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.
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.
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. But the book's importance is best gauged if it is seen as the making of a powerful case against the actions of the Rwandan regime, rather than a final judgement upon it. Such a judgement will come eventually but not yet. One relatively minor point: in the second third of the book Prunier promised to write about President Kagame's change of focus from his excursions into Congo towards the need to concentrate on the reconstruction and development of Rwanda - around 2003-4. This topic did not get raised again, and I missed his assessment of present day Rwanda.