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Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa    by Jason Stearns order for
Dancing in the Glory of Monsters
by Jason Stearns
Order:  USA  Can
PublicAffairs, 2012 (2011)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Although the Congo has held a fascination for travelers for centuries it is not a place one normally schedules a vacation to without a lot of serious forethought. The size of western Europe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has had a violent history that predates the late 1800s when King Leopold of Belgium claimed the country.

The conflicts that laid claim to so many lives in this country of over sixty million people escalated in the 1990s and an estimated five million people have died since then.

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa delves into some of the causes of this latest period of unrest and why stability in the Congo has been so elusive.

Among the questions Stearns addresses are: What are the origins of the war? Who were its perpetrators and who were its victims? Where was the line drawn between following orders and committing genocide?

Stating that the Congolese war must be put among the great human 'cataclysms of our time', the author goes on to explain that the 'mortality figures are so immense that they become absurd, almost meaningless'.

It was a war that ultimately involved at least twenty different rebel groups and the armies of nine countries. The conflict itself can be divided into three parts. The first Congo war ended with the toppling of Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997.

After a very brief period of uneasy peace, the next violent upheaval began the following year when Laurent Kabila, the new leader, fell out with his Rwandan and Ugandan allies. That war lasted until 2003. Fighting continues today, according to Stearns, in the eastern Kivu region and can be considered the third phase of the war.

In putting a face on a far away war that many Westerners care little about, Stearns tells the story through interviews with the commanders, refugees, soldiers and civilians who survived the fighting.

'The book focuses on the perpetrators more than the victims, the politicians and army commanders more than the refugees and rape survivors, although many of the protagonists oscillate between these categories,' writes Stearns.

He continues, 'Rather than dwelling on the horror of the conflict, which is undeniable, I have chosen to grapple with the nature of the system that brought the principal actors to power, limited the choices they could make, and produced such chaos and suffering.'

The picture that emerges from this look at the Congo and its problems is one that will upset many readers. One reviewer warned that is 'not for the squeamish'. But for those who wish to understand the complex situation and grasp its many nuances, this is as good a place as any to begin.

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