New York Times correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman has a good summary of Congo’s never-ending civil war, which recently heated up when Rwanda-backed rebels captured and briefly held Goma, a large town in the east. Gettleman writes:
Congo has become a never-ending nightmare, one of the bloodiest conflicts since World War II, with more than five million dead. It seems incomprehensible that the biggest country in sub-Saharan Africa and on paper one of the richest, teeming with copper, diamonds and gold, vast farmlands of spectacular fertility and enough hydropower to light up the continent, is now one of the poorest, most hopeless nations on earth. Unfortunately, there are no promising solutions within grasp, or even within sight.
The problem, obviously, is that Congo has been plagued by egregious misgovernment and pervasive lack of security ever since winning independence. It goes without saying that colonial rule was awful in many respects–Congo was particularly savagely mistreated by Belgium’s King Leopold II in the late 19th century. Its condition only slightly improved when it went from being the king’s personal property to an official Belgian colony. But for all their sins (and there were many) the Belgians at least managed to keep the trains running more or less on time. Now those same trains are rotting away and the lack of transportation makes it impossible to get Congo’s rich agricultural bounty to market.