Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Africa's World War

I just finished Africa's World War, by Gerard Prunier. The book covers the turbulent and complex years of 1994-2007 in central Africa that created the quagmire that is modern Congo. (For a short description of the recent developments, see FP's There is no Congo)

Without pulling any punches, this is a complex book. It assumes a lot of knowledge by the reader, and it is no exaggeration when the author on page 201 says: "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." Neither would I. But the book is worth it.

Prunier does the best job of anyone I am aware of to show how this war was a humanitarian disaster perpetrated mostly on a civilian population by literally dozens of political forces in Africa. The end toll was amazing: 1.7 million excess deaths due to the war between 1998 and 2000 alone, with only 12% attributable to fighting (page 242).

I am not an expert on African politics, so I can't confirm the accuracy of the reporting. I do though disagree with Prunier's depiction of the relationship between Sudan and Uganda, such as when he gives special notice of Museveni's security advisor Amama Mbabazi saying, after finding a Sudanese spy, that "Khartoum's plan is to destabilize the region to prepare the ground for the spread of Islamic fundamentalism and Arabism" (page 196).

I cannot believe Sudan ever seriously thought about inciting an Islamic movement to take over Africa. Even if that was a thought in the back of the governments mind, the real problem was Museveni's long relationship with the South Sudanese rebel leader and later president of Southern Sudan, John Garang. This was an incredibly complex relationship, both freindly from earlier years at college and out of strategic necessity with fighting another rebel group in the north (the LRA) that treated the border as extremely porous. While religious/ethnic conflict (Christian versus Muslim Africans) was a likely mitigating factor, it was hardly the main one.

Incidently, Garang was in one of Museveni's helicopters, which he used often, when it crashed into a mountain during bad weather, killing everyone on board.

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