkness” to describe the Congo war, as one American news report did in January 2002, perpetuates historical representations of the Congo as “inherently chaotic and irrational” and guarantees that western observers, worlds away from the daily suffering of the people on their television screens, will dismiss acts of violence as “lacking in political rationale.” With the purpose of rectifying common misrepresentations, this paper attempts to provide a more accurate depiction of the second Congo war.