Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ has its plot developed through two main characters, Marlow and Kurtz. Marlow works as a sailor for a Belgian Organization that has trading relations with Congo and as such, he embarks on a journey to the Congo to meet up with Kurtz who is also working for the same company (Firchow). Upon arriving, Marlow finds out that his employer company has somehow turned the native Congolese people into slaves by forcing them into labor whereby they are also mistreated by the Belgian agents. This state is seen as colonization and it is characterized by brutality, torture, and near-slavery is one of the main themes in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness.’ Modern-day colonization is relevant in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) today in the sense that the government is committing atrocities against its own people to have control over the resources. This paper will discuss colonization in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ and how it is still a matter in the Congo today. Besides, it will discuss whether we are culpable for contributing to the atrocities that the people of Congo are facing today.
Colonization in the ‘Heart of Darkness’ does not come out clearly in the most part of the book; it is hypocritical. Marlow’s experiences from the one station to the other reveal what can only be interpreted as colonization. The relationship between the Congolese workers and that of the Belgian agents who run the trading company is more of a slave and a slave and a master rather than that of an employer-employee. The native Congolese people have been forcefully recruited as workers and they are brutalized, traumatized, and denied some of their rights, such as remuneration (Firchow). As such, the book paints a picture of a colonial enterprise. Nevertheless, the Belgian agents who work for the company claim that what they are doing as “trade” as well as how they are handling the native people of Congo as “civilization.” In the real sense, one can tell that they are pretending to be helping the Africans to get civilized, but they are only interested in what they are gaining from the trade. In order to gain more control of the “trade,” the whites have to suppress the native Congolese.
Looking at what is currently happening in the DRC, one can relate to Conrad’s theme of colonization in the book although in a different way. Congo atrocities committed by their own government militia have been hitting the world news headlines for nearly the past two decades. Millions of people have been killed by the Congo army and many have been displaced from their homes. President Joseph Kabila wants to continue ruling so that he, together with his supporters can continue enriching themselves using the country’s resources. On the other hand, the civilians and Congo activists will stop at nothing to overthrow Kabila and the political tension seems to be getting worse. Congo has some of the largest cobalt and copper mineral ores in the world and this has attracted a significant number of investors into the country but due to corruption and political instability, such resources only benefit those who are in power (Sawyer). As such, the current government of Congo is colonizing its own people a theme that one can relate to in the ‘Heart of Darkness’ even though it is a bit different.
Even though colonization seems hypocritical in the most part of Conrad’s book, some sections are clear about this theme. For instance, Kurtz is open about his endeavors. He does not conceal the fact that he uses force to acquire the ivory and he does not engage in trade. What is more, the way Kurtz treats the natives, he terms it as “suppression” and “extermination” (Joseph). In other words, Kurtz rule is largely characterized by intimidating and brutalizing the Congolese natives, which is pretty much similar to what used to happen during the colonial times. The White colonialists would beat the Africans just to make them fear so that it would be easy to have the resources. In relation to Conrad’s book, Kabila is also using violence to have control over the Congolese civilians so that it can be easy to acquire the nation’s resources that every citizen should be entitled to. The most inhumane form of atrocity that Kabila is using in the Congo to remain in power is rape. Rape cases in the Congo have become the order of the day and thousands of women were reported to have been raped by army officers since 2009 in Eastern Congo (Sawyer). Shockingly, nothing much has been done to alleviate the crisis, not even from the world humanitarian bodies. This makes us ask ourselves whether we are we are culpable for contributing to the atrocities that the people of Congo are facing today.
Even though the DRC government has denied that there is no humanitarian crisis, (Sawyer) the truth is that the political, economic, and social situations in Congo will keep on deteriorating if the citizens do not elect a leader who will not be accountable to them. I would say that we are accountable, to some extent to the atrocities that are being experienced in Congo today. The International community often responds fast to any humanitarian crisis in the world but it Congo, nothing has been done. Hundreds of thousands of people continue to live in dehumanizing conditions; no food, no water, poor health, no shelter, and lack of peace. The international community ought to have done more to ensure that elections in Congo are held as soon as possible to end Kabila’s regime. If the atrocities being experienced in the Congo were happening somewhere else, perhaps in the Western nations, quick actions would have been taken to ease the situation. However, because Congo is in Africa, not much has been done. On the other hand, one would argue that the government in Congo has made it difficult for aid from outside countries but my point is that the United Nations should do in Congo, what they did in Libya; forcefully removing Gaddafi from power.
Overall, Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ mainly discusses the theme of “colonization” in the Congo by the Belgian company agents. Colonization aspects in Conrad’s book include forceful labor of the native Congolese as well as oppressing and brutalizing them. The theme of colonization in Conrad’s book matters in the Congo today in the sense that Kabila has been using the security forces to violate the civilians so that he can continue being in power and grab the country’s resources. We are culpable for contributing to the atrocities that the Congo people are facing today since we have not done anything to remove Kabila’s regime which is oppressing its people.
Firchow, Peter Edgerly. “Envisioning Africa: Racism and Imperialism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.” University Press of Kentucky, 2015.
Joseph, Conrad. Heart of Darkness. Strelbytskyy Multimedia, 2017.
Sawyer, Ida. “The Crisis in Congo Is Spiralling Out of control.” The Washington Post.