As a son of an African journalist, the BBC World Service tends to act as my alarm clock. And so on Thursday morning, I woke up to the sounds of a bizarre story:
A statue of former Belgian colonial King Leopold II has been re-erected in the centre of the Democratic Republic of Congo capital, Kinshasa.
Now it seemed clear to me that I must have been in the middle of a dream and so I thought nothing better of it. In the afternoon though, my curiousity stirred, I checked their news site and found to my amazement that indeed, it was true: Leopold's statue was back up.
King Leopold II set up the Congo Free State in 1885 as his personal possession and left arguably the worst legacy of all the European colonial regimes... He turned the country into a massive labour camp, made a fortune for himself from the harvest of its wild rubber, and contributed in a large way to the death of perhaps 10 million innocent people.
Culture Minister Christophe Muzungu said people should not just see the negative side of the king - they should also look at the positive aspects.
"We are restoring the history of our country because a people without history is a people without a soul," he said.
I sputtered and struggled to find the appropriate historical analogue to this decision. It was as if the Chechens had decided to put up Stalin's statue in Grozny - he who had decimated their ranks 60 years by deporting all of them from their lands in forced marches to Siberia - or perhaps as if the mayor of Gaza took it to his head to erect Ariel Sharon's statue (or a new monument to Saddam in Kurdistan?).
Leopold's depradations were so grotesque and occured on such a scale that even the other colonial powers had to take pause in their scamble for african loot. The Belgian behavior was the kind of thing that would queer the whole colonial enterprise and indeed the twentieth century's first significant talk about human rights was on the Congo issue. In much the same way, the images from Abu Ghraib prompted a (slight) sense of unease in the recent US empire building. More to the point, the colonial experience under Leopold set Congo on a downward path that it has never been able to escape.