Dancing in the Glory of Monsters

Book Review 4: Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, by Jason Stearns

I just recently finished reading this book in preparation for my trip back to the Congo this fall. I had previously read King Leopold’s Ghost, another great read that describes the history of Belgian colonialism, but had yet to read a book about Mobutu’s dictatorship and the two Congo Wars of more recent history. I was recommended this book by an architecture alumni from U of T who did her thesis in the Eastern Congo, and I equally recommend it to anyone who wants to have a better understanding of the wars and modern Congolese politics. Before I read the book I didn’t even know what the motivations were for the war and was probably guilty of making generalizations. What this book reveals is an extremely complex conflict that offers no easy answers. The book is extremely well researched, following narratives from people on all sides of the conflict and from all walks of life. It demonstrates that there is no completely good or bad side because most people had reasonable motivations in response to their circumstances. The book was also very difficult to read because it doesn’t shy from the brutalities that occurred.

I don’t think that many people know about the two Congo wars even though they are a part of very recent history and occurred following the Rwandan genocide that is more well known. The first war was in 1996 to 1997 and the next from 1998 to 2003, although tension still exists with the presence of rebel armies in the Eastern provinces. It is estimated that close to five million people died. The majority of deaths were not from combat, but rather from the absolute poverty and disease that ensued. Although the country was ready for a shift in government, and almost welcomed the Rwandan invaders, it could be argued that very little has changed in the country since the time of Mobutu. What I learned about Congolese politics is that those in power have never been able to represent the public interest. Recent leaders have spent the majority of resources protecting their position than sticking their head out to set in place the necessary political reform. The culture of corruption has developed to such an extent that people have no choice but to act corruptly in order to survive or get ahead. It has become business as usual and will be something that might take generations to lift. The future appears dull after reading such a heavy book, but the author comments at the end that he saw the same thing that I saw when I was in the Congo: there is a lot of joy in everyday life and hope for a brighter future.

 

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