The TIME magazine cover story this week, "Congo: The Hidden Toll of the World's Deadliest War," is recommended reading for anyone concerned about the future of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the African continent itself.
The article, however, is light on the history of the former Belgian colony, and I take issue with the rather sanitized view of colonial history that reporters Simon Robinson and Vivienne Walt present. In particular, the Belgian and US roles in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the Congo's first postcolonial prime minister, were all but ignored by the writers. President Eisenhower personally ordered the "elimination" of Lumumba, and a CIA agent supposedly drove around with Lumumba's body in the trunk of his car after the killing.
For those seeking a fuller understanding of the colonial history of the region, I recommend the following books to general readers:
Heart of Darkness (1902) - Joseph Conrad's classic novel examines the exploitation of the Congo by Europeans. The author's characterizations of Africans are, at times, a bit demeaning, but his experiences as a captain of a river vessel on the Congo River bring an element of authenticity to the work. The book is perhaps the most important early critique of European colonialism. Trivia note: the novel was the basis for the 1979 Francis Ford Coppola film Apocalypse Now (re-set during the Vietnam War).
The Poisonwood Bible (1998) - This novel by Barbara Kingsolver is equal parts tragic travel narrative, social critique, and religious awakening. The book is written for the general reader, but is on solid factual ground.
King Leopold's Ghost (1998) - This work of non-fiction by Adam Hochschild - by training a journalist - has excellent historical research, and is very accesible to the general reader. The ugly truths of Belgian King Leopold II are not whitewashed, and his descriptions of the physical and metaphorical abuses by the Belgians are disturbing.