Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Heart of Darkness and Light

The other night I sat down with some friends and watched the classic Vietnam War flick Apocalypse Now. The last time that I had watched this movie I was just a 16 year old lad intrigued by the promise that the film would expand my mind and take me to the furthest depths of human nature. While I was certainly impressed by the film back then, the subject matter, for the most part, went completely over my head. A little bit too much reality for a teenage boy to handle.

This time around I felt a bit more prepared for the journey up the river. Perhaps my experiences over the past 10 years have exposed me to some of the darkness of the human existence that the movie so vividly portrays trough its characters and setting. The senseless carnage of war, the shameless exploitation of both soldiers and innocents and the degeneration of civilized ideals in the face of terror are all displayed in the recent conflicts and genocides in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Africa.

Many images from the film have been permanently burned into my mind: The US soldiers surfing against the backdrop of a Vietnamese village obliterated by fire bombs and napalm; The slaughter of the entire crew of a fishing boat by the overzealous platoon in their search for “Charlie” or the insane Kurtz coolly dropping the severed head of the last “sane and moral” soldier at the feet of the imprisoned Martin Sheen. The movie, besides being a cinematic masterpiece, forces us to examine our own human potential for evil and immorality and the horror that we each have the capacity to manifest here on earth.

The main theme for Apocalypse Now was of course taken from Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad’s account of the social and psychological nightmare of the colonial experience in the Belgium Congo at the beginning of the 20th century. After many years of civil unrest, tyrannical governments and large sections of uncharted, lawless territory, the Congo still represents all of the horrors that the world generally associates with the “Dark Continent” of Africa. For some fascinating insight into the Congo’s colonial and contemporary history, check out either King Leopold’s Ghost or the fictional, yet poignant, Poisonwood Bible. Both highly recommended reads.

Now the Congo has been thrown into the international spotlight not for its civil or economic strife but rather for its promise of hope. The country recently held its first democratic elections in 40 years, signaling a possible new direction for the war-torn nation and the dawning of a new era of peace in the heart of Africa. While many figures in the international community are certainly watching the results and the aftermath of the elections quite closely, my good friend Joel Marion is also on the ground in Kinshasa observing the whole process. Joel got the amazing opportunity to work as an election monitor and is still in the country plying his skills in conflict resolution. If you want some first hand insight into the situation over there right now you should definitely check out this link to his blog.

Looking at the turbulent history of the Congo, and the massive reconciliation effort still ahead for those working to cultivate peace and democracy in that country, I am continually impressed at the democratic record of Mozambique. In the early 1990s, after 17 years of civil war, Mozambique was, for all intents and purposes, the poorest country in the world. A complete political and economic basketcase. However, once the ceasefire was signed in 1992 between FRELIMO and RENAMO, and the UN peace keeping mission was deployed, the entire conflict stopped immediately. This is quite unlike many of the countless failed UN interventions into civil conflicts in Africa. Since 1992, FRELIMO and RENAMO have engaged in open and constructive political dialogue as the two leading parties in the country.

Despite its violent history, Mozambique can now legitimately be considered a prime example of a post-conflict democracy in the developing world. The hope now is that other conflict ridden countries in Africa, such as the Congo, Liberia, Rwanda or Sierra Leone, can also achieve this goal of peace and political legitimacy. May those who are working to achieve these goals be blessed with strength, wisdom and perseverance. Through the hands of many will the darkness be transformed into light.


Anonymous Mom said...

Our computer is back among the living.

5:28 p.m.  
Anonymous Mom said...

I was reading a Time article lately. Peace and political legitimacy are definitely a step in the right direction, but these countries have such a wide range of problems. In the Congo, 4 million people have died since this particular conflict began in 1998. Many of them brutally. Why has there been no humanitarian response?? Has the reservoir of wealth and goodwill run dry?? After Darfur, are we just too exhausted to take on another tragic African genocide. Do we not care, or are we uninformed?

The Congo is exceptionally rich in resources; fertile lands, forests, gold, diamonds, uranium and has enough hydro capability to power the entire continent. These resources have been poorly developed, yet they are a target of exploitation from corrupt government officials and neighboring countries.

