Che in the Congo

Friday, January 31st, 2014

In 1965 Che Guevara came to the Congo to transform it into a socialist utopia:

Che was convinced the Congo was the weak point in western imperialism. So he made the ultimate sacrifice and shaved off his moustache and beard to disguise himself.

Che Guevara without Beard and Mustache

Guevara travelled secretly with a small group of Cubans across Lake Tanganyika to the eastern Congo. He had a theory he called Foco which he had developed with a Parisian intellectual called Regis Debray. The theory said that tiny groups of revolutionaries could inspire the people of a country to a big insurrection. To do this the revolutionaries had to set a moral example and then the Congolese rebels around them would be transformed into “New Men”

But nothing went right. Che had given himself the codename “Tatu”, which means three in Swahili. The Congo rebels thought this meant he was only third in command and didn’t listen to anything he said. He in turn was shocked at how all the rebels believed in magic — Dawa — which would make them invincible to bullets. This meant they didn’t bother to train and sat round drinking all the time.

Then Che led the rebels on an attack on a Hydro Electric plant. Some of the soldiers said they had heard an elephant and ran away. The rest closed their eyes and fired their guns randomly. Che was very depressed. Then they tried to attack an army barracks, but the Congo rebels had a superstitious fear of trenches so they wouldn’t get into the holes they themselves had dug — and many were killed.


Che spent his days waiting in the mountains for the rebel leader Laurent Kabila to turn up. He gave the rebels classes in how to be “new men” but they laughed at him, he got dysentery, he lost his pet monkey, and then Kabila finally arrived but was completely drunk. Che Guevara gave up any hope of creating a revolution. He wrote Fidel Castro a despairing letter. In it you can feel the 20th century dream of transforming oppressed people into new kinds of powerful beings quietly dying away.

Che left and went off to try and transform the Bolivian peasants instead.


  1. Van der Leun says:

    Where he was, thankfully, killed — even if it was many, many years too late.

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