The Congo – System K

End the philosophy of plunder and the philosophy of war will be ended as well.” – Fidel Castro

We post this review by Humphrey McQueen of a film about street art in the Congo – ‘System K‘ by Renaud Barret.

I have set myself the task of writing as a virus-free zone.

            Instead, I’ll begin with a far graver and seemingly endless disaster – the Congo. Canberra is having a rolling documentary festival at Dendy and this month is System K – about street art in Kinshasa. We saw it on Friday and at once booked to go to the only other session next Sunday, and have been encouraging all our friends to do likewise. Friday had sold out and the other session was already half-full.

            My awareness of the Congo I owe to an honours course on the Government of New States. I later read Conor Cruise O’Brien’s To Katanga and Back – as devastating an exposure of the UN as Shirley Hazzard made in the late 1940s with her People in Glass Houses  and the Canadian Aids-coordinator for Africa did in his Massey Lectures earlier this century. On the Congo itself, we saw Raoul Peck’s Lumumba.

A sharp reminder came at the start of the Assange protests when a group of Congolese refugees came down here to speak at a rally. An engineer spoke of 12-million killings in fifty years – to get the minerals. I asked the Liberal-voting Africanist Ian Hancock what he thought of that figure. At least that number, he replied.

Let’s not go back to the King of Gallant Little Belgium.

            The documentary follows a handful of street artists. They are part of a broad movement of anger which erupts into mass protests – which are shot down. The quality of what they make out of bottle-tops, spent bullets, and junk of all kinds leaves everything made in this country in the shade. None of the Aboriginal protest art has a tenth of the bite.

            The one artist who has gained recognition overseas had enough funds to buy a few hundred machetes to construct a house frame representing the slaughterhouse that is his country. Another had himself dragged through the slums in a bath tub full of animal blood. Given their reality everyday, rhetorical flourish is impossible.

            For once, we wished the director had used some text to introduce the present. The camera shows several of the physical signs of inequality, with plenty of new cars and buildings. So the split is more layered than one percent against the rest. Nobody seems to be mal-nourished. We’ll look up Le Monde’s archive to see what we can find, given that the French corporate-state is the prime suspect in West Africa, as elsewhere – Lebanon, for starters.

            To relieve the horror while driving home, I recalled a joke from the early 1960s about a Martian who lands in the Congo:

Take me to your leader.

Mobuto or Kasavubu?

Take me to your leader. We’ll dance later.

The horror that is the Congo cannot be put into the scales to excuse what the Chinese get up to at home. Yet, as Chomsky pointed out about coverage of the slaughter in Indonesia against that of Pol Pot, the faked news leaves one in no doubt about which side the mass-marketing media sees its bread being buttered.

            As one feather on that scales, David Milliband, Foreign Secretary for Blair’s war crimes, is now running some organisation about war crimes, focusing on Assad’s. Geraldine Do-Good was too polite to ask why he told the Chilcot Inquiry that once a government told a lie it had to stick to it because otherwise no one would believe its other lies. 

In a Hollywood feature, Blood Diamond, the white hero talks with an old African panning for diamonds for his controllers. The white expresses his anger.

It could be worse, says the African.


We could have had oil.

Even were one to start only in the late 1700s, The Black Book of Capitalism would run to several volumes, and be an open-ended series.

Humphrey McQueen
August 8, 2021

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