Book of the Week: “All Things Must Fight to Live” (Bryan Mealer)

Blanking on what movies I seen in the past months, I opted for “Book of the Week.” As the “Movie of the Week” is the least viewed feature on this blog, I pretty much have the freedom to write about whatever is available to me at the time.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the largest countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and one of the bloodiest. Since 1998, the DRC has been home the largest conflicts since World War II, involving no less than seven foreign armies, claiming no less than 5.4 million lives and many times that number in injuries. Sexual violence and rape are common tools of warfare in the DRC conflict, earning the DRC the distinction of being the worst area for sexual abuse in the entire world. More than 200,000 women and girls have been raped and disfigured since 1998.

The DRC has an incredible wealth of natural resources, including diamonds, coltan, copper, zinc and oil. Competition for control of the DRC’s seemingly endless bounty fuels instability and illegal sales of resources funds the conflict. Villagers in the way of potential mining routes are routinely raped, hacked to death, dismembered and displaced, leading to a human crisis of proportions larger than most any other in human history.

Meanwhile, opportunistic foreign powers turn a blind eye to the horrid conditions under which precious resources are obtained. The United States has not, as of yet, demonstrated the political will to get involved. It is unlikely that we ever will, making every single one of us complicit in the vast landscape of death and suffering that is the DRC right now.

Bryan Mealer spent three years as a reporter in the DRC in the late 90’s. His book is a document of his time there, full of stories of drug addled gun wielding teenagers hacking the locals and pillaging their wares, international groups attempting to create some resemblance of stable government against a swirling hurricane of chaos, a largely impotent UN which spends more time keeping itself alive than keeping the peace, and the Congolese who want nothing more than peace and prosperity in their broken country.

Mayer explores the history of how the DRC got it’s present, chaotic state. The DRC could be one of the wealthiest areas of the world. However, the slave trade, exploitative colonial governments, and the brutal and disgusting regime of King Leopold disrupted the natural creation of a stable state. A perfect storm of European indifference to the welfare of Africans helped usher in a series of brutal and corrupt Congolese governments post-independence, leading the DRC to where it is today.

The first half of the book follows Mealer as he insanely enters the most war-torn areas of the DRC. One get the impression that Mealer is either an incredible thrill seeker, a touch mentally imbalanced or a completely dedicated journalist that attempts to document the travesty that which the world has conveniently ignored. The second half takes a more upbeat approach, following Mealer along his trip through the Congolese rain forest and aboard the only “express” passenger train in the DRC. His writing is frenetic, often documenting in a frantic, stream of consciousness style accentuating the chaos of the world around him, alternatively frightened by the insanity around him and exhibited by the level of human resilience of a people attempting to live in the most unlivable of conditions.

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

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