Travel to a country through its people

Congo, a country the size of a continent, was for decades a source of pride for the Belgians, until the European nation revised its colonial past and that sentiment became a shame, on a black page. In the last two decades, however, Belgium is beginning to 'bear' its history and encourages research, exhibitions, films and television series in which it analyzes its role as a colonial power. In this new approach is framed the book 'Congo', by the writer David van Reybrouck (Bruges, 1971) and published in Spain by Taurus.

Van Reybrouck has traveled all over the country to write a story about Congo from the point of view of ordinary people. He has participated in his religious services, he has sat down to dialogue with them under a tree and has visited people who claim to be 120 years old. And he has found a "happy and welcoming" people who, nevertheless, have suffered and have also committed the most extreme forms of violence. "How is it possible that in a country with such great people such atrocious events have occurred?" Asks the writer. "The answer is context," he continues. "When so many things have happened in time, the difference between the good and the bad is permeable, just like between a saint and a villain," says Van Reybrouck, who is "very pessimistic" in the short term about the future of the Congo. , but optimistic when viewed from a long perspective.

Van Reybrouck has approached the tragedy from all its edges. He has spoken with raped women and also with child soldiers. "They are children whose mothers have been murdered and their sisters raped. They have no education or work, no prospect of having it, so they find meaning in their lives when a rebel leader proposes to join them. Those guys told me they saw the war as a joke, as an opportunity to be in a gang, a party in which all values ​​change, "he sums up.

The author also offers a glimpse of the extreme violence that women in Congo have suffered. "In the 1980s, they achieved great independence and emancipation, and I sometimes questioned whether the sexual violence of the 1990s is a reaction, a kind of revenge, for the freedom that African women had achieved in the previous decade." .

As Belgium has done, Congo has also reviewed its past as a colony and, surprisingly, has rediscovered a sincere affection for its former metropolis. "I came across people who were fed up with the current situation and asked me: 'How long will independence last?'", Says the writer. In that perception has much to do with the rejection felt by the Congolese to bloodthirsty characters in his history such as Mobutu Sese Seko or Kabila, although if they look back they find one of similar appearance, Leopold II.

The independence of Congo, in 1960, was one of the most surprising. "It was prepared in just five months," recalls Van Reybrouck, who offers a very striking fact: on that date, only 16 residents in Congo had a university career. "Decolonization started too late and independence came too soon. Belgium did not want a bloodbath like the one that had happened in Algeria and what it did was to try to maintain a power in the shade, "he stresses.

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