- Congo’s Violent Peace: Conflict and Struggle Since the Great African War by Kris Berwouts
Since 1960, the intrigue and complexity of Congolese politics has inspired generations of researchers. Kris Berwouts’s Congo’s Violent Peace offers a succinct overview of major developments between the 2006 presidential elections and 2016. It deftly dissects the interplay among international relations, national politics in the era of Congolese president Joseph Kabila, and [End Page 111] the tangle of local conflicts that have resulted in violence. After sketching out the contours of Congolese politics from 1960 to the civil wars between 1997 and 2003, Berwouts furnishes a case study of local violence in South Kivu. Tensions over land rights and the question of which ethnic identity can truly be considered indigenous to the region brought on a massacre in 2012 in Mutarule, a town situated between the cities of Bukavu and Uvira. Rather than being an endless cycle of ethnic hatred, the Mutarule case shows how local and national politics had prepared the ground for violence. Succeeding national governments had appointed and dismissed local chiefs belonging to competing Rundi and Mufuliro communities. Kabila’s government had reinstated a Rundi leader, Mwami Ndabagoye, in 2012 after dismissing the Mufuliro chief for mismanagement. Ndabagoye was killed, setting off more fighting. The attack on the town may have come from Banyamulenge, a community of Congolese Kinyarwanda-speakers, after a Banyamulenge cattle raider had been killed. The civil wars had left behind weapons and the motivation to avenge feuds in local and regional settings, no matter what peace agreements were in force at the national level.
Specialists of Congolese politics may find the overview of Joseph Kabila’s reign since 2006 unnecessary, but this is a valuable introduction to those less well-versed in the maneuvers within Kabila’s entourage that have shaped government policy. Berwouts identifies Congolese national and regional stakeholders, rather than Western governments or the United Nations, as the drivers of political change. Kabila’s methods of retaining authority have evolved since he won the 2006 elections. Though he had to keep paying off top regional leaders and military commanders, he has gradually taken the reins of power after initially leaning heavily on older figures within his entourage, such as Augustin Katumba Mwanke. After Katumba Mwanke’s death in an airplane accident in 2010 and the defection to the political opposition of former top advisor Vital Kamerhe, Kabila has increasingly taken charge. Buoyed by Chinese investment and the commitment of Western countries and the United Nations to maintaining him in power, he managed in 2013 to tame Banyamulenge rebels backed by the Rwandan government. The failure of opposition leaders Kamerhe and the aged Etienne Tshisekedi to join together against him in the 2011 elections helped him stay in power.
Though the waning influence of Western governments and the United Nations is a theme of Berwouts’s analysis, it is striking how events after the period covered in Congo’s Violent Peace have illustrated the role of declining leverage on Kabila’s state. Kabila’s success in 2017 and 2018 in circumventing the Congolese constitution’s ban on a third term, postponing elections, jailing opposition youth leaders, and defying the demand of Catholic organizations to step down have demonstrated how he has learned to ignore criticism from the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations. Berwouts could have discussed in more detail the process by which foreign governments lost their hold over Kabila. Though he praises civil-society activists such as Floribert Chebeya, he could have spent more time on these [End Page 112] critics and dominant opposition leaders, but this should not dissuade anyone interested in contemporary politics in the Democratic Republic of Congo from reading this book. It covers a lot of ground with accuracy and clarity. It dispenses with simplistic explanations of why violence has dogged the Congo, such as placing the blame mainly on the DRC’s wealth of natural resources. It would be effective in upper-level undergraduate courses and graduate courses...