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Dan Snow’s History of Congo

Wed Oct 9, 9-10pm, BBC2

Slavery. Colonialism. The Cold War. The march of technology. The unfettered, stateless free market. What do all of these historical currents have in common? Well, they’ve all taken turns to bruise, buffet and brutalise Congo which, suggests Dan Snow’s ‘This World’ film, might just be the unluckiest country in the world.

What’s particularly weird about Congo is that things should be so much better. The country has repeatedly been a victim of its own natural profusion which has acted as a magnet to exploiters. The Belgian Prince Leopold started this trend back in the 1890s when he relieved Congo of much of its rubber, became wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice and offed anywhere between two and 15 million Congolese into the bargain. Subsequently, diamonds, copper, uranium, coltan (a rich metallic ore) and cadmium have had their moments – each could have made the country rich, each has brought only powerlessness, violence and misery.

Snow ends in a cadmium mine containing some reasonably optimistic workers. Inevitably, the mine is run by Canadians. Not cheerful viewing, then, but if you’ve ever wondered why phones, laptops and tablets come so cheap these days, you could do worse than take a look.