Loving Goma - a farewell to VOLCANO CITY SOUKOUS + short note about the Congo


Bodys Isek Kingelez's 'extrêmes maquettes' of a weird-future Kinshasa (Kin la belle!) were a major influence on the Goma of VCS

"The story of ‘conflict minerals’ serves both as a cautionary tale and a powerful call to decolonise transnational governance and peacebuilding practice. It highlights the lack of ‘situated knowledge’ and critically interrogates the white saviourism that emanates from an unholy alliance that brings together (neo-)colonial frames, digital capitalism, neoliberal interventionism and humanitarianism." Christoph N. Vogel, Conflict Minerals, Inc.: War, Profit and White Saviourism in Eastern Congo

"Congo is great; it requires greatness of spirit from us." Luc Nkulula

Fucked up in the club, crying to a Tshala Muana record. I had a conversation about some of this recently and thought it might be worthwhile to put a version in a more permanent place.

I haven't done a Congopost in a while, which is weird for this blog; it's my bread and butter. The number one tag! Relatedly, my table has decided to stop playing Volcano City Soukous, our Noofutra game set in the Eastern DR Congo. It's not because of recent events (in the VCS Appendix N post I called the perpetual bleeding of the Kivus a "bundle of wounds that..are still very raw and require special care to navigate" right before the newest round of M23 violence began in earnest) themselves. Anyone who cares about the DR Congo knows that these cyclical flurries of interest from the West don't reflect the horrible constancy of """emergency.""" VCS was a way for me to try and share some of the love I felt for the defiant city of Goma thundering volcanotown, eye of the world 3T cobalttown, seven glasses of lokoto deep rumbatown with other folks. And I think we got somewhere with that. I'm proud of the games we ran, periodic anxieties about my right to do more with the material notwithstanding. It was the reductive way people talked about the Congo that drove me to end the campaign, made it actively painful to think about how to keep running sessions. I think the Congo (perhaps alongside Haiti) is the least understood of the recent causes célèbres; the reduction of the Eastern Congo Problem into a story about minerals is both completely deranged and totally expected. It happened before, as Vogel points out in his recent banger Conflict Minerals, Inc.:

"During the wars, many belligerents turned to minerals, with violent competition over ore deposits and trading routes becoming a lynchpin in the financing of war efforts. Since 2001, this has pushed non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and UN investigations to turn a spotlight towards the illegal exploitation and trade of minerals, portraying the wars in a manner that was in line with the then dominant scholarly hypotheses of ‘resource wars’...Many of these works thrive on ahistorical epistemics, arbitrary proxies and tinkered econometric regression. Some also draw inspiration from racist or Malthusian assumptions, such as the number of young men in a society—alluding to an imagery of violent Black bodies—as a proxy to model the likelihood of violence...In a bid to explain the world’s deadliest conflict since the Second World War, the ‘conflict minerals’ paradigm was no less than a revolution in transnational advocacy. Campaigns have used the paradigm to paint a neat, palpable picture of intractable war, while Western advocates linked images of raped women to the skyrocketing use of mobile gadgets. In line with orthodox economics and amplified by campaigns, the global outcry pressed policymakers to act...whenever it did conduct research, Washington-based leadership went to great lengths to remind their field consultants that a too nuanced picture of conflict in eastern Congo ‘will not help [in] transporting our talking points to policymakers in the Capitol.’"

If anything, the current year revival of conflict minerals discourse is worse bc African absence and Western agency is cloaked in radical garb; the US and cronies are stealing resources from the Congo by putting people to work in 'war mines.' Instead of spending time with the ways that the imperial core does continue to wage war on Congolese society, we keep circling around this bizarre cartoon vision of Africa as a sack of loot that we must defend from nebulous but rapacious forces (uhhh France? mining interests? the Zucc?) for the sake of the developmental children. The only path towards our ecosocialist dream is the establishment of indigenized-nationalized or other appropriate recuperations of 'clean' supply chains for digital minerals. It's not very different from the techbro invocations of RFID tags and NGO ledgers in hopes of purifying the 3Ts from the taint of their Congolese origins. Trade consortiums like iTSCi and regulatory agencies framed enlightened self-interest as the solution, selling a vision of ‘conflict-free sourcing’ where traceability and formalization (whether it happens under some Congolese comprador government, imagined future socialist community in the Kivus, or humanitarian org depending on your flavor of [rad]liberal) serves a civilizing counterpoint to a violent, criminal, and (here’s the kicker) unmanageable artisanal mining sector. Even a pretty cursory look at the twin drives toward ‘conflict-free’ mining - Obama's Law in the DRC -  and mining Africanization in the eastern Congo reveals that the primary result has been the hyperacceleration of exclusionary and marginalizing processes in mining communities to the benefit of powerful end users. It's the colonial concessions by way of Silicon Valley, with useful idiots online as extensions of the familiar metropole press. 

