The Trouble with the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding (review)
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Reviewed by
Séverine Autesserre, The Trouble with the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding (Cambridge University Press 2010), 311 pages, ISBN 978-0-521-19100-5.

Events in the Congo since the end of the Cold War have been dramatic and deeply disturbing. Some extraordinary books have already appeared examining the history of this period. Gérard Prunier's Africa's World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe and Jason Stearns's Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa are two leading examples of lengthy, superb efforts examining the cataclysmic events of the late 1990s and early years of this century in the Congo.

Séverine Autesserre, in her 2010 book The Trouble with the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding, takes a different approach than Prunier or Stearns. She does not produce a history of the Congo; rather, her analysis focuses on the UN Mission to the Congo (known by its French acronym, MONUC) and its shortcomings. She sets her bar high. She does not merely want to show that MONUC did not perform as well as it could have (which it clearly did not), nor even that, with some changes, MONUC and other [End Page 606] international actors could have saved many more lives or otherwise helped the Congolese avoid many of the horrors of this period (which they clearly could have done). Her ultimate aim is to show that, at least as of late 2009, when she completed this book, the attempt by the international community to restore peace in the Congo was not just flawed, but a failure. Although she provides a strong case for MONUC's many shortcomings and specific failings, her book ultimately does not succeed in making the case for any better real world alternative to MONUC and the international community's general approach, warts and all.

Autesserre provides a detailed and compelling analysis of the failures of MONUC. This large UN peacekeeping mission, with, at its height, more than 20,000 military and civilian personnel, clearly did not succeed in keeping the peace at certain dramatic moments, such as the "Bukavu crisis" of 2004, when Laurent Nkunda led dissident soldiers past hundreds of heavily armed MONUC troops, who watched quiescently as Nkunda's Congolese fighters ultimately occupied, and briefly terrorized, Bukavu, capital city of the South Kivu province in eastern Congo. The Congolese state and the international community have failed to put an end to rural violence in eastern Congo, where lawless men and boys still rampage in too many locales, committing heinous acts against civilians, including horrible sexual violence against girls, women, and, increasingly, boys and men.

Dr. Autesserre wants to use these and other specific failures to build a case that the international intervention in the Congo is an overall failure. Yet, as of fall 2011, despite these abysmal failures, MONUC's successor mission, MONUSCO (the UN Stabilization Mission in the Congo in its French acronym), remains in place and, to some, including this observer, Congo looks to be more stable, even in Eastern Congo, with better prospects because of, not despite, MONUC, and now MONUSCO's, presence.

Since Autesserre is making a counterfactual case, it is important to examine carefully what the realistic options were, and whether her conclusion, that MONUC and the entire Congolese peace process failed, actually holds up. She focuses on the period from mid-2003 to the end of 2006, from the time when the formerly warring parties formed a transitional government until the holding of elections in July and October 2006. She is particularly harsh in her overall treatment of the elections, referring to the international attitude towards holding elections in transitional countries like the Congo as "the election fetish."

Rather than a focus on national issues, like nationwide peace agreements leading to elections, Autesserre advocates a focus on micro-level conflict resolution, with a deep understanding of the dynamics of these conflicts. She rejects the point of view that the macro issues dominated the micro, arguing that something approaching the reverse is closer to the truth, that...