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Radio Congo: Signals of Hope from Africa's Deadliest War Paperback – 14 Jun 2012
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Although there are meetings with many optimistic people, I came away thoroughly depressed about the future of the country, and of course, about it's past, both colonial, and post-independence. The various ethnic groups have been pushed to hate each other by various groups, and this hatred led to the many wars that have engulfed the area in the last 25 years. Those wars have become a byword for casual atrocity, and the healing process hasn't really got under way yet.
Everywhere the author goes, there is decay and devastation: nothing works, neither government, army, militia, or even the UN and aid organisations who both appear to be way out of their depth.
All in all, a very good book, but don't expect to come away without some emotional turmoil.
After reading, I feel as though I have been on a journey through a place that I would not have otherwise heard about.
The journey is through the borderlands of Congo to the East of his route are Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi, Zambia and most of these countries have experienced an influx of refugees fleeing from the successive conflicts which have afflicted eastern Congo. Lake Tanganyika forms part of Congo's eastern border and in the absence of roads he travels by boat down the lake. When the lake runs out he takes to land and whatever vehicles he can find including jeep or pillion on motorcyles over roads which are no more.
The northern part of this journey is through that beautiful fertile Kivu region where many Rwandan Hutus fled with the Interahamwe to escape Tutsi vengence for the Rwandan genocide of 1994. That began a cycle of violence inside the borders of Zaire/Congo. Rwanda and others invaded. The Congo army and the foreign armies fought each other. Then the indigenous Mai Mai militia fought the Congo army. All of them preyed on the people and refugees flooded out of obliterated towns and villages to neighbouring countries. Ben Rawlence recounts the stories of many families who stayed behind and suffered the consequences. He also witnesses the organised, eager and hopeful return of many refugees to their homeland. Despite all that has happened so many just want to come home to reunite families and friends.
However, the divisions within the peoples of this region are still sharp. I was particularly struck by his account of his visit to the Banyamulenge, the Tutsis of Congo, high on their mountain farms surrounded by their enemies. He also recounts the awful treatment of the Batwa, the pygmy tribes whose forests are being destroyed. They are treated as serfs and slaves, (literally non-humans) by the other dominant Muntu tribes who have learned nothing from the brutal legacy of colonialism.
This is a very different account of a journey in Congo. The great river receives a mention but it is not the focal point of the journey. There is so much to learn from this account of these places and people.
One final thought. I travelled as a tourist through Uganda, Rwanda and the Kivu region of Zaire over 20 years ago. Then we went to see mountain gorillas and to climb to the summit of Nyiragongo volcano above Goma. Soon after I was there the volcano erupted and killed many people and then the whole region erupted in violence and destruction of the most awful kind. There has been nothing but bad news since then but this book gives glimpses of hope for the future. I hope that it endures.
Not a read-on-the-train book - it is too full of detail!
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