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Showing 1-10 of 19 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 30 reviews
on May 29, 2009
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.
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on January 3, 2017
The first thing a reader will notice is the extensive list of acronyms, followed by an extended glossary and a series of maps. Do yourself a favor and bookmark them immediately and refer back often. Secondly, I found reading much easier with a big atlas with a map of Africa opened up, as frequent mentions of various capital cities are substituted for their countries, which I and most English speakers will be largely ignorant of.

All that said, the author makes a great effort at explaining an extremely complicated history with hundreds of state and non state forces all contributing for their own often changing reasons. While he tries to make it as clear as possible, it is also obvious that it is a terribly complex situation that will require tremendous diligence from any reader to keep up with. If you can stay with it, it paints a picture of central Africa that is sufficiently broad to be relevant to global understanding, but also sufficiently niche to bring much light to a very tragic portion of our shared history.

As with any recent history, some points are bound to be controversial or be seen differently in time, but on the whole the author is clearly an expert, and provides a very valuable perspective on a region I unfortunately understood very very little of.
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on July 28, 2015
Prunier guides his reader through the Heart of Darkness explaining how a conflict in the Congo became a continental war. In terms of the number of countries involved and the number of at-risk civilians, this constituted both the greatest threat to the world's peace and security while being its greatest humanitarian crisis.

Along the way, this skilled journalist documents how this was fundamentally a war between Rwanda and the Congo. The Tutsi-Hutu tribal conflict in Rwanda had been left unresolved by the genocide and flight of the vanquished into Zaire broadened the conflict. A web of inter-relationships among peoples and nations would bring in Uganda, Angola, Zimbabwe, Sudan, and other African nations.

By page 201, the author writes, "Does the reader at this point want to throw in the towel and give up on the ethnopolitical complexities of the region? I would not blame him..." But the book works precisely because Prunier does not settle for facile oversimplification. The layers of the conflict matter as other nations worked out issues well beyond the Congo-Rwandan catalyst.

The book concludes with a helpful assessment that shows how the brutality the West tolerated from African states is no longer found acceptable in a post Cold War world. The end is somewhat hopeful, but realistic. This is a helpful guide to a daunting to understand world crisis.
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on December 6, 2011
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.

Eric Miller
Acting Director of Save the Congo, U.S.
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on May 10, 2017
It's a terrible subject...and a very good study on Evil-pure Evil. I think we owe ourselves-and the victims of this utter horror, to read this book. And to think I thought Lord of The Flies was a book of pure fiction .., please read this book
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on March 11, 2016
If you are familiar with the region of eastern DRCongo and Rwanda, or you are studying humanitarian affairs, this is a must-read. It is the most comprehensive account of a very complicated situation that had profound effects across the continent. The writing is clear and easily understood, but this is not casual reading. If you aren't familiar with the region and its history, it will lose you pretty quickly.
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on May 17, 2013
Prunier's writing is amazing. He is able to tell about an immensly complex subject with clarity and keep the reader oriented despite the vast amount of details required to figure out what is happening.

Sadly, the subject is so complicated, and the book deals with such a complicated matter, that it does not begin at the beginning. Meaning - if you have no earlier knowledge of the area this book deals with - you had better read something, before taking this book into your hands. But if you have a news-reader general-knowledge of the relevant area, regarding the years 1990-1995, then you will have no difficulty reading this book. And once you can tackle this book - I still have not found a better book, telling of the World War of Africa.
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on January 15, 2013 many things to many people. American ignorance of most of the occurrences in Africa is a fact of life. I worked in many disturbed areas on the continent for several years and have first hand knowledge of the great beauty and the great tragedies that comprise that benighted continent. This book is a must-read for those who seek further knowledge of one of the most devastating conflicts that occurred in East Central Africa during the 90's which was generally ignored by Western media. Five million dead in a years-long war with an indeterminate outcome, which continues on a much smaller scale as I write this. This is a compassionate and detailed narrative of one of the great tragedies of modern times.
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on April 28, 2010
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....
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on August 2, 2014
Purchased for a course, the contents make it difficult to get through. The subject matter is based on the DRC and Rwanda interaction. Including the reactions of the international theater and the clause to not do anything as people became subjects of debate instead of human beings. It appears that no one has learned from this mistake, as it will repeat in other areas of the world.
Other books, explain the interaction of cause and effect easier than this one did.
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