Eye-opening reportage from an African nation that has been robbed and despoiled for centuries—but that is now finding paths of resistance.
Human-rights activists Prendergast (co-author: The Enough Moment: Fighting to End Africa's Worst Human Rights Crimes, 2010, etc.) and Bafilemba, the latter a Congolese field researcher, begin with the story of a woman who was abducted by a local militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo, held captive for 15 months, and repeatedly raped as “the wife of everyone.” She managed to escape, only to be brutalized again by invading Rwandan soldiers, and finally became a teacher and mentor “to countless Congolese women who have experienced physical and emotional trauma.” Hers is a story that has been repeated again and again for centuries as Congolese rulers, for a price, have allowed outside powers to loot its resources, by which the nation should rightfully be one of the richest in the world. Instead, in recent history, it has been ruled by kleptocrats—currently Joseph Kabila, who “has subverted democratic processes and violently repressed independent and opposition voices in order to retain power indefinitely”—even as those outside interests remove astonishing quantities of what the authors enumerate as four “conflict minerals.” These include tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold, as well as cobalt and diamonds, all things that enrich the developed world and make many of its modern technologies possible. Change is possible: The authors hold that Congo offers a case study not just in inequality and postcolonial exploitation but also in what can be done about them, including being sure that jewelers source their supplies responsibly and use “conflict-free artisanal gold from Congo in their jewelry lines.” Gosling provides excellent images of daily life in Congo, while, in a postscript, Dave Eggers urges readers to find ways to support small-scale “local projects conceived and run by local residents,” funding the people who most need help.
No thoughtful reader of this book will look at his or her computer or cellphone the same way again.