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Africa's World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe Paperback – Apr 6 2011
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Praise for the hardcover: "The most ambitious of several remarkable new books that reexamine the extraordinary tragedy of Congo and Central Africa since the Rwandan genocide of 1994." --New York Review of Books
"One of the first books to lay bare the complex dynamic between Rwanda and Congo that has been driving this disaster." --Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times Book Review
"Lucid, meticulously researched and incisive, Prunier's will likely become the standard account of this under-reported tragedy." --Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Gerard Prunier is a widely acclaimed journalist as well as Director of the French Centre for Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa. He has published over 120 articles and five books, including The Rwanda Crisis and Darfur.
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Top Customer Reviews
The author was smart enough to put the 159 acronyms right at the front of the book so you can easily flip as you read to differentiate between all these different militia and regular army units in the war.
I will give you a quick tip if you do start to read this book and get frustrated--skip straight to the last chapter (Groping for Meaning) as the author does shed the clearest light I've ever read on this entire period of history. His comparison of this war to Europe's Thirty Years' War is spot on rather than the idea it was the African equivalent of WWI or WWII. His ability to frame the war in the context of Cold War ideology still in the minds of many of these lunatic leaders in Africa (whether elected or otherwise) does help in some part explain what happened. But if you're looking for "why," like the author himself alludes to, the whys are very hard to discern and cannot really be explained from a 21st century Western mindset of "good" vs. "evil." Those interested parties in the West did try to frame it as thus but easy labels do not work when we're talking about close to four million who died from the mid-'90s to the early '00s in central Africa.
Even so, this book should be required reading for every leader in the West to examine how they both blew the opportunity to help (i.e.Read more ›
Also some very interesting insight on the Rwandan genocide, while the Hutus are probably the cause of worst commitor and instigator of the genocide, the Tutsis aren't angels themselves.
Very insightful with many details unknown in past books.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
First, if you know nothing about the wars of central Africa over the past 15 years or so, in particular the Rwanda-related conflicts, this is an awful book to pick up and try to use as orientation. It assumes the reader already has a basic knowledge of the recent political events in about eight African nations and often launches directly into building cases against the conventionally-held wisdom, often without actually stating what the conventional wisdom is. I did my graduate thesis on the formation of an African Great Lakes rebel group, and I often had to stop reading to give my overworked brain time to process the flood of information or reread a section to make sure I understood Prunier's arguments. I can only imagine what readers who know nothing about the topic have to endure.
Second, one has to decide to what degree one trusts Prunier. If this book was written by someone besides Prunier, I would probably dismiss it largely or in whole. However, Prunier is the author of 'The Rwanda Crisis,' considered a seminal early book on the genocide, and the author of 'Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide,' also considered one of the best books of that conflict. In this recent book, Prunier recants entire storylines of 'The Rwanda Crisis' and basically says, "Fourteen years ago, I discounted information that I now believe to be credible and this is the story as I now believe it to be." So one has to decide if this is a sign that (1) Prunier has suffered some sort of mental breakdown or has perhaps been subverted by some political agenda or (2) Prunier has reexamined his sources and arguments in the light of new information, as a good historian should, to compile a more accurate portrayal. I seriously considered both as options, but decided that Alternative 2 was the most likely. You will see other reviewers who have decided otherwise.
Moving on to the next roadblock for the reader, Prunier has some rather tenuous sourcing. For example, is a single news account quoting an aid worker describing how a frightened refugee identified a particular armed group credible? Probably not. Are dozens of such thin reports credible in identifying a pattern, or can it all be attributed to enemy propaganda and the chaos of war? Prunier, in light of some of the analysis he presents early in the book, believes he can identify patterns and reports these incidents without caveat. I'm in the strange position of willing to believe his general argument, while of the opinion that any one of the incidents he uses to make that argument might in fact be false. The choice that Prunier faced is either ignoring anything that cannot be 100% confirmed to organizations with proven credibility, which almost by definition excludes all sources present at the bleeding edge of a running war in the middle of a central African jungle, or using the many fleeting news reports and interviews with people pushing their own agenda that he in fact uses to create a narrative on which he builds his analysis. Readers craving the certainty of a Western style mediatized war, in which credentialed reporters interview the public affairs officials of organized combatants, will be appalled. Others will be heartened by the intimacy that Prunier brings to the work.
