Saturday, January 07, 2006
The Heart of Darkness
The Lancet tells us that not only is the incredibly nasty and brutal war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo the largest war in terms of casualities since World War Two, with the total currently running at somewhere around four million, but it's killing around 38,000 a month, about two-thirds through preventible illness and malnutrition. There's a temptation to just throw your hands up in the face of data like that, aggravated by the fact that it is being fought in what looks like it's an irreparably failed post-Colonial state, so easy to write off as the product of a primitive, inexplicable and somewhat sui generis African mentality. That temptation should be resisted. Whilst the DR Congo has undoubtedly been and perhaps still is a failed state, Cold War complicity in the venal and brutal Mobuto regime as well as the willingness of various mining concerns to continue that cooperation and support with various equally, if not more, disgusting local and national warlords must mean that, quite apart from the simple concern for fellow humans' suffering, the West - another convenient generalisation, of course - must be some of the responsibility and burden for the war and its effects since it help created and sustain the situation in which it began and could continue. Very few conflicts in the post-Colonial world are the products of solely of local conditions and decisions: the economies and societies of these states, as in the rest of the world, are significantly integrated into a global economy and have social and cultural relationships with the former metropolis and other more developed states. That integration and those relationships structure these societies and their direction of evolution just as they structure and direct the evolution of others, and insofar as the West has a greater degree of control over the terms on which that integration and those relationships take place on, and has not done so, it bears some of the responsibility for what has happened in those states. The myth of the Heart of Darkness - which I understand may misjudge the novel it takes its name from - can obscure that fact by presenting post-Colonial states as insulated, otherworldly, somehow in the grip of motives inexplicable to the more advanced, civilised world, out of touch.