One of Slavoj Žižek‘s recent pieces in Le Monde Diplomatique has nothing to do with Lebanon… and everything to do with it. It is about the war in Congo, but — like this previous post — it is also about how seemingly archaic forms of civil strife are actually embedded in their “modern” conditions and about the banality of trying to separate the one from the other. It is also about why Africa receives less attention in the media than places like Lebanon or Palestine: the more “tribal” the conflict seemingly is, the more “natural” its violence is perceived to be.
I have not been able to find the original article, so some of the subtleties might be lost in this translation of a translation, but Žižek’s main point is this:
We can discern the contours of global capitalism under the facade of ethnic conflict. After the fall of Mobutu, Congo no longer existed as a unified, operational state, especially not the eastern part which is a patchwork of territories ruled by local warlords each controlling their own patch of land with an army which normally includes doped children. All the warlords have business contacts with foreign companies or industries who (mainly) profit from mining the riches of the region. This arrangement works well for the partners: the businesses receive exploitation rights without being burdened with taxes or other inconveniences, the warlords get money… The irony is that many of these [extracted] metals are used in high-technology products like laptops and mobile phones. In short, this is not about the local population’s primitive customs: if we remove the high-technology companies from the line, the entire structure of ethnic civil strife driven by old hate will collapse.
You might not agree with the final conclusion about the collapse — and Žižek is prone to theatricals — but the heart of the argument holds in the concluding sentence, a play on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness:
There is definitely a lot of darkness in the dense Congolese jungle, but its heart is to be found elsewhere, in the illuminated head offices of our high-technology companies.