Thousands are living in refugee camps attempting to escape the vicious rebel group known as the Mai Mai whose human atrocities greatly out weigh the horrors of the notorious Kurtz.

The Congo continues to have corrupt governments and armies, disease, malnutrition, a lack of infra structure and a defunct medical system, and yet it is the heart of this continent. It has more chance of success and prosperity than most other African countries
but it will be a long process and they will not be able to achieve this on their own. Democracy does not occur overnight. They will need monetary support from the developed world, peace keepers, politicians committed to the country and neighbors who butt out.

Let us hope with this latest election, they are well on their way. For the future of Africa, the Congo needs to succeed and the world needs to help them.

9:00 p.m.  
Anonymous perhaps sean said...

I agree with you Ma Pens - but let's remember too that the horror to which kurtz referred was not his own, nor was it of his surroundings. It was a comment on the disastrous imperialist agenda of his homeland. (reflected through the narrator's remark to kurtz's intended when she asked what his last words were - he replied with "your name" - we know he said "the horror, the horror" - and it's believed that the narrator simply took the horror to be the society which he left, no better example than his fiancee).

The same can be true now - we don't have enough Joel Marion helping - we as a society turn a blind eye - but we are still the horrific society that destroys more life than it claims.

I'm glad to see a post on this stuff Pens.

9:55 p.m.  
Anonymous Dad said...

Jared, thank you for your very interesting commentary on the situation in the Congo and relating it to the experience of post civil war Mozambique. We must all hope that some of the lessons offered by the Mozambique experience will manifest themselves in the post election scene in the Congo.

How exciting it must be for you to witness first hand these important world events. Did you envision doing this when you attended your first Political Science course at U of M?

Stay safe and know that our thoughts are with you always.


10:23 p.m.  
Blogger jpmozambique said...

Thanks for the comments you guys. Yes the Congo really does present a challenge for us in the West as it represents some of the worst forms of colonial and cold war manipulation that this continent has ever seen. And we largely have turned a blind eye to this terrible situation. Let's hope that the Congolese now can learn from the mistakes of the past and, with appropriate assistance, build the type of state and society that serves the best interests of the people.

Incidently, did you all know that there are more Mennonites in the Congo then there are in all of Canada. That is one of my favourite menno facts.

1:43 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sean, Jared:
your sanctimonious bullshit is just too much for me. you talk about justice, but you don't do anything about it. you tell others what to do, but you still lead your sorry lives without hint of change. learn to look at yourself before you start accusing others of not doing enough. i don't know your parents, but i imagine if they raised boys like you - they're probably not a whole lot better.

9:28 a.m.  
Blogger Sean said...

Man, leave my parents out of it... as for the penners - you're not going to find two better people on this earth.

Jared is a good kid, but you hit it sqaure on the head with me - I'm a jackass... if you've just become aware of that now, sorry to shock you.

10:35 a.m.  
Anonymous Mom said...

Are we to assume "anonymous" that you have taken a "good look at yourself" before you posted you comments criticizing others. Please enlighten us as to what you have been doing with your life to improve the world.

Then to add some credibility, sign your name.

2:10 p.m.  
Blogger jpmozambique said...

Yes "anonymous" those are pretty harsh accusations that you are throwing against myself, Sean and my parents. I am not quite sure what your intentions are with this comment other than perhaps some self-righteous joy of your own in putting down others. It is very easy isn't it to hurl insults at people when you hide behind an anonymous title.

If you've come to this blog to share some ideas on how we can work towards greater social justice in the world, or to how we can better improve our own lives, then that is great and you are most welcome. However, if you have nothing to say other than rash and misguided insults then please keep them to yourself.

We are all playing a part in this world my friend. I am working on my part, are you working on yours?

3:46 a.m.  
Blogger Caitlin said...

Just to further stand up for my friend Jared, Anonymous, if you were too busy slinging accusations to read Jared's profile then you would have missed the part where Jared IS actually doing something to change the world. Micro finance institutions happen to be one of the most effective ways to empower women regardless of cultural norms, and economic situation. As most of the millenium development goals revolve around the empowerment of women I happen to believe that through Jared's research and the strengthening of Micro finance institutions I'd bet he's affected more change than you, dumba**...

5:05 p.m.  

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