62 of 63 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This is going to be a complicated review.
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.
42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on March 14, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I would not have bothered to review this except to counter the incredibly negative and unfair reviews already posted. First off, he is a wonderful writer, clear, concise with a great flow that clearly tells the story. To get the background for this book, you really should read his book on the Rwandan genocide. The negative reviewers stated that he created stories of evil U.S. conspiracies against poor Africans. This makes me wonder if they have even read the book as he does the exact opposite. He states how the French saw aspects of the war as a U.S. conspiracy and then refutes these charges over many pages. This brings me to the real problem. In his last book on Rwanda, he was very supportive of the RPF and Kagame. In this book after years of their rule and subsequent bad behavior, he has become disillusioned with them. This is obviously intolerable to their steadfast supporters, hence the bad reviews.
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.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2009
As a more-than-interested observer of events in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I found Africa's World War a worthwhile if dense expression of one man's opinions about an incredibly complex chapter in the continent's history. Is it rife with supposition, self-serving sources, and subjective interpretation of events? Certainly. But that's the nature of the conflict, so readers expecting a black-hat-white-hat cast of good guys and bad guys are going to be dismissive of the work if not outraged at the author's audacity to present it as history. I suspect this is as close to an actual history of this period as we're ever going to see.
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.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Prunier has set new standard with this epic history of the war in the DRC. He dissects the motives of all of the DRC's neighbors to arrive at a compehensive picture of the worst humanitarian tragedy in the world today. Long known for his coverage of the Rwandan genocide, Prunier builds on that base to demonstrate how the mass killing in the small central African state led to enduring instability in its much larger neighbor. Prunier makes a rare admission for an academic scholar, stating frankly that he underestimated the scale of retribution against Hutus who perpetrated the genocide.
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.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2010
Prunier gives central Africa's horrible 1996-2002 war the attention it deserves. He treats each ethnic group, nation, business interest, or foreign power involved to the same scathingly critical examination. Where each party claims itself a victim seeking justice, Prunier judges all actors by their own deeds: the genocidal Hutu refugees, the avenging Tutsi army, the old U.S.-backed defenders of private enrichment (as opposed to socialism) such as Mobutu or Savimbi, the manipulating French government, or the rebel militias of unemployed kids taking pay to undercut neighboring states. Prunier's account moves at a detail-observant pace -- through the aftermath of Rwanda's genocide, the implosion of Mobutu's Zaire, the quagmire of conflicting security interests, and the morphing of war into vampire-like private enterprise. Each effort to simply eliminate enemies generates greater blowback, till the chaos resembles central Europe in the Thirty Years War (of 1618 to 1648). Then, with the perspective of several years' hindsight, Prunier examines the slowly growing factors which brought the war to a formal close, leaving "illegitimate" non-state groups to be somehow included in a mutually-accountable future.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I would give this book 4.5 stars if I could, I fall just short of five for the reasons listed below. Prunier's book is an excellent account of the Congo Wars. It is vivid in detail. If you are not an Africanist and are just now learning about the Congo, please read Jason Stearns book before attempting to read this one. It is highly complicated if you are not familiar with African politics.
I read over some of the negative reviews, its hard to call Prunier biased against Rwanda when he has written previous books on the Rwandan genocide. The truth is the Congo Wars are state on state wars, mixed with proxy wars. Due to the West's general ignorance of African politics in general and the Congo in particular its difficult to get accurate accounts of the truth of the Congo Wars. Too often the wars in the Congo are portrayed simply as wars over resources, they are not. The heart of the matter is this, the Rwandan civil war never ended, it simply moved onto Congolese soil. For those that regard Paul Kagame as some sort of great statesmen, I recommend reading this book first, then do your own independent research. The fact is Paul Kagame is a war criminal and it is a shame that he has gotten away with so many crimes against humanity.
For any foreign policy analyst or grad student interested not just in the Congo but the African Great Lakes Region I highly recommend this book. I have been working on the Congo for over seven years. While I recommend this book I would be remiss if I did not point out two problems with this book. There are very few prescriptions offered to help stabilize the Congo. It ends on a note leaving the reader exhausted and depressed (as they should be) but I feel Prunier is negligent in not making a modest effort in making some policy prescriptions.
Finally the role of the US governmental in the Congo Wars is a bit sensationalized in this book. The US helped topple the Mobutu regime is clear, at a minimum the US did not stop Rwanda from invading the DRC, at worst it actively aided it in doing so. Prunier does well describing some US policy analysts failings but the allegations the US sent mercenaries to help topple Mobutu is hard to verify. For Example Prunier does not even mention what company was allegedly recruited to go to the DRC. Furthermore his account on this relies upon his own interviews. Since he is relying on interviews he should plainly state in the text of the book rather than the foot notes that "according to my sources X, Y And Z this happened" but without some kind of leaked US documents to accompany his assertions than he should alter his citations.
