The Democratic Republic of Congo: Economic Dimensions of War and Peace

By Shantz, Jeff | African Studies Review, December 2007 | Go to article overview

The Democratic Republic of Congo: Economic Dimensions of War and Peace


Shantz, Jeff, African Studies Review


Michael Nest, with Francois Grignon and Emizet F. Kisangani. The Democratic Republic of Congo: Economic Dimensions of War and Peace. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2006. 165 pp. Tables. Maps. Graphs. Bibliography. Index. $15,95. Paper.

The death toll from the most recent war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which began in 1998, is higher than any other since the Second World War; estimates of the number of people dying as a result of the conflict range as high as 3,800,000. Nonetheless, the crisis has gone largely unreported in the West; that the West has consistently found reasons to overlook the calamity is even more troubling given the role that Western corporations and governments have played in creating and sustaining the conflict. Thus any work that brings attention to the factors underlying the conflict, and impeding its resolution, is to be welcomed. The Nest, Grignon, and Kisangani text is particularly useful not only because of its focus on the crucial economic issues behind the conflict, and their relationship to Western interests, but also because it provides a clearly written and accessible introduction to a range of important sociopolitical dynamics.

From the brutalities of Belgian colonialists and their U.S. backers to the trespasses of neighboring governments in Uganda and Rwanda, the DRC (formerly Zaire) has been made a killing field of exploitation. In Congo, various national armies and local militias, sometimes proxies of imperialist powers, have fought or are fighting over control of some of the world's largest and richest deposits of gold, diamonds, cobalt, coltan, and other mineral treasures, the patrimony of the Congolese people. In addition, control over the DRC is attractive for strategic reasons: it is the second largest African country in terms of area, it borders nine other countries, and it is located right in the heart of the continent.

Throughout the tumultuous periods since independence, Congo has remained subject to imperialist interests pursuing private gain; such external actors (and their internal allies) have always played a significant and sinister part in the ongoing Congo tragedy. As Nest, Grignon, and Kisangani note, the U.N. Panel of Experts on Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the Congo concluded that resource exploitation was directly responsible for the ongoing "economy of war" in the region. Illegal exploitation of resources had established a predatory network of elites, including army and government leaders and multinational companies. Directly or indirectly, multinational companies played a crucial role in this situation; indeed, without the "legitimate" corporations, illegal mineral trade would not be possible. …

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