In the spirit of my recent post about what to read on Rwanda, here’s my take on the DRC. (I’ve also updated this list several times, most recently in June 2015. In retrospect it’s a major problem that there aren’t any works by Congolese or other African authors on this list. I’ll prioritize those works for a future update.)
- For very early regional history, David Schoenbrum’s A Green Place, A Good Place: Agrarian Change and Social Identity in the Great Lakes Region until the 15th Century is a fascinating linguistic reconstruction of life in the Great Lakes region from the early first centures CE onwards. The method alone is worth reading for. Jean-Pierre Chretien’s The Great Lakes of Africa: Two Thousand Years of History may cover similar territory, but I haven’t read it yet.
- King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, by Adam Hochschild. If you’re even remotely interested in the Congo, you will doubtlessly have had this book recommended to you. This is for an excellent reason. Hochschild is an engaging writer, and draws a detailed picture of the merciless colonial origins of the DRC. Jan Vansina also has a new book out covering the colonial period, called Being Colonized: The Kuba Experience in Rural Congo, 1880 – 1960, which I also haven’t read yet.
- In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu’s Zaire, by Michaela Wrong. A readable popular account of the Mobutu years. Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s latest book, Wizard of the Crow, is an interesting fictional account of life under a dictatorship partially based on Mobutu’s 37-year rule.
- Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, by Jason Stearns. Stearns is one of the most knowledgeable people around on the Congo (see his blog for proof of this), and his recent book is thoroughly researched and remarkably clear in its depiction of the complex wars that wracked the DRC from 1996 to 2003. Gerard Prunier’s Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe covers largely the same territory as Stearns’, but plunges even more unsparingly into the thicket of local politics and important detail.
- The Congo wars have received a fair amount of additional literary attention. Both Rene Lemarchand’s Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa and Filip Reyntjens’ The Great African War: Congo and Regional Geopolitics, 1996 – 2006 are quite good. I have read Thomas’ Turner’s The Congo Wars: Conflict, Myth and Reality, but didn’t find it very analytically useful. Three other excellent books which focus on specific aspects of the crisis are Severine Autesserre’s The Trouble with the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding; its sequel, Peaceland: Conflict Resolution and the Everyday Politics of International Intervention; and Timothy Raeymaekers’ Violent Capitalism and Hybrid Identity in the Eastern Congo: Power to the Margins.
- One of the few books that tries to provide a comprehensive account of Congolese history from the precolonial era to the present is David Van Reybrouck’s Congo: The Epic History of a People. Haven’t read it yet, but have heard many positive reviews.
I’ve been puzzling over this question for a few weeks now, ever since reading about the connection that Samuel Huntington drew between the evolving Catholic church (with regard to Vatican II and liberation theology) and democratization in Latin America. Liberation theology sprang up from the 1950s – 1970s as an intense critique of the church’s role in abetting oppression and poverty, of which there was plenty in both Latin America and Africa at the time – but whilst it left a lasting impression on both faith practices and (selon Huntington) politics in LatAm, it didn’t seem to spread across the Atlantic in any meaningful way. (The exception appears to be South Africa, where “liberation” had an unusually clearly defined sense.)
This might go back to the general debate over why Africans don’t protest more (see here and here), but I’m also wondering about the specific political facets of religious life in Africa that might have incentivized religious leaders not to adapt and adopt this type of faith-based social movement. Were organized faiths regularly co-opted by by the state during this period? Or did religious leaders & laypeople face the same incentives against rebellion as any other citizens? Science Encyclopedia offers some stylized facts about religion and the state in Africa, but nothing systematic enough to draw conclusions.
With regard to Catholicism specifically, January Makamba points out that this tradition was not nearly as deeply entrenched in Africa as it was in Latin America, which could be relevant if theologians are less likely to adopt new ideas across denominational lines (or across different faiths all together, given that there are estimated to be more Muslims than Christians in Africa). Check out Worldmapper’s depiction of the distribution of Catholics around the world:
For comparison, here’s a map of global population distribution:
Latin America clearly has a greater-than-proportional share of Catholics, although central and east Africa also appear to be holding their own, making it less immediately obvious that “lack of Catholicism” is a good explanatory variable. Thoughts and recommendations for further reading would be welcomed!
Having received a few requests recently for books on Rwanda & the genocide, I thought I’d list those that I’ve found most valuable in understanding the peri-genocidal state. (I’ve since updated this post several times since publication, most recently in June 2015. In retrospect it’s a major problem that there aren’t any works by Rwandese or other African authors on this list. I’ll prioritize those works for a future update.)
