Everything You Ever Needed to Know About the Great Lakes in 14 Paragraphs

Over at the NewYork Review of Books, Howard French captures the history of everything you need to know about contemporary Great Lakes politics  in a review of recent books by heavyweight Central African scholars Gerard Prunier, Rene Lemarchard and Thomas Turner. French’s article, ‘Kagame’s Hidden War in the Congo,’ is, well, not so keen on the current Rwandan regime. Apparently, the scholars concur:

In all three (books), the Kagame regime, and its allies in Central Africa, are portrayed not as heroes but rather as opportunists who use moral arguments to advance economic interests. And their supporters in the United States and Western Europe emerge as alternately complicit, gullible, or simply confused. For their part in bringing intractable conflict to a region that had known very little armed violence for nearly thirty years, all the parties—so these books argue—deserve blame, including the United States.

Wait, wait, wait. What about all of those awesome youtube videos of gacaca courts and starbucks producing coffee bean farms framed byepic African orchestral music in Rwanda? Where is the post-genocidal love?

In a recent interview, Prunier dismissed the recently much-touted reconciliation efforts, calling post-genocide Rwanda “a very well-managed ethnic, social, and economic dictatorship.” True reconciliation, he said, “hinges on cash, social benefits, jobs, property rights, equality in front of the courts, and educational opportunities,” all of which are heavily stacked against the roughly 85 percent of the population that is Hutu, a problem that in Prunier’s view presages more conflict in the future.

Okay, hold on. All of those old genocidaires who live in the DRC and threaten Rwandan stability – don’t they constitute grounds for some robust security policies?

The threat the Hutu group poses to Rwanda’s own security is “vastly exaggerated,” noting that its fighters “are no match” for Rwandan and Rwanda-backed forces amounting to “70,000 men under arms and a sophisticated military arsenal, consisting of armored personnel carriers (APCs), tanks, and helicopters.”

Security spectacle? Ineffective reconciliation? Ethnicized monopolies over resources? More befuddled Americans? Essentially, this excellent article is exciting reading over a cup of Rwandan starbucks coffee.



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2 responses to “Everything You Ever Needed to Know About the Great Lakes in 14 Paragraphs

  1. Mike

    The consensus that French finds may be useful in debunking some of the myths about Rwanda, as you point out, but the three R thesis that the DRC’s problem only come from “Rwanda, Resources, and 1994 Refugees” is a horrendous, if popular, oversimplification.

    Certainly there were and are a huge number of outside players in the DRC’s wars, many playing unhelpfully, but statements like French’s that “the main force driving this conflict has been the largely Tutsi army of neighboring Rwanda, along with several Congolese groups supported by Rwanda” takes a short and narrow view of history. Zaire was well on its way to state failure by the time of the Rwanda crisis, with the “pillages” in major cities the Masisi war of the early 1990s, etc.

    It is frustrating to see Congolese history persistently defined both by commentators and the Congolese political class in terms of outsiders – whether Rwandans, Belgians, Chinese, Cold War superpowers, etc – without acknowledging the roles, for good and for bad that Congolese have played, and can play. Certainly outsiders have come and done horrible things, but Congolese political history is more than the deeds of the various Mr. Kurtzes that have passed through.

    It seems much more useful to me, to move the focus beyond the threat Rwanda posed, to ask why the Zairois/Congolese state was too weak to resist and how we can now build the capacity of the Congolese state to get it to a place where it can.

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