Weaving together factual and fictional elements to form a coherent narrative is fiendishly difficult and often unsatisfying for both author and reader. Not so with Lieve Joris’s spellbinding account of the recent ill-starred history of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Joris, a Belgian journalist, has travelled widely in the Congo and has written two previous books on the country.
The Rebels’ Hour has at its heart a riveting semi-fictionalized portrait of one of the central players in the Congolese tragedy, Assani, a cowherd from the east of the country who became, at various times, an officer in the uprising against Mobutu led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila; a general in the Congolese army; the leader of a rebel cadre of child-soldiers; and an active participant in the ongoing tentative peace negotiations between the warring factions, led by the present Congolese President, Kabila’s son Joseph.
I have not read a better account of the daily terror and suspicion that is life in the Congo, since Michela Wrong’s book about the madness of the Mobutu years, In The Footsteps of Mr Kurtz. It is unarguable and deeply depressing that the situation has become immeasurably worse since that book was published – this in a country that, with its vast resources of copper and diamonds, should be one of Africa’s most prosperous. Nevertheless, Lieve Joris should receive the highest praise for bringing us this unflinchingly honest portrait of Assani the man, at once villain and victim of circumstance, and through him a much-needed insight into a country and people seemingly condemned by greed and political stupidity to endless suffering.