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Africa's World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe Hardcover – 31 Dec 2008

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 529 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (31 Dec. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195374207
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195374209
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 4.8 x 16.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 747,333 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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[ [ Africa's World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe ] ] By Prunier, Gerard ( Author ) Dec - 2008 [ Hardcover ]

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J. Newth on 14 Oct. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book from Amazon.com and submitted my review to the American web site, edited a lttle, as follows;-

Having worked in Rwanda for 7 years at the beginning of the Habyarimana regime, around 1970, I did not make a return visit until 2007 since when I have made three visits, most recently in January 2012. It is now a vibrant country, seemingly at ease with itself. What is also impressive is the number of 'Returnees' who are settling in Rwanda, some, such as one Anglican Bishop, from Mbarara in Uganda - to where his grandparents had emigrated 3 or 4 generations back - long before 1959. We met others returning from from Kenya whose exit also long predated the later Genocide.
That is one measure of the progress now being made in Rwanda.
Recently I have read both Gerard Pruinier's first book on the Rwanda Genocide and now this mammoth work on the Congo Crisis and its Pan-African implications. Like many of your reviewers I found it hard going but rewarding. My constant need to return to the meaning of all the abbreviations Prunier employs, even made me wonder if I was beginning to suffer from dementia, but I was reassured by being not the only one with the same experience! The maps are inadequate and Google Maps had to be constantly at hand to check just where places such as Ituri, are.
Part of the difficulty for me was to realise for the first time the full extent of Rwanda's involvement in the Congo Wars and how far, geographically, Rwanda went in pursuit.
So, a very difficult read but richly rewarding. Some observers have written that it is one sided and relies too heavily on personsal interviews which cannot be verified.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Charles Vasey TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 14 Feb. 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Africa, if one were to believe the typical journalism, is a splendid location for outrage and strong moral judgements. The truth is a good deal more complex and Gérard Prunier has the experience to reveal it. He takes us from the Rwandan genocide over into Zaire dying much as its old boss Mobutu was dying. Here we meet a range of politicians, generals, chancers, and entrepreneurs who feed off the needs and fears of a range of mixed populations. Into this terrain, ripe for massacre and ethnic cleansing, also come various nation states; some to hunt their enemies but all to make sure they feed off the carcass. The result for over five years was a continental war in Africa. Prunier is unsparing in his criticism but also grasps readily why there are no saints (as there were no saints when Europe was doing this to itself last century). This is a very mature history, yet one that does not shrug its shoulders.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Brian Griffith on 1 Jan. 2010
Format: Hardcover
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 an 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 rivals 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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 25 reviews
64 of 65 people found the following review helpful
a comprehensive account of a vast conflict 29 May 2009
By Banyan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified 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
Wonderful Writing 14 Mar. 2009
By Historylover - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified 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.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Dense, Subjective, But Useful 21 April 2009
By David Donelson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
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
The New Standard on the DRC Tragedy 15 Jun. 2009
By C. B. Gurney - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified 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
Most important war story of the decade 1 Jan. 2010
By Brian Griffith - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
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.
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