- The Congo Wars: Conflict, Myth and Reality
Thomas Turner begins his book with a bold assertion: "The bloodiest war since the Second World War unfolded in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)—the former Zaire—in the mid-1990s" (1). Turner's ambitious aim is to "establish what happened in Congo, to sort out the explanations, and to offer some recommendations for the future" (8). His account of the [End Page 196] unfortunate events that occurred there relies on rational choice, materialist, and cultural approaches. By means of such an eclectic methodology, Turner is able to disentangle the complexity of events in the DRC and provide an elaborate analysis of the Congo wars.
The author begins with an introductory chapter that provides the context of the book. In chapter 2, he briefly discusses the economics of pillage and partition, which he traces back to King Leopold II of Belgium, while chapter 3 explains the conflict in Congo through the ideological lenses of race and resistance in the Great Lakes region. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 discuss three interrelated themes that include wars in Kivu (South and North), their developments, and the efforts of the United Nations and the international community to end conflicts in the DRC. The final chapter provides an excellent critique of some institutional arrangements that Congolese and the international community carved out without much debate during the 2003–6 transition period. These arrangements concern the nationality issue, the minimum age required of candidates for president, the creation of new provinces, the multiplication of administrative layers hindering efficiency in governance, and regional decentralization. Turner rightly contends that these arrangements might hinder the long-term stability of the DRC. Despite these factors, he seems to agree with a number of other observers that a rebirth of nationalism is taking root in the DRC as the result of recent civil wars. Whether this sense of unity will help the Congolese leadership create a strong state remains debatable given the degree of widespread corruption and the abuses of human rights that remain rampant.
Turner's historical analysis of Congo wars succeeds brilliantly in presenting the complexity of the issues and actors in the Great Lakes region. He shows that the Congo wars resulted from the interplay of several causal links that involved not only rational players pursuing their own preferences, but also the politics of exclusion in which autochthones wanted to exclude some groups they thought were allothochtons from entitlement to land rights and citizenship. In the process, Turner argues, ethnic affinities are reconstructed to serve as corporate political actors seeking to control socioeconomic space. This constructivist view of ethnicity helps him focus on feedback between the policies of Rwanda, Congo, and other state actors as "each reacts to the perceived situation on the ground" (17). In brief, what explains conflicts in the Great Lakes region is the fact that ethnic affinities can change and thus be instrumentalized; therefore, Turner rejects the view that ethnic affinities are primordial or "essentialist" (20).
I have three minor criticisms of the book. First is the danger inherent in an exclusively constructivist approach to explain conflicts in South Kivu and North Kivu (chapters 4 and 5). Ethnicity is a complex phenomenon with both affective and rational aspects—it is both emotional and instrumental. Local loyalties exhibit some affinities that can reinforce national patriotism. Turner may not give due attention to the power of such loyalties, whether constructed, instrumentalized, or more deeply rooted. Second, [End Page 197] despite the book's comprehensive nature, economics receives only cursory attention. While the book shows how "looting and carving" have been part of Congo history, it downplays the role of economics in shaping opportunities and social inequalities—experienced by both local actors and immigrant actors from neighboring countries. Third, although the book highlights the high level of human rights abuses associated with civil wars in eastern DRC, it focuses on the effects of violence without...