Absolute monarchies are easy to understand; all power, brutal or benevolent is at the top. Democracy is complex, elusive, an ideal as much as a system of governance, and each is unique. The ancient Greeks, made the first democracy, but only for highly ranked citizens. In the 13th Century, English and Scottish lords created a parliament and wrote Magna Carta, another democracy for top dogs. And today, the Congo is going to the polls.
Belgium’s King Leopold II, once considered the Congo his personal property, his only idea to drain its wealth—copper, cobalt, ivory, diamonds, and gold. In central Africa, obscure, mysterious, it inspired Joseph Conrad’s meditation on inhumanity, The Heart of Darkness. Europeans who'd been there reported disease, starvation, cruelty, and death, eventually forcing King Leo to loosen his scaly claws, but for the Congolese, things did not improve. The colonial government still had only one job, to direct wealth into foreign bank accounts. Uranium from its mines went into the atom bombs that brought WW2 to an end, after which change crept in. But the missionaries who crept in too, had goals curiously like what had been before; only instead of gathering wealth, they gathered souls.
Patrice Lumumba, Congo’s first elected Prime Minister, made the mistake of accepting Soviet arms, and his Congolese rivals, backed by the U.S., drove him from office to be jailed and executed. That try for democracy died, followed by Joseph Mobutu, whose anti-communist posture reassured the west. But for the Congolese, nothing changed. In power for 32 years, his only aim was to swell his personal bank accounts.
And now they go to the polls for the second time in their history hoping to create their own democracy from scratch. Throughout their long ordeal they have hung onto their strong sense of identity, which means great inner strength and resilience. The world is rooting for them.