The heart of brightness

Reporting on the Democratic Republic of the Congo is not easy. Still, there are journalists and analysts who manage to maintain a reasonable well balanced style. Others regularly fall prey to the most damaging clichés, from 1960 to present. Barely knowing about DRC’s complexities in terms of politics and society, they employ crude narratives displaying the country and its people as godforsaken, retarded, cannibalist, hopeless, or other scathing attributes. When I talk to Congolese, their chagrin and disappointment about being treated under-age, like dullards not able to organise themselves is explicit.

These are just very few articles employing pejorative lingo of Joseph Conrad’s emblematic novel (which has been written in the second last century, just as a reminder…):,9171,827134,00.html

Of course, there is plenty of reasons why we could call Congo a desperate country, a lost war of humanity, a black hole, and whatever else we have in mind in terms of sensationalist, paternalist metaphors. But should we? Does it make anything better? Do we live up to the country’s complexity and its citizens’ dignity? I guess not.

Travelling to and partly living in the Congo and its neighbouring countries for quite some years now, I have had the chance to experience lots of moments that go way beyond simplistic ideas of blatant despair and brutalised day-to-day. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, including its surroundings, is a place where you can find much more love than you would ever expect. Unfortunately, many reporters, businesspeople, and officials jetting in and out the country do not seem to a have a real opportunity to get  glimpse of that. Not surprising, they usually do one of the following things:

a) Coming to Kinshasa for meetings, being harassed at the airport upon arrival, struggling to get through from Ndjili to La Gombe, being begged by street children in front of the Memling hotel, talking to shady foreign or local elites, flying out again.

b) Coming to Goma for a field visit, being intimidated by the bizarre mood at the airport, struggling to get to all the potholes in town, being woken up by nearby gunfire at night, visiting an IDP camp in disastrous condition, flying out again.

Fair enough, there is a wide range of sensory experience that could make you think this is “hell on earth” or “world’s rape capital” (yet for this one phrase one could argue that H.E. Wallstrøm was a serious miscast). On the other side, those satisfied with such superficial impressions should definitely hold themselves at fault for not grasping the Congo. Full stop.

No matter if journalist, humanitarian, politician, or tradesperson – when travelling to other countries, especially such as the DRC which is indeed not a simple case for Westerners, a minimum amount of interest, openness, and curiosity can be expected. Otherwise the best advise would be to stay at home and enjoy electricity, wifi, and an in-fridge ice-cube machine.

Stepping beside the easy track, wonderful things are to be explored. Congolese people are – despite rampant insecurity, armed conflict, humanitarian emergency, and any other symptom of man-made disaster – heartwarming, loving, caring, joyful, affectionate, and tender. I stop here, since I do not have the time to look up more of these words in the dictionary. Congolese people do not like war – not even the numerous combatants I have spoken to. Rape and torture is not part of the genetic configuration, certainly not. It develops, unfortunately, as a consequence of experience and education. As it does in any other culture. Congolese are not corrupt by birth, but they have been accommodated to fend for themselves in daily life. Also, they do not wittingly support the system that contributes to their own misery. It is true that Congolese have lastly proven not to be the best-organised society in terms of getting rid of bad leaders. But that may just be another evidence for Congolese being pacifist at heart, rather accepting the ruling system and cope with it in the margins of the possible, instead of fighting it.

Dear Mr. Gettleman, on behalf of all other purporters of Conradian lingo, let me tell you a genuine finding I was allowed to obtain: Much more than a heart of darkness, the Congo is the heart of brightness.

2 Responses to “The heart of brightness”
  1. graciak says:

    Thank you so much for your post. From time to time even ourselves need to be reminded the existence of this brightness …

  2. Roxanne says:

    I enjoyed this post — thank you for writing it. I once participated in a conflict seminar in which one of the reporting/journalism advisors said “be cautious of stories that seem to have absolutely no ray of hope whatsoever.” Your post reminded me of it. Thank you again!

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