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Reviewed by:
  • The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa and; Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe
  • Guy Martin
Lemarchand, René. 2009. The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 327 pp. $59.95 (cloth); $27.50 (paper).
Prunier, Gérard. 2009. Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe. New York: Oxford University Press. 529 pp. $27.95 (cloth).

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a metaphor for the plight of the continent, an exemplar of the paradox of Africa’s development. Why is a continent so richly endowed in natural resources and arable land now ranked as the poorest in the world by all available socioeconomic indicators? More specifically, as noted by Lemarchand (p. ix), why is it that in the DRC, two-thirds of the population is still mired in poverty, though it is a country described as a “geological scandal” by the former Belgian colonial masters but home to no less than eighty-seven different types of minerals, including gold, uranium, copper, and coltan

Part of the explanation for this state of affairs has to do with the human toll exacted by the two Congo wars (September 1996 to May 1997 and August 1998 to August 1999) and the low-intensity warfare still going on in eastern and southeastern Congo (particularly in Ituri, North and South Kivu, Maniema, and Katanga). The deaths resulting from these wars—either directly or indirectly, through war-related malnutrition, famine, and diseases—have been estimated at approximately 6 million (at a monthly rate of about 40,000) by the International Rescue Committee (IRC)—a figure equivalent to the entire population of such midsize European countries as Denmark, Finland, and Norway.

Under the foregoing circumstances, one wonders why the international community has been silent about this “genocide by attrition” (Lemarchand, p. 105), but also why such carnage has mostly been off the radar screen of the mainstream media and seriously neglected by the Africanist academic community.

It is, indeed, one of the greatest merits of two recent books by two of the most respected experts on central Africa and the Great Lakes region—René Lemarchand’s The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa and Gérard Prunier’s Africa’s World War—not only to analyze the root causes, political dynamics, and socioeconomic consequences of these conflicts, but also to do so within a distinctly subregional perspective.

As suggested by its subtitle, Africa’s World War is the broader and more ambitious of these studies. In 368 dense pages of text, Prunier, a research professor at the University of Paris and past director of the French Center for [End Page 92] Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa, chronicles in painstaking detail not only the two Congo wars, but also the Rwanda genocide (April–July 1994), and the role of subregional actors such as Angola, Burundi, Congo-Brazzaville, Sudan, Uganda, and Zimbabwe in these wars. In the first two chapters, he revisits the genesis and regional dimensions of the Rwanda genocide analyzed in his earlier work (The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide, Columbia University Press, 1995). The picture that emerges from his account is that of a Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) and its leader (Paul Kagame)—the Tutsi-led armed opposition to the génocidaires now in power in Kigali—not only indifferent to the plight of Tutsi civilians, but also systematically resorting to terror, fear, mayhem, and murder for political control. Thus, Prunier alleges that Kagame is to be blamed for the reported murder of the brilliant and charismatic RPF leader Fred Rwigyema, on 3 October 1990 (p. 14).

Similarly, citing reliable U.N. sources, Prunier documents the systematic killing of up to 300,000 refugees in eastern and northeastern Congo in the aftermath of the genocide (p. 148). He provides a detailed, though somewhat incomplete, account of the conflict over citizenship between native and “nonnative” (Banyarwanda and Banyamulenge) ethnic groups in north and south Kivu (pp. 48–53, 333–334). He proceeds to show how the two Congo wars, involving no less than six other African countries (most notably Rwanda...


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