Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo - DRC)

CongoA huge Central African country with huge deposits of natural resources and equally huge problems. In terms of dark chapters in the country's recent history there's hardly another place on Earth that is darker. Successions of dictatorships, following brutal (Belgian) colonialism, endless wars and civil wars, marauding militias, ruthless exploitation, and a spill-over from the Rwandan genocide have all contributed to this being one of the most shaken of nations in modern history.
It's additionally depressing because the Congo could be such rich and prosperous country, given its natural resources – but these have always been exploited by foreigners and/or local black marketeers-cum-warlords. Copper, uranium, cobalt, coltan, blood diamonds, you name it. Ironically, it was also from Belgian Congo's mines that the uranium for the first atomic bombs was supplied to the USA, subsequently used in the destruction of Hiroshima at the end of WWII.
Destruction at home has hardly been any less horrific, though, especially since independence in 1960. Following a series of short-lived governments, President Mobutu developed into one of Africa's longest-standing iron fist dictators. He also renamed the country Zaire from 1971.
It was only in 1997 that he was finally overthrown by (Rwandan-backed) rebels under their Marxist leader Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who in turn quickly metamorphosed into a despotic autocrat himself, rapidly estranging his former allies in the process. Assassinated in 2001 in an otherwise failed coup attempt he was succeeded by his son Joseph Kabila, who is still president, having been confirmed in 2006 in the first elections since independence (though with a degree of controversy).
Today, a particular issue is that of coltan exploitation – a mineral essential in the manufacture of electronic devices such as mobile phones. Mined in dangerous conditions the commodity is largely traded illegally by various "rebel" militia organizations, which use the proceeds to obtain more weapons and continue their bloodthirsty wars.
One part of the underlying reasons for these wars especially in the eastern Kivu region was the Rwandan genocide. As the Rwandan Hutu genocidaires of the Interahamwe were finally driven out of Rwanda by the rebel army of the RPF, they continued their brutal work from refugee camps within the Congo, especially from Goma. This eventually triggered military action from the outside (including Uganda and Rwanda). The ensuing wars of the 1990s have even been dubbed an "African World War". What may have started as a continued ethnic war, gradually became entangled in the struggles over natural resources exploitation too.
All in all the series of recent wars and massacres are estimated to have cost in excess of 5 million lives – often in the most brutal fashion beyond imagination. Mass rape notoriously was (and still is) part of the brutality here too. So while Rwanda has stabilized and recovered, the DRC only drifted deeper and deeper in to the bloodbath vortex.
Officially, the war has been "over" since 2003, but uncontrolled militia groups continue to ignore whatever cease-fires may have been agreed by politicians, and thus the violence continues to this day. There's a presence of large contingents of UN peacekeeping forces (in fact the largest such mission in the world today) but they do not seem to be able to bring the country under control.
The situation today is immensely complicated and near impossible to untangle. But this is not the place to attempt this anyway – since none of this dark history is actually the reason the country is featured on these pages. The legacy of war, massacres, exploitation etc. are in no way developed for tourism in any case – and large areas of the DRC are still so unsafe as to be totally unsuitable for any kind of tourism whatsoever.
No, the dark tourism destinations in the Congo featured here are of a very different nature – that of natural disaster: in the form of one of the world's most spectacularly active volcanoes, Nyiragongo, near the town of Goma, which was partly destroyed by the volcano's eruptions, as recently as 2002.
It is possible to visit these places from neighbouring Rwanda, though the security situation has to be monitored very closely, which in the Congo remains highly volatile. At the time of research, however, tours to Goma and Nyiragongo had been resumed by a small number of operators and a range of packages appears to be on offer for the near future at least.  
Goma, DRC

©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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