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The history of the Congo, in short, is entangled in an absence of memory.

The CMI seeks to address this fundamental problem by addressing and accounting past atrocities and resistance. For most people, Congolese and other, the only records of state atrocities are occasional texts written by concerned foreigners: from J. Conrad’s Heart of darkness in 1902, M. Twain’s King Leopold Soliloquy in 1905, E.D. Morel’s Red Rubber in 1906, A.C Doyle’s The crime of the Congo in 1909 to Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost in 1998. A handful of Belgian and Congolese academics – Isidor Ndaywel è Nziem, Jan Vansina, Marc
Reynebeau and Guy Vanthemsche – have also criticised the denial and ‘revisionist’ histories of the colonial period. These few yet vibrant voices keep alive a tradition of voicing truth against the silencing power of the State.

The CMI positions itself at the heart of recording, preserving and accounting memories. Preserving and disseminating sources of the past is our first concern. Our archive will bring together the numerous primary sources that document the past. Since many are stored outside the Congo, it is essential to digitise these to make them accessible online. Local archives also hold valuable sources and must receive support to avoid further deterioration, theft or obscurity.

Our second concern is providing forums for people to express, share and document their personal memories. This project sees Congolese history as a tapestry of narratives rather than a single true story. Weaving together these stories will require the recording and archiving of people’s memories, and then sharing them with others within and outside the Congo. The CMI will strive to become a repository of a living archive of previously silenced memories.

Archiving memories will be CMI’s central purpose, though we will also engage contemporary actors – from governments to corporations to other non-governmental organizations – in an ongoing dialogue on the Congo’s past. This role is more to facilitate than prescribe discussion on future actions. CMI’s archives will provide a rich source from which others can draw from to address the current problems facing the region. Before a new political culture and relations with foreign powers can be addressed, one must understand the entangled roots of a violent past.

Resurrecting memories in a shared archive provides just this foundation.

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