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Opinion

‘Congo Mercenary’ a visceral, rewarding experience

February 24, 2016

Congo Mercenary by “Mad” Mike Hoare, is a thrilling account of the true story of the five commando, a mercenary group hired to put down a communist rebellion in the Republic of the Congo. Now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a west African nation, has a long and troubled history.

In 1885 the Belgian King, Leopold II gained private control of the Congo, to exploit resources and gain riches. Over the course of his rule of the what was then known as the Congo free state, millions of Congolese natives were killed and millions were enslaved. Modern estimates put the death doll at as high as 15 million but most likely it is closer to 10 million.

In 1908 king Leopold II ceded control of the Congo free state to the Belgian parliament. In 1960 the Congo became independent from the Belgians and immediately, revolts and rebellions in the country began. The prime minister of the Congo, Moise Tshombe found himself in precarious position. In 1964 there were enemies all around, the largest rebel group, the Simbas, Swahili for the lions, began to overrun the eastern provinces of the Congo almost unchecked.

The Simbas were successful — quick, deadly, and brutal. Thousands of local Africans who did not support the Simbas were tortured, murdered, and executed in the most inhumane ways. As well, thousands of white Europeans, mostly Belgians and British who had been in the Congo were held either murdered or held captive. Many of these captives were missionaries or nuns, who had come to Christianize the people, but many were just Belgians who had come to live in the colony. Furthermore, the Simbas were receiving aid from the Soviet Union, China, and other communist countries. Even from Cuba, 100 advisers were sent including Che Guevara.

Tshombe looked to the other African nation for support, but was refused. Many African nations were even aiding the Simbas, Tshombe looked to the United Nations but found them to be bureaucratic and ineffectual. The only option left was to hire white mercenary troops, mainly Afrikaners — an ethnic group in South Africa mainly descended from Dutch ancestors who settled there. Mike Hoare was hired to recruit and train these men.

Mike Hoare, an Irishman and a veteran of world war II new war well. He had established himself as an effective leader and a mercenary at this point. Tshombe faced much criticism for his hiring of the mercenaries. Never before had an African politician hired whites to come to his country, and kill his countrymen. Hoare’s presence was not welcome with many of the Congolese and his whole time there was fraught with danger. Facing overwhelming numbers of enemies, Hoare managed to lead his men to dazzling victories.

The book itself is a personal account of his time there, of what he saw and what happened. While known mostly for his ability as a military commander, his writing is fluid, eloquent and well put together. Hoare paints a raw view of humanity, of Africa, the effects of colonialism with the brash roughness of a soldier. Offering personal insight and opinions on many people and events the reader may find themself feeling as though Hoare is speaking to them directly.

This book is not for the squeamish, as it delves into a firsthand account of the horrors of war, but not unnecessarily so. The book shows what happened, omitting nothing for the sake of being more digestible. Any reader with an Interest in military affairs, African History, post-colonialism or just an all around good read, will find themselves enticed by this novel. Available upon request for transfer at the UWRF library, Congo Mercenary, is a superb book and I recommend it to any student who is willing to read such a book.