Book Review: Dancing In The Glory Of Monsters

Dancing In The Glory Of Monsters:  The Collapse Of The Congo And The Great War Of Africa, by Jason K. Stearns

This book does not really do a good job at conveying the importance of the complex wars in the Congo to world history in its comparison with the Great War of World War I.  To be sure, a lot of lives were lost in the Congo, but this book does not really focus on the larger coalition aspect of the war, except in passing and as it relates to the war in eastern Congo that was kept alive by Rwanda and Uganda.  It is difficult for writers who have seen the destruction and written about the horrors of the Congo wars (there were two of them, with the second dragging out in an uncertain peace for a long while after the peace process started) to fully come to grips with how little the West and its people really care about this war.  To the extent that people know the Congo it is from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness or various travel books which have been written about the country or about its beleaguered population of gorillas or something of that nature [1], and the reality of the nation’s disaster has not really been grasped by many ordinary Americans, or Europeans for that matter.

This book is a bit more than 300 pages and divided into four parts and 20 relatively short chapters.  The book begins with acknowledgements, acronyms, maps, as well as an introduction that discusses the author’s desire to explain the violence in the Congo.  After that the first part of the book discusses the prewar period (I), with chapters on the legacy of genocide in Congo’s lengthy history (1), the way that Mobuto was aided by all kinds of people within Congo (2), the ruins of Rwanda after civil war (3), the tensions in Eastern Congo (4), the many layers of conflict and trouble (5), and the life and travails of Laurent Kabila (6).  After that the author discusses the First Congo War (II), with chapters on how it was many wars in one (7), the fall of the dominoes that preserved Mobutu’s rule (8), the long march through the jungle (9), the struggle to learn how to fight (10), Mobutu’s poor health at the collapse of his regime (11), and the transfer of power to Kabila (12).  The next part of the book explores the Second Congo War that began almost immediately after the first one ended when Kabila fell out with his original backers (III), discussing how there were too many wars (13), exploring a rebel professor in the Northern part of Congo (14), a start-up rebel (15), the brutality of the fighting in Eastern Congo between neighbors (16), the chaos caused by the fighting among Ugandan and Rwandan backed rebels (17), the assassination of Laurent Kabila (18), and how the war was paid for by mining (18).  Finally, the book ends with the period of neither war nor peace (IV, 19) that was involved in various cease-fires that didn’t rapidly stop the violence.

Does this book have what it takes to inform western readers adequately about the War in the Congo?  Well, this book is certainly a start, and it explains a great deal about the problems in the Congo itself that made the war happen the way that it did, but this book is certainly not the be and end-all of books that one would need in order to understand the warfare in the Congo that took place from 1995 or so until nearly 2010.  The book’s focus on the interests of the Rwandans, be they Tutsi or Hutu, as well as the Ugandans who were at times allied with the Rwandans and at times not, and the various other actors involved and various regional divisions within the Congo, is certainly confusing and the book does not do a great job at portraying the interests of others whose focus was not in Eastern Congo, even if it comments that, for example, it was the support of the Angolans and Zimbabweans that kept Kabila’s government from falling in the Second Congo War after falling out with his original Rwandan and Ugandan backers.  To be sure, the Congo Wars are a mess and would be hard to understand anyway though.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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