Academic journal article African Studies Review

Conflict in the Congo: Historical and Regional Perspectives

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Conflict in the Congo: Historical and Regional Perspectives

Article excerpt

CONFLICT IN THE CONGO: HISTORICAL AND REGIONAL PERSPECTIVES Ch. Didier Gondola. The History of Congo. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002. xxviii + 181 pp. Notable People in the History of Congo. Selected Bibliography. Index. $39.95. Cloth.

Kevin C Dunn. Imagining the Congo: The International Relations of Identity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. xi + 196 pp. Works Cited. Index. $79.95. Cloth. $24.95. Paper.

Colette Braeckman. Lumumba, un Crime d'État. Bruxelles: Les Éditions Aden, 2002. 99 pp. euro8.50. Paper.

Colette Braeckman. Les Nouveaux Prédateurs: Politique des puissances en Afrique centrale. Paris: Fayard, 2003. 301 pp. Chronology. Bibliography. euro19. Paper.

Ludo Martens. Kabila et la Révolution congolaise: Panafricanisme ou néocolonialisme. Antwerp: Éditions EPO, Tome 1, 2002. 692 pp. Maps. Index. euro38. Paper.

Howard Adelman and Govind C. Rao, eds. War and Peace in Zaire/Congo: Analyzing and Evaluating Intervention: 1996-1997. Trenton, NJ.: Africa World Press, 2004. x + 344 pp. Index. $29.95. Paper.

The Congo (formerly Zaire) is a metaphor for the plight of the whole African continent. Although it is a country richly endowed with natural resources and minerals, its population remains one of the poorest and most conflict-ridden in the world. Sadly, from the first incursions of Portuguese explorers in the Kongo Kingdom in 1482 to the present, the country has constantly been plagued by political strife and ethnic and regional conflict. Currently a war goes on that has claimed about four million lives since August 1998. As some of the works reviewed here show, the Congo's predicament may best be explained in terms of its historical relationship with the West, based on political domination and economic exploitation and the pursuit by the West of a consistent and systematic policy of "balkanization" or "divide-and-rule." In the wake of a recent revival of interest in this country following the publication of books by Adam Hochschild (King Leopold's Ghost [Houghton Mifflin, 1998]) and Ludo De Witte (The Assassination ofLumumba [Verso, 2001]), and of the subsequent report of the Belgian Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry into the tragic circumstances of Patrice Lumumba's death, six authors-Congolese, Belgian, and North American-have taken a fresh look at the burdened history of the Congo from both regional and international perspectives.

In The History of Congo, Ch. Didier Gondola, a Congolese scholar at Indiana University, makes use of a multidisciplinary and long-term perspective on the history of the Congo, starting with the indigenous kingdoms and empires (Kongo and Luba/Lunda). He surveys in turn the colonial conquest, the brutal rule of King Leopold II's Congo Free State, Belgian paternalistic colonialism, the painful birth of independent Congo, and its uneven development through three republics, including Mobutu's long dictatorial and predatory rule (1965-97), the failed transition to democracy (1990-97), the short and ill-fated tenure of Laurent-Désiré Kabila (1997-2001), and finally the ongoing continental war. Besides looking at government and politics, Gondola looks at economy and society, as well as health, education, and culture. He concludes that any Congolese leader who comes between the West and its access to Congo's strategic mineral resources will be eliminated, as the tragic fate of Lumumba and Kabila clearly demonstrates: "Lumumba became the last obstacle preventing Western governments and companies from making Congo their own neocolonial state . . . . It seems. . . that Kabila's death was part of a large, wellorchestrated plan. This plan was probably masterminded by one or more of the foreign governments that still control Congo in a bid to replace him with a more amenable figurehead" (123, 173).

Gondola's broad, wide-ranging, and well-documented volume, written clearly and from the perspective of the Congolese people, includes many useful features: current and former names of places, a time line of historical events, biographical notes on Congo's most notable leaders, and a chapter-by-chapter annotated bibliography. …

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