- Antecedents to Modern Rwanda: The Nyiginya Kingdom, by Jan Vansina. A must-read for understanding the political, economic, and social organization of pre-colonial Rwanda, and the harmful way that colonialism interacted with the extant social identities of “Hutu” and “Tutsi.” Alison Des Forges’ Defeat is the Only Bad News: Rwanda Under Musinga, 1986 – 1931 and Catherine Newbury’s The Cohesion of Oppression: Clientship and Ethnicity in Rwanda, 1960 – 1960 cover the same period, although I haven’t read either yet.
- The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide, by Gerard Prunier. The most comprehensive history of the genocide that I’ve yet read. Prunier is a formidable researcher, and he covers the period from independence up to the late 1990s in considerable detail and from a cogent analytical perspective. His later research caused him to question this book’s favorable portrayals of Paul Kagame during several internal RPF struggles which took place during the 1990 – 1994 civil war, but I don’t think that detracts from the insight of the vast majority of analysis here. Mahmood Mamdani’s When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda provides a similar look at the historical roots of the genocide.
- The Order of Genocide: Race, Power, and War in Rwanda, by Scott Straus. Straus does incredible work investigating the microdynamics of the genocide, with specific attention to the way in which the national-level order to commit genocide was transmitted through various levels of political machinery, and actualized in killing at the local level. This book should put to rest once and for all the misconception that the genocide was an unpremeditated outburst of “ancient tribal hatreds.” Lee Ann Fuji’s Killing Neighbors: Webs of Violence in Rwanda, which I haven’t read yet, looks like another excellent work on the genocide’s microdynamics.
- Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak, Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak, and The Antelope’s Strategy: Living in Rwanda After the Genocide, by Jean Hatzfeld. Hatzfeld is a French journalist who conducted extensive interviews with genocide perpetrators and victims in the mid-1990s (for Machete and Life), and then again in the early 2000s (Antelope). Machete and Life offer an incomparable view into the human side of the local-level political violence that Straus documented in Order, whilst Antelope is a sobering reminder that the wounds of the genocide are still very much open for most Rwandans. Essential reading.
- Remaking Rwanda: State-Building and Human Rights After Mass Violence, edited by Scott Straus & Lars Waldorf. Published in 2011, this essay collection offers a fascinating look into social policy and domestic politics 15 years after the genocide. Susan Thomson’s Whispering Truth to Power: Everyday Resistance to Reconciliation in Postgenocide Rwanda and Jeannie Burnet’s Genocide Lives in Us: Women, Memory, and Silence in Rwanda cover the same period with a focus on the lived experience of ordinary people. They’re very good works of anthropology, worth a read even if you’re already familiar with the broad outlines of Rwandan society today. Marc Sommers seems to cover similar territory in Stuck: Rwandan Youth and the Struggle for Adulthood, but I haven’t read this yet.
What else would you recommend? (Update: see the comments for some additional recommendations!)
Afrographique is well-worth checking out for its gorgeous representations of various African statistics. Take a look at this graph of foreign investment in 2009 (original post here):
Investment levels seem strongly correlated with natural resources (no surprise there), but don’t appear to have much relation to the ease of doing business in a country. Nigeria, Sudan, Angola, and the Republic of Congo are all major oil exporters, even though of the 46 African countries the World Bank included in its 2011 Doing Business rankings*, they were respectively rated #17, 25, 31 and 40. Chad, at #46, had more investment than Botswana at #3. And Somalia, a failed state that didn’t even make it into the Doing Business rankings, had only a touch less investment than vaunted reformer Rwanda. Fascinating stuff.
*Only the current year’s data are up on the Doing Business site, and some countries have shifted rankings between 2009 (for which we have investment data) and 2011 (the business rankings). For instance, I know that the DRC went from 183 of 183 in the world in Doing Business 2009 to a less whopping 175 of 183 in 2011. That said, with the exception of unusually rapid reformers such as Rwanda, I doubt the investment climate has changed that significantly (with the exception of political unrest) in most countries over the last two years.
The pathos of the dove bringing money to the outstretched hands of the people is just too much…
The central African landscape: continually and unbelievably gorgeous
Safe under the net
One of my classmates recently mentioned that the grave of King Sobhuza II of Swaziland (the current king‘s father) was financed in part by China. It put me in mind of this photo from Bujumbura (taken in November 2008):
Here’s Place de la Revolution:
Close-up of the monument’s lovely mosaics:
It did seem well-restored, at the least!