OK, so assuming the reader has enough background knowledge to orient themself and is willing to entertain the idea that Prunier might be presenting an accurate-ish account, what does the reader get? Pretty much the only attempt thus far to offer a comprehensive account of the Congo wars.
The parallel that springs to mind is Edward Gibbon's 'Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire,' which was heavily criticized for the many obvious mistakes, e.g. wrong dates, mis-spellings, etc. I once read a defense which, paraphrased, said only Gibbon had the breadth of knowledge to put together such a comprehensive work but, once he wrote it, people of lesser knowledge now had a stationary target against which to launch attacks.
I have no doubt that this book is going to be a foundation stone of scholarship on the Congo wars for at least the next decade, with people reassembling the data Prunier has dug up into new conclusions and others disproving content. I could point out several factual errors myself, but I know that I'm completely incapable of attempting a work of the scale Prunier has produced so I won't be a boor. You can count the number of people who are capable of a work of this scale on this topic on one hand, so I'll thank Prunier for putting his neck on the chopping block and give his book five stars.
P.S. I'm sure someone will come back and say I must be some genocidal Hutu supporter. This is the equivalent of saying that if you didn't blindly support Stalin, you must have been pro-Hitler.
What I found particularly useful was Prunier's run down of the multitude of nations involved in the two wars. The roles played by everyone from Libya to South Africa are examined in sometimes mind-numbing detail. The whys and wherefores of each player's participation are by necessity speculative; the Angolan military doesn't have much in the way of neat regimental histories posted on the Web to use as sources and neither Yoweri Museveni or Paul Kagame are known for giving lengthy confessional interviews. Still, if you approach the material with patience and several grains of salt, you can come away with a better understanding of how the conflict in Congo was shaped by numerous outside forces.
It should be noted that this isn't light, recreational reading. I studied the DRC for five years as I was researching my novel Heart of Diamonds and I still found it essential to refer to Prunier's list of abbreviations and glossary time and time again. The sheer number of acronyms is enough to slow comprehension to a crawl, but again, this is no more than an accurate portrait of a 15-year conflict where six men with an RPG can declare themselves a rebel militia, take over a village, and eventually sit down at the negotiating table with representatives from several sovereign countries and the United Nations before splitting up to join opposing armies where they start the process all over again. Any account of alliances in Congo reads like alphabet soup in a blender.
Prunier could have provided a little more specficity and clarity about two big topics. One was the role the United States played (and plays) in the Congo wars. With his somewhat fragmented organizational approach, it was difficult to piece together what we did to whom and who did what to us. America's hands have come away soiled every time we lay them on Congo (dating to our rush to be the first country in the world to endorse King Leopold's bold claim to own the nation), and I would have liked a more detailed account of what happened and when we did it during the period covered by the book.
The other is Rwanda's major involvement in the game. Pruneir certainly provides an exhaustive account of the genocide's aftermath and how it played out in the eastern provinces of the DRC, but the big picture seemed to have been obscured by the details. Maybe my mind was dulled by slogging through account after account of what was happening to the refugees and which ones were the good Tutsis and which ones where the bad Tutsis, but I have to say I didn't come away from the book with a clear understanding of what Prunier thinks Kagame really hopes to accomplish.
Those looking for a simple definitive account of war in Congo had best look elsewhere, but readers who are sophisticated enough to take one man's observations and opinions and weigh them accordingly will find Africa's World War a useful addition to the shelf.
A Frenchman, Prunier wrote this history in perfect English, a remarkable feat. Even more remarkable is the incredible documentation -- dozens of pages of footnotes and references. He seems to have read everthing and is acquainted personally with many of the major players. His contacts allow him to move beyond standard analysis and description, as he is often personally informed of the real motives that forced events.
The book is a bit dense and the blizzard of different actors is difficult to track. Not an easy read. But anyone really interested in the ongoing conflict in the eastern Congo must read this book. I have read many other histories, and nothing else comes close.