Comics are often subversive. From a fist-bumping version of the Obamas to the downright deadly cartoon depiction of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed, drawings have the power to entertain, inform and, most of all, upset. Although anger usually arises over offensive details that appear in the work, now, a new graphic novel about civil strife in the Democratic Republic of the Congo angers through its glaring omission.
At first glance, Army of God journalist David Axe’s richly illustrated and detailed comic series about the brutal rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) presents a seemingly benign political history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That is, until you realize what is missing.
In the first 11 slides, which span a period of history from the 1800s to the 1990s, Axe’s quick spin through time never once mentions Congo’s ill-fated, short-lived leader Patrice Lumumba, whose death marked one of the most pivotal events for the country.
Lumumba, a young, progressive pan-Africanist, became the country’s first prime minister in 1960, promising a new era of stability and prosperity in the already troubled nation. However, Lumumba’s life was cut short when he was assassinated in a plot involving the CIA.
After the assassination, the U.S. installed and supported the notoriously brutal Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled Congo for more than 30 years. Mobutu’s reign brought poverty, corruption, squander of Congo’s natural resources and, following his death, civil war — the scars of which are still visible today, as can been seen in the LRA’s easy infiltration of Congo.
If this sounds like a conspiracy theory, trust, it isn’t. The U.S. has released government papers acknowledging both Lumumba's assassination and its support for Mobutu.
The omission, however, is far more dangerous than any conspiracy in that it gives the impression that the Congolese are a tragically doomed people who are bent on their own destruction and that no amount of Western "help" could stop the country's fated descent into chaos.
When asked about the omission of Lumumba, Axe said that he was not aware of the leader’s significance and noted that given the limited medium of a comic strip, he simply did not have the space to draw out all of Congolese history. While the space concerns are understandable, omitting Lumumba and the basic details behind his demise leave the rest of the story about the Lord’s Resistance Army’s terrorism of Congo a hollow shell lacking much common sense or depth, given that Congo’s ongoing instability can be directly linked to foreign involvement.
Axe told BET.com that, for him, creating the comic was simply an extension of his work as a war correspondent, covering some of the most far-flung and troubled locales for various news outlets. But, given the omission of Patrice Lumumba’s tale or the inclusion of how Western governments have worked to destabilize Congo, one would hope his work in print is better informed than his artistic pursuits.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: AFP/Getty Images)