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Former U.N. peacekeeper reflects on Congo independence

By Grace Wong for CNN
  • Donald Luscombe was a Canadian U.N. peacekeeper in the Congo in 1963
  • "So many people tried to get their share of the Congo," Luscombe reflects
  • During his time in the Congo, he started taking photos so he would have a record of what he'd seen

This year 17 African countries celebrate 50 years of independence. CNN is marking this major milestone with special coverage looking at the continent's past, present and future. Do you have memories of African independence? Share your photos and videos with iReport.

(CNN) -- Donald Luscombe was just 19 when he arrived in the Congo in 1963 as part of a Canadian U.N. peacekeeping force.

"I was just a kid," he told CNN. "You hoped to make a difference. That's what we were trying to do -- each one of us was trying to make a difference."

During his six-month deployment in what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly known as Zaire), he had a Kodachrome 35 mm camera delivered and began taking photos.

"I know most photos from this time are black and white, so I thought a few of my father's Kodachrome color photos might be interesting," his son Jeffrey, who shared the photos with CNN iReport, said.

Click on the gallery above to see some of the images.

The Congo won independence from Belgium in 1960, but immediately fell into crisis as the resource-rich province of Katanga tried to secede.

1960: Timeline of African independence

As part of the U.N. presence, "we were just in the middle," Luscombe recounted. "We wanted to let them find peace."

There are U.N. soldiers still over there trying to make a difference like we were then.
--Donald Luscombe

Based in the capital city of Leopoldville, now called Kinshasa, he started taking the photos so he would have a record of what he'd seen.

At the time, the Congo was a "hotspot," the way Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan are today, said Luscombe.

Read another iReporter's story of Congo independence

A half-century later -- the Democratic Republic of Congo marked its 50th year of independence in June -- conflict over natural resources still rages on in some parts of the country.

Interactive map: 50 years of freedom

"Did we make a difference? Maybe we did at the time," Luscombe reflected. "But all these years later, it's still going on. So many people tried to get their share of the Congo."

Shortly after returning from the Congo, Luscombe completed his service in the Canadian army. Now 66, he's retired and living in Hamilton, Ontario.

He's never returned to the Congo, but said he's still hopeful that peace will come to the country.

"There are U.N. soldiers still over there trying to make a difference like we were then. Hopefully it will make a difference."

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