Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book Review: Dancing in the Glory of Monsters

Go to the Wikipedia page on the bloodiest wars in history and look at it for a bit.  Everybody would expect WWII to be on there at the top.  Many people might not realize how many really bloody civil wars China has had, but it stands to reason that with the huge number of people who live there that this might be a significant number.  Most people also wouldn't be surprised that there were bloody conflicts centuries past which they haven't heard of in general.  But look down to conflict #14.  One of the bloodiest wars in human history ended less than a decade ago, and you probably didn't even know that it was happening.

I certainly didn't appreciate it as it was happening.  I read the newspaper and knew that there was a war in the Congo, but I didn't have any sense of the scope of it, nor did I really know what the issues involved were.  Finding that list on Wikipedia, though, helped me to realize that I had overlooked the greatest armed conflict (so far) of my lifetime, and that I ought to know a bit more about it.

When I picked up Dancing in the Glory of Monsters I was expecting a story about Congolese people, however I was surprised at how much of the story was about the neighboring states, especially Rwanda.  When we hear about Rwanda I think most people still think of the Rwandan Genocide, and that's almost central to this story.  The genocide of Tutsi civilians by the Hutu government happened in the shadow of a remarkably successful Tutsi rebellion.  

After the victory of the surviving Tutsis many Hutus feared that they would be treated the same way as they treated their enemies, and fled west into the Congo.  There they settled in refugee camps, ruled by the same military forces that had carried out the genocide, and fed by humanitarian organizations drawn by the suffering of the displace civilians.

This was one of the most interestng part of the book for me.  Everybody knows about conflict diamonds, and how resources that are easily looted by roving armies help contribute to war in countries without well developed human resources.  Well, suffering human being can be a lootable resource too, and with much the same result.  In the Hutu refugee camps western aid organizations worked to head off a potential humanitarian crises.  But because the same people who had perpetrated the genocide were in control of the refugee camps, they were able to charge foreign aid organizations money for access to the refugees, and use the funds to re-arm themselves.  Thus a suffering civilian populace was turned into a lootable resource, the same as mines elsewhere.  

The Tutsis in control of Rwanda, understandably, weren't willing to stand by while this happened and invaded.  They were successful beyond what you would expect such a small country could possibly do against a large country like the Congo, but soon the loot from the war made it an undertaking taht paid for itself, and then fed upon itself.  And all the states around Congo's border's had long ago become fed up with how Mobutu had allowed other country's rebels to use the Congo as a base, so that he could become a regional power broker.  

But the war which began with reasonable, or at least comprehensible aims was usurped to more venal ends.  Truly in the Congo "My eyes are the victim's eyes, my hands are the assailant's hands" became the truth everywhere as each act of violence spawned revenge far beyond the initial targets.  You can read the book, or Wikipedia, but the results are an almost perfect example of how violence can spiral out of control.  The Rwandans started out trying to punish the guilty, but ended up as just another force profiting from looting the Congo's natural resources by force.  

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