A book review of Gerard Prunier’s Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe, by David Rieff at Truthdig:
Why does Darfur arouse such passion in decent people all over the world, but the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC (the country until a decade or so ago known as Zaire), which has taken the lives of far more people—4 million between 1996 and 2001, according to some informed estimates—for the most part remains what relief workers brutally but not inaccurately call an “orphan conflict”?
Prunier [writes of the lack of interest at the [Western] government level, and the short attention span of the general public” with regard to African crises. Where the crises in Rwanda, Burundi and the DRC are concerned, Prunier observes, the effect was to reduce a situation of major conflict and appalling human suffering “to a comic book atmosphere in which absolute horror alternates with periods of complete disinterest from the non-specialists.” And he is withering about the way in which the Western default position rarely strays from stereotyped categories about Africa. Thus, he observes, “the desperate African struggle for survival is bowdlerized beyond recognition, and at times the participant-observer has the feeling of being caught between a Shakespearian tragedy and a hiccupping computer.”
“Wars begin where you will but do not end where you please,” Machiavelli instructed the Prince. The Congolese war exemplifies the truth of this adage, and not only for the Rwandans. What Prunier lays out in great detail and with great authority is the extent to which all the belligerents blundered and improvised, while, all the while, it was the Congolese people who paid the price for the ambitions of modern-day princes from a dozen countries. As Prunier puts it, although all wars are terrible, “the Congolese continental conflict was particularly horrible, not only because it caused the deaths of nearly four million human beings but because of the massive suffering it visited on the surviving civilian populations.”