Congo is a country where few venture, but author Ben Rawlence traversed the country to experience for himself the aftermath of colonialism and multiple wars.
Travelling through a country that has mutated from The Belgian Congo, through to Zaire, to what is now a Democratic Republic, is Rawlence foolhardy or brave? He embarks on a journey through inhospitable terrain in rust-bucket boats, on motorbikes, bicycles and on foot - his end goal: the city of Manono, the erstwhile largest tin trading city of the country. His book is full of interesting facts; Congo has 80% of the world’s mineral resources, which is why it suffered so many incursions from neighbouring countries and the Colonial West. Yet it profits from virtually none of the income. Wars, Mai Mai atrocities and subjugation have all left their scars on this wonderful – and potentially rich – country, both in terms of disintegrating military equipment (including 6 anti-tank mines nestling under the pier at Moba); and in terms of the emotional legacy on the people, many of whom have had to flee their homes (several times) only to return to ruined communities. Yet, they still seem determined to rebuild.
The structure of the book is very readable, broken down into reasonably short chapters. Rawlence writes in a beautiful, lyrical style, whether he's introducing us to some of the eccentric characters he meets along the way or whether describing the scenes he encounters, both harsh and beautiful - landscapes of rusting scraps of artillery and fragrant jungle scenes. Congo is a country rendered to bare earth, and reclaimed by the jungle, yet the people seem resilient and optimistic, despite the tragic past. The legacy of emotional scarring will take quite some time to heal.