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Adam Hochschild: America has ‘blood on our hands’ in Congo

Last week authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo arrested a senior army commander and accused him of leading a mass rape of 67 civilians on New Year’s Day, according to United Nations officials. For more than a decade, militia groups operating in Congo have used rape as a weapon of war, as documented in a Need to Know report with Anneke van Woudenberg last year.

Human rights activists describe this week’s arrest as a small step, but at least a start, toward ending this brutal tactic. Congo is a nation rich in natural resources, including gold, diamonds and coltan, which is used in our cell phones and other electronics. [Need to Know reported on the use of coltan in consumer products last year.]

Conflict over these minerals, as well as fighting over tribal disputes, have left more than 5 million dead since 1998. And news of the rape arrest came as the Congo marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the country’s first democratically elected leader.

We were reminded last week of the assassination by a column in The New York Times called “An assassination’s long shadow,” written by Adam Hochschild. He is author of the acclaimed book, “King Leopold’s Ghost, A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa.” To help us better understand the roots of Congo’s current conflict and why he thinks America has “blood on our hands,” Need to Know’s Alison Stewart sat down with Adam Hochschild in San Francisco.


  • Sylva223

    First report that looks at the root causes of the current chaos in Congo… thanks and keep up the good work

  • Kinshasa

    I just wish America had helped Lumumba, Congo would have been a great country by now yet it’s not too late. America needs to be an agent of good in Central Africa not just privileging Rwanda point of view

  • Guest

    Fear of many things (loss of access to resources and political competition) drove this sad chain of events. Would we REALLY have lost access to resources? I think not. If people and especially governments would not live in paranoia wouldn’t the world be a better place?

  • findingfacts

    approximately 10 million Congolese were murdered at the hands of King Leopold. This was called the Great Forgetting. Leopold was so horrific and evil that his own country was sickened and requested him to be more humane. This request was ignored. America and Europe together have a lot of blood on their hands from the continent of Africa to Haiti. you can be sure that this history will never be taught in American schools. The Mc Donnell school of history is in session.

  • Julliette

    Such a sad story about the Congo and how the CIA assisted in planning the assassination of democratically elected Patrice Lumumba. Thank you Need to Know and Adam Hochschild for reminding us of the terrible legacy of colonialism in Africa which has continued from King Leopold of Belgium to United States administrations. Years ago as a high school student I wondered how German citizens could have ignored the genocidal policies of their Nazi rulers. Now I wonder how we Americans remain oblivious to the policies of the US government/CIA in abetting the overthrow and assassination of democratically elected leaders in countries around the world from Latin American to Africa.

  • Honey

    I have been a devout Roman Catholic for all my eighty years. Years ago when touring Europe and religiously going to Mass found it disconcerting that so few people were keeping their Sunday obligation. Now it is called secularization. Now as I try to understand what is happening in the Church here I am realizing how Christians have betrayed Christ—King Leopold’s Ghost is trying to show us the one of consequences of that betrayal. Will we listen? Will we work for truth and justice?

  • Ann Lyon

    At the time of Lumumba’s assignation there was talk of cold war and possible involvement of US but all very secret. Now I can be sure USCIA killed him and I am furious that our country – a deocracy did this —– and what others.?? We need the facts, we need to know so we can stop this behavior by the US. I got sent home from Thailand as security risks in 1953 and never a proper follow up so we still do not know why. Not the behavior of a “demoratic couintry” We must live up to our ideals if we expect to spread them and keep them. War and force do not work – only makes people hate and mistrust us. Our CIA brought the Shah back to Iran in 1953 and is the reason for the revolution and the current leader of Iran. We must stick to our values and recgnize the right of nations to be what the people want, not what the US and business corporations want. Ann

  • RF

    First thank you to Alison and Need to Know for bringing us this story on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, although Adam Hochschild is clearly a humanitarian and quite thoughtful, his comments in the last one minute or so of the interview “If I were to list what the top priorities are” seemingly missed some of the most serious numbers that confront the people of the DRC today: Demographics.

    For one thing, the DRC has a population of 67.8 million today, and a total fertility rate of 6.4 (average number of children per woman during her lifetime) so that the country’s total population is expected to grow by an additional 34 million by 2025 (just fourteen years away). Given that 80% of the nation’s residents today earn less than one dollar a day and 46.9% of its citizens are under the age of 15, it is hard to see how the country is going to be able to meet the basic needs of its current numbers, much less bring about improvements in light of the demographic avalanche that is sweeping away its future. In the precious time that your guest had available in your interview, one wishes that he had simply mentioned the numbers that we have cited above. (For the benefit of Need to Know and visitors to this site, data like that which we cite above are available at, at the, and at Thank you for an otherwise very excellent piece.

