Congo, The: The Simple History Series #9 : By J. Gerlach, 50 pgs. By Steve Hart

Apr 27, 2012

The Congo is a massive area in Africa, roughly the size of the United States east of the Mississippi, and is somewhat mysterious to us Westerners. Even more confusing is that there are two “Congos.” However, this book refers to the “Belgian Congo,” or the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Currently, my son is studying Africa in his sixth grade history class. With a cursory glance at his homework, I noticed his curriculum focuses more on memorizing the names of the countries in Africa and their capitols. Of course, the why’s and how’s of Africa, the continent, are far more complicated than memorizing forty-seven countries and the horrible atrocities inflicted on their people. The Congo is an attempt to tell the story of the Congo from perspective different than the European viewpoint.

In 1482, ships from Europe arrived at the mouth of the Congo River. For the next three hundred years, European settlers barely scraped by, dying of malaria and other diseases. In the early 1800s, British explorers ventured up the Congo River and began exporting many natural resources, such as palm oil, ivory, and copper. In the later 1870s, Britain was building roads deeper into the Congo and the rest of the European began to set claims upon Africa. This is the Africa we were taught in school: huge swaths of land carved up and given names by Europeans. The stories of men and women, stolen from Africa and used as slaves are horrible: there is no part of Africa that hasn’t been seen as a resource for Europeans and their colonies.

In 1960, Belgium “gave” full independence to the Congo and for the next ten years, the Congo disintegrated into civil war. Wrought by AIDS and corruption, the next thirty years proved to be even more difficult for the Congolese people. Currently, the entire region is unstable and natural resources from one of the most resource-rich continents on the planet are mined and harvested from some of the poorest people on the planet.

The Congo is a difficult book, but could serve as an alternative or a supplement to history books in classrooms everywhere. (Microcosm Publishing 636 SE 11th Ave.Portland, OR 97214)