The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa

The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa

The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa

The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa


Endowed with natural resources, majestic bodies of fresh water, and a relatively mild climate, the Great Lakes region of Central Africa has also been the site of some of the world's bloodiest atrocities. In Rwanda, Burundi, and the Congo-Kinshasa, decades of colonial subjugation--most infamously under Belgium's Leopold II--were followed by decades of civil warfare that spilled into neighboring countries. When these conflicts lead to horrors such as the 1994 Rwandan genocide, ethnic difference and postcolonial legacies are commonly blamed, but, with so much at stake, such simple explanations cannot take the place of detailed, dispassionate analysis. The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa provides a thorough exploration of the contemporary crises in the region. By focusing on the historical and social forces behind the cycles of bloodshed in Rwanda, Burundi, and the Congo-Kinshasa, Reneacute; Lemarchand challenges much of the conventional wisdom about the roots of civil strife in former Belgian Africa. He offers telling insights into the appalling cycle of genocidal violence, ethnic strife, and civil war that has made the Great Lakes region of Central Africa the most violent in the continent, and sheds new light on the dynamics of conflict in the region. Building on a full career of scholarship and fieldwork, Lemarchand's analysis breaks new ground in our understanding of the complex historical forces that continue to shape the destinies of one of Africa's most important regions.


The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it.

—Oscar Wilde

The Great Lakes region matters. It matters because of its vast territorial expanse and the many borders it shares with neighboring states, and the ever-present danger of violence spilling across boundaries. It matters because the Congo’s huge mineral wealth translates into a uniquely favorable potential for economic development. While claiming the largest deposits of copper, cobalt, diamonds and gold anywhere in the continent—it is not for nothing that the Belgians called it a “geological scandal”—more than 60 percent of its population lives below the poverty line. More importantly, it matters because of the appalling bloodshed it continues to experience. Public revulsion over the Rwanda genocide has all but overshadowed the far greater scale of the human losses suffered in eastern Congo. the death toll between 1998 and 2004 was estimated to be nearly 4 million. If one adds the killings in Rwanda and Burundi since 1994, one reaches the staggering figure of approximately 5.5 million. To this day as many as 38,000 die every month of war-related causes. in many parts of the country, rape has become the weapon of choice of militias. the unspeakable has become commonplace. This in itself is a sufficient reason to devote serious attention to an area that is all too often dismissed as a latter-day version of the Heart of Darkness, entirely beyond redemption.

At the root of the misconceptions and prejudices that figure so prominently in the media coverage of Central Africa lies an abysmal ignorance of its past and recent history. My aim here is not only to challenge many such received ideas but also, by the same token, to deepen the understanding of the region by offering comparative insights into . . .

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