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  • The Congo Wars: conflict, myth and reality
  • Jenna Sapiano
Thomas Turner, The Congo Wars: conflict, myth and reality. London and New York NY: Zed Books (pb £17.99 – ISBN 978 1 84277 689 4). 2007, pp. 254.

Thomas Turner’s book contributes a great deal to our understanding of the DRC and to the conflict that has earned the appropriate label ‘Africa’s World War’. Having previously worked in Rwanda and the DRC, Turner is very familiar with the Great Lakes region. This knowledge has translated into this and past works, which include The Rise and Decline of the Zairian State (1985), written with Crawford Young, and Ethnogenèse et nationalisme en Afrique centrale: les racines de Lumumba, published in 2000. [End Page 340]

In Turner’s introduction to The Congo Wars we are assured of a comprehensive examination of this multifaceted conflict. His objective is to ascertain what has taken place, historically and presently, in the DRC. He does this in great detail in his first three chapters. The first of these, ‘Half a Holocaust’, aptly opens his piece by emphasizing the severity and scale of this conflict. Turner does well in these first chapters to familiarize the reader with the details of the conflict, tracing the history of this vast country from the time of Leopold II of Belgium, through the era of Mobutu, to the modern presidency of Joseph Kabila. His approach juxtaposes the class structure of Leopold’s Congo to that which has emerged in the present. He also gives significant consideration to the material interests of the actors as an explanation of their actions. It becomes increasingly clear how entangled the value of natural resources are with the birth and perpetuation of the conflict.

Summarizing existing arguments, Turner outlines many of the current approaches that endeavour to explain the root causes of the conflict. He dedicates a substantial section to the theoretical perspectives that have been employed in the discourse. Drawing on the work of other scholars who have tackled this subject, he contextualizes his book within the wider body of literature. In exploring the underlying causes of the conflict, he also looks at the external influence of neighbouring countries and the international community. His concluding chapter, ‘After the War’, picks apart the latest round of election results, revealing a still divided country. Assessment of the May 2005 draft constitution and its potential impact on the politics of the country transitions into a discussion of the re-emergence of nationalism throughout the nation.

The enormous complexity of the situation in the DRC, including a full consideration of both the history of the wars and the part played by neighbouring countries, is difficult to condense into a work of this length. Consequently, the book focuses largely on North and South Kivu, and the part played in the conflict here by Rwanda. To provide the reader with the requisite context to understand the situation Turner chronicles the history of Rwanda alongside that of the DRC, giving evidence of their frequent intertwinement. The book provides an excellent overview of the conflict in North and South Kivu but does not give similar coverage to conflicts in other areas of the country. Indeed, someone with Turner’s knowledge of Rwanda and the DRC would have done well to focus the book solely on the relationship between these two countries.

Turner also falls short of his third stated objective: to put forward recommendations for the future. While he does provide some thoughts in this area, they are somewhat lacking in depth and detail. The book would have benefited from a more thorough discussion of the long-term consequences of the present situation and these recommendations. Turner’s highly skilled academic analysis of the situation would have translated well into a normative discussion, in so doing perhaps identifying areas for future research.

The Congo Wars makes a valuable contribution to the growing collection of work dedicated to this conflict. Yet the fast-moving pace of events in the region means that there are constantly new circumstances to be evaluated and new debates to be undertaken. More than ever, the situation in the DRC has to be scrutinized, particularly in the...


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pp. 340-341
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