WATCH: Could the DR Congo have been a real life Wakanda?

WAKANDA - noun. An African kingdom that's strong, independent, and wealthy. It's a land that's unmarred by colonialism and slave trade, thriving and technologically advanced. A place that is rich with natural resources such as uranium and diamonds, and in a fertile area of land.

Is this what the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) could have been?

While the Marvel film Black Panther's Wakanda was, of course, fictional and presented an idealised version of a resource-rich, prosperous nation in Africa, we can't help but notice the striking parallels between the two countries. And in the comic-world, they share a border!

They both have boast vast amounts of mineral wealth - and, while Wakanda has its magical 'vibranium' along with uramium, coal and diamonds, the DRC has diamonds, coal, uranium, cobalt, rubber, and colton.

SEE: #BlackPanther: You can visit Wakanda IRL at Golden Gate National Park 

But even though their roots run thick in natural resources, this year's UN Human Development Index (HDI) the country at number 176 out of a list of 184 countries.

So, why isn't it one of the world's richest countries?

Well, while it's fictional sibling, Wakanda, was able to use vibranium to render the land 'invisible', the real DRC's mineral wealth made the region a magnet for exploitative imperialists. 

It's early modern history laid in violent Belgian hands. King Leopold II ran it as his personal brutal fiefdom from 1885 to 1908. People were tortured, maimed and raped and the population was halved - up to 10 million Africans lost their lives. Leopold extracted over a billion dollars in profits for these atrocities. 

READ: #AfriTravel: Congo Airways to expand to SA with Johannesburg weekly flights 

But even after the Belgian state took over from Leopold, the Congolese continued to suffer. Their resources were rapidly being depleted and exported for the profit of Belgium. 

Then came Patrice Lumumba. He advocated for state ownership over the land's resources and refused to praise the Belgian government.

Lumumba helped achieve independence for the DRC and could have been its first real leader. 

But with the decades of colonialism, the state left in its wake was vulnerable to outside interference - particularly during the Cold War when its minerals were a strategic resource.

Lumumba eventually ended up being a victim to assassination in a CIA-aided plot and was replaced by Mobutu Sese Seko - a corrupt and authoritarian dictator.  

CHECK OUT: #AfriTravel: Ethiopian Airlines launches new routes to DRC 

The Congo became Zaire and plunged into huge debt. Mobutu robbed the national treasury and pocketed foreign aid. 

By 1990 Zaire's debt had gone from relatively insignificant to over $10 billion (about over R152 billion @R15.17/$).

When Mobutu was eventually overthrown, partly as a consequence of the civil war and genocide in neighbouring Rwanda, he was replaced by Laurent Kabila who was backed by a loose alliance of rebels.

But the violence which brought Kabila to power continued under his rule. Things did not change much after he was assassinated and his son Joseph came into power in 2001. 

Many of the DRC assets have been privatised with no compensation or benefit for the state treasury.

SEE 2016 index ranks world's nationalities: Germany vs SA vs Congo 

The little infrastructure the DRC had was used to bring minerals from the privatised resource-rich mines to the ports or borders for extraction.

In sum, unlike the flourishing fictional kingdom of Wakanda, whose borders were kept strictly monitored and isolationist, the DRC was brutalised and forced to trade with the outside world. 

By the end of the Black Panther movie, Wakanda became a source of foreign aid - if the DRC had had the chance to use its huge resources for its own benefit, could its narrative have been very different?

Some highlights of the region:

Now that we've briefed the dark but key-to-know history of the region, here are some of the highlights you can encounter should you visit.

Despite its ongoing struggles and the historic pain of the region, it births so much life and is rich is national parks and lush, thriving greenery - making it a nature-lover's haven. 

Plan your nature-lover escape to one of the following spots that caress the DRC land:

View this post on Instagram

Our earliest ancestors lived in the forests and mountains surrounding Mount Sabyinyo, Congo a tribe of forest-dwelling people known as the Batwa. ? ---? Batwa legend says their origins started with a man, Kihanga, who had three sons named Katutsi, Kahutu and Katwa. One day he called his three sons and gave each of them a gourd full of milk. On the next day, in the early morning, he asked them to give him back the gourds for him to place inside a shrine. Katutsi brought back his gourd and it was still full of milk; Kahutu’s receptacle was only half full while Katwa’s container was completely empty. He had drunk all the milk in the night. Their father then blessed each of his three sons based on how responsible they had been with the gourds of milk. ? ---? Katutsi was blessed with all his father’s cows which would help him and his children to prosper for generations. Kahutu was blessed with a hoe and seeds which would help him to grow food in his lifetime and for generations to come after him. Katwa was given the forest and all that was in it; he was to survive by hunting and gathering.? ---? Many generations passed and their descendants multiplied. The descendants of Katutsi and Kahutu became so many that they could no longer be satisfied with what they had and ended up encroaching on Katwa’s forest. In the end, they chased Katwa’s descendants from the forest and made them live as beggars and landless people. ? ??by @meraldemirelmd

A post shared by Navigo (@hellonavigo) on

View this post on Instagram

With 15 parks under management, we have been working tirelessly to increase our footprint across Africa with our Government partners, to conserve more wilderness, improve community livelihoods and protect the extraordinary wildlife that live there, all for the benefit of current and future generations. And these efforts are being noticed. The @nytimes recently covered our work including our expansion and our model, along with the positive news emerging from Garamba National Park in the DRC. The park had been on a steady downfall for the last few decades: rangers were killed, the elephant population decimated by poachers; marauding armed groups including the Lords Resistance Army wreaking havoc on wildlife and people; and the disappearance of the last northern white rhinos living in the wild. But African Parks assumed management of Garamba in partnership with the ICCN in 2005, and with international support, we’ve managed to turn this grim story around. Our ranger force has not suffered a casualty in the last 12 months and just two elephants have been killed this year, compared to 50 in 2017 and 99 in 2016. In an interview with Chris Torchia from the @apnews, Peter Fearnhead, CEO of African Parks explains the initial challenges we have faced when assuming management of many of the parks to fall under our management: “It was literally, “Here's a park, we've written it off, there's no wildlife left, there's no value, there's no tourism, there's no income for the park ... so you take it”. And that was fine. We needed to prove that we were able to achieve what we were saying, what we believed was possible" Click the link in the bio to read the full story. ?? David Santiago Garcia. #AfricanParks #Conservation #Wildlife #Garamba #DRC #Rangers #AForceForGood

A post shared by AfricanParksNetwork (@africanparksnetwork) on

View this post on Instagram


A post shared by ??? (@ruthndre) on

Find Your Escape with our Traveller24 Weekly Newsletter – Subscribe here. Or download the News24 App here, to receive expertly curated travel wanderlust directly to your mobile.