- Beyond creed, greed and booty: conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo
The widespread belief that nowhere in Africa has violence taken a heavier toll than the nearly one million deaths of the 1994 Rwandan genocide is, as René Lemarchand observes, ‘one of the most persistent and persistently misleading ideas’ about the continent (p. 4). Since 1998, the intractable conflict in the Democratic of Congo (DRC) has left over five times that number (approximately 5.4 million) dead, a toll which continues to mount unabated in the largely war-torn east, despite the formal cessation of hostilities in July 2003 and the much anticipated national elections in 2006. Yet the country which over a century ago captured global attention and sympathy, rousing one of its earliest human rights campaigners, George Washington Williams, to denounce Belgian King Leopold’s rampant pillaging of its people and property as ‘crimes against humanity’ (the first use of a now ubiquitous term), has received scant scholarly and public attention (Butcher 2008: 308). The mantra ‘Never Again’ which so quickly became both a succinct epitaph for the Rwandan genocide and a plea to action has sooner galvanized the so-called international community over the conflict in Sudan – which, as horrific as it is, pales in comparison to unfolding events in its south-westerly neighbour, the DRC. The war in the DRC surprisingly remains under-reported, under-researched and, when remembered, largely misunderstood.
The two books under review are seminal contributions to the literature on the DRC and will undoubtedly become recommended reading for those seeking to understand the conflict and the dynamics of violence which have engulfed the broader Great Lakes region. Both authors aim to disprove fashionable and easily digestible hypotheses about the war and its causes, opting instead for a more nuanced [End Page 322] and detailed analysis probing its inextricable link with the Rwandan genocide. Both books assist in explaining the historical construction of ethnic and national identities in the region, and in doing so the authors lay bare what they regard as the West’s ‘abysmal ignorance’ of the region’s ‘past and recent history’, and how these shortcomings in turn engender a response which they view as problematic (Lemarchand, p. x). Both authors demonstrate how the simplified narratives of ‘good’ versus ‘evil’ and ‘Tutsi’ versus ‘Hutu’ widely adopted in the wake of the Rwandan genocide have impeded ‘hard analysis’ and ‘strong political resolve’ in the DRC (Prunier, p. 346). Taken together, these works have something salient to say about the causes and ways of understanding contemporary armed conflicts in Africa. However, their real contribution lies in the breadth and depth of the history they recount, reflecting decades of research and study on and in the DRC region – amidst a plague of violence which, as Prunier acerbically notes, ‘has left few of those who looked at it from up close completely intact’ (p. 358). For both authors, particularly Prunier, their latest work is the product of rigorous self-reflection and self-interrogation – a reappraisal of their own ‘objectivity’ and what they once viewed as the ‘right position’. Quoting Paul Ricoeur, Lemarchand (p. 102) rightly urges the necessity of this ‘travail de mémoire’ (labour of memory).
Africa’s World War
Prunier’s Africa’s World War is a tour de force – a masterful history of both wars (First Congo War, September 1996–May 1997; Second Congo War, August 1998–July 2003). The book starts in the immediate aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, which Prunier refers to in the title of his first substantive chapter as Rwanda’s ‘mixed season of hope’ – a squandered moment when the newly seated government of national...