Hell, this isn't even rooted in the 2000s. As we've discussed before, the original framing of the first Belgian intervention in the Congo was a humanitarian one; the right to make live and let die as holy obligation. Less naked but far more lasting is the outcry against red rubber, the greatest white saviour story in history and the birthplace of modern humanitarianism itself. It's all right there in the haunting image that sits right in the front of our minds when we think of Congolese history, Nsala staring at the severed appendages of his daughter, and the motivations of the photographer behind it. Alice Seeley Harris and her associates in King Léopold’s Congo found in Nsala's plight a catalyst for the abolition of a specific dictatorship, advocating for the transfer of life and property to the governance of the Belgian Father-State. Hers is a familiar reflex, the urge to ride the indignant tide of change that has been valorized by our histories. These reflexes—and the campaigns they buoy—are proof and consequence of the impotence of this mode of relation.  It's important to recognize that our adversaries here are not tangible entities but habits of perception. The logic of white domination, invisible and endemic, was never the issue. It wasn't even 'there' in any way that people like Morel or Casement or Harris could grasp at. Instead, the focus was directed toward visible violence that could be safely understood without having to adjust their (our) lenses very much, like public chopping and hanging of Black bodies...or images of children in black metal mines or the (problematic and telling) obsession with wartime sexual assault. This phenomenon is what Cherie Rivers calls a lineage of toxic solidarity with the Congo — "the deployment of dissent in the name of a morality blinded by allegiance to systems of normalized violence...the lethal marriage of righteous outrage over symptoms with willful refusal to recognize cause." It's no wonder that the histories of the Congo we trot out whenever it stumbles back into Western awareness always include these insano hagiographies of the Congo Reform Movement, Hochschild's King Leopold’s Ghost chief among them. We never lost that relationship to the Congo, including the racism of the would-be reformers. Lösing's A 'Crisis of Whiteness' in the 'Heart of Darkness': Racism and the Congo Reform Movement discusses this attachment in the sort of brutal takedown we love so very much here at A Most Majestic Fly Whisk

"First published in 1998, Hochschild’s study of the Congo reform movement was translated into eleven languages, went through several editions, and within the first decade sold over 400,000 copies...it has had influence like no other text in the last 20 years in the public, political and academic debate about the reform campaign...His narrative reduced complex political conflicts to a cut-and-dried collision of moral opposites personified by two radical antagonists...In this dichotomist confrontation between ‘good’ and ‘evil’, little analytical space is left for ambiguities such as stalwart racism on the side of the reformers....Hochschild was inclined to see the lasting impact of the reform movement less in its material improvements for the Congolese than in its symbolic relevance as representative of an ‘honourable’ human rights tradition that upheld 'the example of men and women who fought against enormous odds for their freedom'. Such an argument is hardly convincing. While the Congolese population ‘fought against enormous odds for their freedom’ ever since the European plan to establish a permanent occupation became apparent, the Congo reformers have at no point in their long-lasting activism politically (not to mention practically) supported this anti-colonial struggle. Instead, it was the overwhelming consensus among American and British Congo reformers that the imperial rule of Africa was legitimate and should be sustained...Hochschild, for instance, admits that Conrad was 'an ardent imperialist where England was concerned' and that Morel similarly saw 'nothing inherently wrong with colonialism' as long as it was “fair and just”. [Enzi's note: this is the type of brain we're talking about] While this was certainly one of its political “limitations”, it was also a reason for the “success” of the reform movement, he argued. Had they challenged the legitimacy of imperialism as such, the reformers could have never achieved such broad public support for their campaign against the Free State atrocities. That the reformers’ support of the European occupation of Africa profoundly contradicted his conclusion that the ‘honourable’ tradition of the reform movement promoted ‘freedom’ or 'the idea of full human rights, political, social, and economic' was ignored."

Stuff we can do

If you have some spare cash to give, I'd suggest kicking in a few bucks here. Goma Actif has been doing really good work for a while now, ever since they got their start in the wake of the 2021 eruption, and the org is run by folks from Goma who have friends / family in internal displacement camps. They're stretched really thin atm so anything helps. 

I'd suggest reading one or two of the books under the Capitalism heading in the VCS Appendix N above if you're interested in more. I'll add a few more titles bc why not:

  • A 'Crisis of Whiteness' in the 'Heart of Darkness': Racism and the Congo Reform Movement by Felix Lösing
  • The Myth of International Protection: War and Survival in Congo by Claudia Seymour 
  • Students of the World : Global 1968 and Decolonization in the Congo by Pedro Monaville.

Most importantly, don't allow this sort of ghoulish vulture humanitarianism to remain (borrowing Monaville's words) "the dominant discursive thread connecting the Congo to the world." We were siblings! Congolese students taking Hubert Humphery captive under the shadow of the Lumumba memorial, Mulele and Bengila in Red China, Che Guevara leading Cuban volunteers and Congolese communists during the overlapping wars of Second Liberation, soukous as the soundtrack of the Continent*. In this fallen age, it doesn't even take all that much to push back. It's cheesy but opening your heart and forming some real ties of affection w/the Congo is a radical act. Listen to Franco and Abeti! Cheer for the Leopards (AFCON SEMI-FINALS YEEHAW) or read the Mwindo epic! 

Would also like to thank my players for taking a chance on VCS. Henrietta, Noor, Mandy, D'Angelo - y'all are real ones. 

*And now we've got Afrobeats in its place. Hellworld.


  1. Wikipedia page for lokoto is half NGOs saying it's bad for you :^/

    They did the same thing to the page for betel nuts :^\

    1. they're demons, man. I just wanna grill/chew/drink for god's sake.


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