The central African territory of Congo was once a Belgian and French colony, and for a short time (1911-1918) also a German colony in its northern part as German Cameroon. The country is an example of a long history of suffering, which can certainly be seen as part of the development of globalization. The country takes its name from the river of the same name, an ancient and important African traffic route.
When people speak of the Congo today, they mean the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which was also known for some time as Zaire, but also the bordering Republic of Congo. These current namings are the latest renamings so far in the checkered history of the countries in the heart of Africa. From the beginning, the country's history and its relationship with the rest of the world has been one of suffering and oppression, war and civil strife. As early as the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Congo gained sad notoriety as a center of the slave trade. In the eighteenth century, the French attempt to Christianize the country began. The country experienced the first push of a very one-sided globalization in the second half of the nineteenth century, when it was divided between the colonial powers of France and Belgium. Especially the colony Belgian Congo became the epitome of unimaginable colonial exploitation and cruelty. It is not for nothing that the great English writer Joseph Conrad chose the colony of the Belgian Congo as the setting for his work about the social and psychological abysses of colonialism, the story "The Heart of Darkness". As both an adventure novel and a social-psychological study of the effects of colonialism on rulers and ruled, this narrative became so influential in style that American director Francis Ford Coppola used it as the basis for his epic film about the Vietnam War, "Apocalypse now". So the Congo is at the beginning of colonialism. At least indirectly, even at the final end of the colonial age.
Globalization as a one-way street
The lengthy process of Decolonization, which lasted practically throughout the twentieth century, has left a difficult legacy in Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo, which will be the focus of the following, and its "precursors" are a striking example of this. Globalization here still means first and foremost the influence of foreign powers and international institutions. The history of the Congo in the twentieth century has been marked by foreign interventions and civil wars, with a wide variety of political and ethnic factions vying for dominance. The population of the Democratic Republic, for example, is divided into about two hundred ethnic groups that speak different dialects and, in some cases, completely different languages. Official language and at the same time general lingua franca is French.
The result of outside interference, war and civil strife is persistent poverty, lack of infrastructure and underdevelopment. Since the sixties, even various UN blue helmet missions have not been able to bring about lasting peace in the Congo. The last elections, which took place under UN supervision, did not unite the country but, on the contrary, further divided it. Since then, the civil war in the Congo, in this case in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has been taking place under global observation, so to speak. The country is on its way to earning a place on the list of "failed states".
Poverty despite wealth
The fact that the Congo, and this applies to both republics, receives such high international attention despite these disastrous internal conditions is due to the continuing economic and political interests of the former colonial powers, but also to the natural wealth of the area. Despite the unfavorable "framework conditions," the country, which is rich in crude oil, is quite attractive for foreign investors. In and for the Congo, globalization currently means above all the globalization of its resources. The Congo is one of the most resource-rich areas Africa: oil, diamonds, gold, copper, coltan and bauxite, as well as forestry products form the natural wealth of Congo. Despite favorable climatic conditions and first-class arable soils, the country's agriculture is in an extraordinarily poor condition. At present the own agricultural products are not sufficient to feed the own population, so that the Congo republics must import foodstuffs.
Also in extremely poor condition in both countries is the entire Infrastructure. The rail and road network, air traffic, schools and administration have been increasingly affected by a vicious circle of exploitation, violence, corruption and structural underdevelopment for decades. The experiments with a socialist planned economy, which characterized the 1970s and 1980s in particular, have also failed across the board. Today, the Democratic Republic of Congo ranks last on the United Nations Human Development Index. The economic development of the Republic of Congo is also stagnant or even in decline. Commodity prices, which have been falling since the financial crisis, are also having a negative impact on economic development.
In terms of natural conditions, size, and population, a unified Congo would have the best prerequisites to be an influential regional power and economically a formidable global player. Why the Congo has not succeeded in this has a number of complex causes that have their roots in nineteenth-century colonialism. In particular, the Belgian colonial regime left a devastating legacy. Although the Kingdom of Belgium invested some of the wealth it had gained from the colony in infrastructural measures, such as the development of a solid road network. At the same time, however, Belgium has for decades prevented any measures that could have led to even a rudimentary improvement in the living conditions of the local population. Poverty, hopelessness, lack of education and thus of economic and administrative know-how could not be compensated on their own after the withdrawal of the colonial powers.
As in many former colonies, the only reasonably intact institution was the military, whose interests, however, were permanently different from the needs and demands of the rest of the population. Another legacy of colonialism is the forced amalgamation of diverse ethnic groups. Hostile tribes and clans as well as different religious groups were to be united under the umbrella of a nation-state. These usually artificial state structures are among the most consequential legacies of colonialism – especially on the African continent. So it's no wonder that the newly independent colonies – from Sudan to Rwanda to the Congo – were marked by ethnic and religious conflicts from the very beginning. Muslims, Christians of different denominations as well as traditional animistic religions have shaped different peoples and cultures. Together with ethnic and linguistic differences, this increasingly leads to socio-cultural (self-) isolation, mutual incomprehension and, in extreme cases, hatred. The genocide in Rwanda, the division of Sudan and the ongoing civil war in Congo are particularly stark examples of this.
Disengagement from globalization
Thus, like many African states, the Congo is affected by the largely disconnected from the economic and cultural dynamics of globalization. The country is not an actor, but primarily an object of general development. The country will not be able to play its own role in the foreseeable future. Without its mineral resources, the support that the world community gives to the Congo republics would be even less than it already is at present. In this context, it must unfortunately also be noted that the intervention of the United Nations has had little success. After the aforementioned failure of the democratic elections held in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2011 under UN supervision, the UN Blue Helmet Mission, which was supposed to monitor the peace process in the wake of the elections and protect the civilian population, has now virtually failed as well.
And not only that: allegations of abuses by UN soldiers in the refugee camps are surfacing again and again. These processes can also be described as a kind of negative globalization. The outlook for the Congo is therefore currently rather bleak. Much will depend on how many reserves the radical militias still have and whether there are any influential forces at all interested in a rational, peaceful solution. The international community, too, will have to make a far-reaching commitment, financially and probably also militarily. Currently, the story of globalization in Congo is one of disintegration.