  • Rationalista

    I’ll be glad when evolution and attrition rid the world of irrational thinkers like you. Superstition doesn’t solve problems, it creates them.

  • Fdavo84

    YOU HIT THE NAIL RIGHT ON THE HEAD. Its paranoia that leads to this.

  • Theo

    Since 1945, US has lead or been in involved in over 50 coups that toppled democratically elected government all over the world.

    America is not neither a friend of democracy or a practitioner. Today America supports many dictators in Middle East and other parts of the world. It is a shame that US talks so much about democracy, but always ready to destroy a democratic government.

    Such a hypocrisy is without equal!

  • Theo

    Citizens of Congo earn less to maintain their demographics because Western corporations led by US have for decades took everything from this defenseless nation. Westerners set the prize of what they sell to Congo (mostly weapons) and World Bank/IMF (Westerners) set the prize of what Congo sells.

    How do you expect such a disparity to benefit the people of Congo. This is the case in 100% of African countries. That is why they remain poor. These are hard working people, who have survived all atrocities perpetrated on them by few demonic rulers championed and supported by the US and Europe. Yes, they are poor, but their poverty will not end until these greedy nations who sell nothing but weapons of war to Africa stop their deadly trade. In 1963, Martin Luther King said; “America is the biggest purveyor of violence in the world”. He was killed for saying that. Unfortunately that is still the case today. US is the world’s largest exporter of weapons today.

  • Didier Chabi

    It’s amazing to read someone’s line and having the feeling that you wrote that yourself. So identical to what I would write myself.

  • Didier chabi

    You are so right. Westerners could deal correctly with the rest of the world, but small balls only give panic. So they take guns, instead of showing respect and love.

  • Jackeline Pou

    Thank you for your comments.

    Jackeline Pou
    Need To Know

  • BB

    America has been involved in many assassinations of the first presidents and leaders in Africa and continues giving support to all the dictators in Africa. The case of Patrice Lumumba of Congo resembles at the one of Sylvanus Olympio of Togo killed January 13, 1963. These were perpetrated by American government. America and its allied support those who they can easily manipulate for their profits.

  • Ukumbwa

    I appreciate your observations and deeply wish more roman catholics would come to this understanding of the negative role of the church’s policies and practices around the world and particularly against indigenous people and their traditional cultures. It saddens me that the overwhelming presence and number of cultural attrocities committed against humanity have not served to wake up the roman catholic and larger christian populace to their responsibility for reconciliation and redress of these crimes. It makes it an extremely logical outcome that those not of that particular religious ilk would, should and can question the validity and efficacy of roman catholic and christian doctrine and worldview as applied in the world by that populace and it’s socio-political structures. Suffice to say, Africa never needed roman catholicism, christianity, Europe or European imperialism, the World Bank or the IMF, but it got them all amounting to the tragic, unrepentant commission of continental rape by all the aforementioned.

  • Ukumbwa

    The USAmerican government was never set up as a democracy for everyone….so then it is not a democracy. It was never imagined as a force for good in the world as the original founding male chauvinists were leaders of a populace running away from their own history and social realities. USAmerica is still running from its history and therefore running from its own liberation and the promise of ever being able to be a truly progressive force in the world. The history of this nation is reprehensible. Capitalism has merely allowed it to amass enough virtual capital and political power to make it look pretty. The of psychic tragedy is immense. Lumumba and the Congo story is just ONE example of that USAmerican tragedy.

    Thank you, “Need to Know”, for communicating truth even when it is painful and not so beautiful. But it does make me wonder how much pain can a socio-politically numb nation then actually feel….how much compassion….how much passionate initiative to change the outcome of a dark human legacy.

  • Ukumbwa

    Thank you, Ann, but what concerns me here is that this IS a government defined clearly and unabashedly by corporate hegemony and unilateral global policies. I challenge anyone to find where and how these amorphous “ideals” of democracy live in the people of this country with any clarity and integrated harmony. There is no national consensus because the populace does not do the work of democracy which goes FAR beyond flipping a lever every four years. I am deeply concerned about the national inability to see itself, that we don’t understand or sense our own social and political realities (a dangerous lack of the sensation of “presence”) or seem to be moved by clear information toward more reasonable and functional responses to what we learn…if we are indeed learning anything at all. Suffice to say, change is happening, but I question it’s pace and the energy behind it. Thanks for your clarity, Ann.

  • Jackeline Pou

    I am reading your comments again and I must say it inspires me as a journalist to uncover more about U.S. interests and how we invaded countries, aided in the assassination of leaders, and how it compares to what is going on today. Let’s look at Egypt, was there anything we could have done to avoid the chaos in Egypt? Or has the U.S. taken a different approach when other countries are faced with political turmoil?