Book review: The Congo Wars. Conflict, myth and reality by Thomas Turner

The ongoing war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has the unfortunate distinction of being the worlds biggest "forgotten emergency" according to a 2005 poll of experts by Reuters.  The numbers are staggering, with the International Rescue Committee recently estimating over 5 million people have died since 1998, the majority due to preventable diseases and starvation aggravated by the fighting.


Extensively referenced, with a useful chronology of events and map to guide the reader, The Congo Wars is a concise, well-written history of this often confusing conflict.  Thomas Turner is particularly impressive when analysing the actions and motivations of the many African states involved in the fighting – Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad and Namibia.  Of course, the conflict has a multitude of interlocking causes, but for Turner it is largely a war of "partition and pillage", with vast quantities of the DRCs mineral wealth – coltan, cobalt, gold and diamonds – flowing out of the country.


In the face of the bloodiest war since the second world war, Turner charges the West, and the UN specifically, of being ineffective and slow to react to the horrors on the ground, with individual nations more interested in furthering their own interests rather than alleviating the unfolding humanitarian emergency.  However, no mention is made of the substantial US and UK arms exports to the region – Zimbabwe has used British-supplied Hawk jets in the DRC according to Campaign Against the Arms Trade – or the Western companies involved in facilitating the plunder of the DRC according to a 2002 UN report, including Anglo-American, Barclays Bank and De Beers.


While The Congo Wars is certainly a useful resource for concerned citizens in the West, its strong academic flavour does not endear it to those new to the subject.  Where are the human stories and the sense of moral indignation at a conflict that John OShea, chief executive of the Irish Relief Fund, cites as "the greatest example on the planet of mans inhumanity to man"?  Those looking for a more accessible primer could do worse than read Johann Haris impassioned 2006 eyewitness account for the Independent newspaper entitled ‘Congo’s tragedy: the war the world forgot‘.



The Congo Wars is published by Zed Books, priced £17.99.   Ian Sinclair is a freelance journalist based in London, England. [email protected]. 

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