For the reviews who gave this book one star, they are odiously politically baised. I have written my own book on this subject. Prunier takes a bit of liscences with his sources but having worked on this for so many years, I would say 90 percent of the book is accurate simply based on my own personal interviews, research and fist hand experiences.
Acting Director of Save the Congo, U.S.
27 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2009
When I saw this book I picked it up mostly because of my ignorance of the subject. One hears stories on the BBC and PRI about the Eastern Congo and the bush wars that go on there between the various forces there but it is very difficult for the layman to make sense of it.
This book is thick. If the reader is not familiar with the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and its immediate repercussions this book might confuse them more. I appreciated the maps and glossary section at the beginning of the book because they helped me to identify some of the many armed groups involved as well as many of the locations where the fighting took (and still) takes place.
All in all, I give this book 3 stars. It is full of information but the content is complex and perhaps confusing to the non specialist. I recommend against the other review here as that author fails to review the work and instead allows a few of the authors comments with which he strongly disagrees to cloud his judgment.
If you're interested in post Cold War post Mobutu Congo/ Great Lakes Region and you're willing to immerse yourself in a world of political groups with 3 letter sobriquets, this is a good read.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2010
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Having spent quite a number of years on the front line of this conflict myself and having seen the different players in action, I think this is definitely the best accoutn to come out. If anything, he is too soft on the Western countries who through cupidity, stupidity or self-interest, have pandered to Kagame and greatly helped to kill millions. I note that the biggest critic, Tom Odom, has published his own book where he essentially brags of how he helped furnish US assistance to the RPF, despite its obvious war crimes.
What's even more pathetic is that, contrary to the claims of many activists, Kagame's actions have not generally been in the interest of either the US or the UK, but the Hitlers, Stalins and Maos always had their admirers in the West....
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2010
This book has taken on a "ripped from the headlines" timeliness since the very recent leak of a UN investigation into the war in the Congo between 1996 and 1998 which concluded that the Rwandan military was guilty of war crimes and possible genocide against Hutu refugees. Since the genocide perpetrated by the Hutu against the Tutsi people in Rwanda in 1994 Paul Kagame has used the pusillanimous behavior of the UN, the United States and Western Europe to demand that they support Rwanda economically and turn a blind eye to the way they treat ethnic minorities.
Gerald Prunier says that Kagame has used his "genocide guilt credit" to force the West to allow him a free hand in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly in the mineral rich North and South Kivu provinces. Prunier, a well thought of analyst of Central and East Africa who has spent years studying the area, lays much of the blame for the continuing murderous conflict in the DRC on Kagame with Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, grasping kleptocrat Sese Seko Mobutu, the foreign office of France and many others also condemned as part of the problem.
Much of the war was about looting of the Congo for personal gain and to fund the war itself. Prunier says that sending his troops into the Congo was one way that Museveni kept from having to pay them while the Rwandan ministry of defense had a "Congo Desk" to make sure the proper cut of the loot went to the top. Uganda was most transparent in their theft, declaring gold and diamonds taken from the Congo and then sold as official export income. Rwanda had large increases in diamond exports with no additional domestic production to account for it.
According to Prunier there were no real good guys--just about everyone involved in the Congo Wars was a scoundrel, some worse than others. The war wasn't a civil war as such--for example one battle in December of 2000 for control of Lubumbashi in Katanga the "rebel" forces were made up of regular army forces of Rwanda and Uganda plus the irregular armed bands they supported while the "DRC" army opposing them was largely troops from Angola, Zambia and Namibia. Some were there for loot; some to settle long standing grievances against the DRC; some for both. But none of the combatants--which at one point also included soldiers from Chad airlifted by the Libyan air force and troops from Sudan operating on DRC territory against Ugandan irregulars--were interested in the a peaceful solution of the Congo War. This was ethnic, political and economic warfare carried out with constant savagery against civilian populations and refugees, the slaughter of women and children with almost unparalleled brutality.
Prunier is an elegant writer. He makes his case very well even if his biases occasionally show through. There are some documentation lapses--some important references are to private conversations with unnamed officials--but with 99 pages of footnotes, largely in English and French, he has obviously read very deeply into his subject. This occasionally leads to overly detailed discussions--for example if one wants to know about the four different Hutu political factions in Burundi in 1995, each with its own militia, how and why each group split, its internal politics and its relationship with the Burundian army you will find it here.
Whatever its minor faults, though, "Africa's World War" is an extraordinary and necessary reexamination of the past decade of African history.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2010
This book is written for an intelligent audience. If you read it you will find it worthwhile. You may find it helpful to read with some reference materials such as an atlas, and to make some notes to keep things straight.