Explaining Congo’s Endless Civil War

Copyright The New York Times

Published: April 1, 2011

Some months ago, in a ditch beside one of the main streets of Bunia, a dusty, war-battered city in northeastern Congo, I noticed a small, broken-down, dull green armored car, the gun barrel in its turret tilted awkwardly toward the sky. Removing war debris can be an expensive luxury in a poor country, and the wreck seemed an apt symbol of the indelible mark that 15 years of intermittent conflict has put on this nation.
The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa
By Jason K. Stearns
380 pp. PublicAffairs. $28.99.

Times Topic: Congo
The fighting has left tens or even hundreds of thousands of women gang-raped and led to what may be millions of war-­related deaths; at its peak, some 3.4 million Congolese (the only one of these tolls we can be remotely sure of) were forced to flee their homes for months or years. But it draws little attention in the United States. As Jason K. Stearns, who has worked for the United Nations in Congo, points out, a study showed that in 2006 even this newspaper gave four times as much coverage to Darfur, although Congolese have died in far greater numbers.

One reason we shy away is the conflict’s stunning complexity. “How,” Stearns asks, “do you cover a war that involves at least 20 different rebel groups and the armies of nine countries, yet does not seem to have a clear cause or objective?” “Dancing in the Glory of Monsters” is the best account so far: more serious than several recent macho-war-correspondent travelogues, and more lucid and accessible than its nearest competitor, Gérard Prunier’s dense and overwhelming “Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe.”

A fatal combination long primed this vast country for bloodshed. It is wildly rich in gold, diamonds, coltan, uranium, timber, tin and more. At the same time, after 32 years of being stripped bare by the American-backed dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, it became the largest territory on earth with essentially no functioning ­government.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *