Rolling Great Lakes region thread

scottdisco

rip this joint please
economic reductionism

i know this thread ain't forgotten but i for one haven't got anything to say yet, so just a couple of questions before i gather thoughts, one woefully OT.

i have a feeling things in this thread and the humanitarian intervention thread will get lively and entwined when it gets sticky again.

Since then, the Tutsi dominated government (under Paul Kagame) in Rwanda has systemically involved itself in the politics across the border in Eastern DRC. While claiming 'national interest' in seeking to weed out the remnants of the Hutu militias, it motives are complex and definitely involve economic incentives - i.e the extraction of mineral wealth.

Jambo mentioned dispelling economically reductionist views in his first post and i just want to ask does anyone think that the economic incentives angle of things like mineral extraction is moving from a symptom to a more central plank of the motives of some parties? after all, if the goods are still able to be taken from the ground and can therefore only help sustain power.. etc. self-fulfilling prophecy.

the elephant in the room when discussing specifically this is that from a wealthy western pov that this board is fortunate to enjoy is that so much mainstream journalism assessment takes as its cornerstone the self-flagellating THE MOBILE PHONE IN YOUR POCKET-type narratives. (i realise one does not take cues from those sources for a full view but i wanted to mention it.)

why is it the case with non-specialists in the mainstream (or relatively popular, if not mainstream) that do this? OT question but i just want to ask. eg Hari in the Independent, LENIN'S TOMB etc.

is it purely of a piece with the navel-gazing 'my fault before you' style you tend to find at these places, or is it something deeper?

tbf Jambo's concisely put 'complex motives' does explain it in a nutshell and i think i'm just being mischievous :cool:

(apart from obv but tbc a hook into a journalist tale being 'yr cell phone' etc etc, drum up empathy thru "little" things)
 
Last edited:

Mr BoShambles

jambiguous
51qmVlJyKnL._SL500_AA240_.jpg


Buy it, read it!! Brilliant, confusing and horrifying in roughly equal measures. Disects the rationales and logics at play and provides a surgical indictment of all the parties involved - both proximate and distant - for their complicity in the (often gruesome) deaths of millions.

A nice light summer read :eek:
 

Mr BoShambles

jambiguous
any longer than cursory look at the congo inevitably brings up Rwanda 94...

This is totally true Zhao. However, as Prunier makes plain, the connection is not as straightforward as it may perhaps seem:

Let me be clear: the Rwandese genocide and its consequences did not cause the implosion of the Congo basin and its periphery. It acted as a catalyst, precipitating a crisis that had been latent for a good many years and that later reached far beyond its original Great Lakes locus. This is why the situation became so serious. The Rwandese genocide has been both a product and a further cause of an enormous African crisis: its very occurence was a symptom, its nontreatment spread the disease.​
 

Mr BoShambles

jambiguous
Jambo mentioned dispelling economically reductionist views in his first post and i just want to ask does anyone think that the economic incentives angle of things like mineral extraction is moving from a symptom to a more central plank of the motives of some parties? after all, if the goods are still able to be taken from the ground and can therefore only help sustain power.. etc. self-fulfilling prophecy.

Scott: i think this lengthy exerpt from Prunier's book kinda addresses your question:

The Great Lakes or "Congolese" conflict resembles the European Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), in which looting was one of the fundamental activities of the contending armies. Even when they are relatively efficiently used by the state, the combatants devise strategies of economic relevance that turn "war" into something Western observers cannot recognize as the kind of "real military conflict" we have been used to identify due to its extensive use in the past three hundred years. Here [i.e in the Congo] economic predation, trafficking of all kinds, and looting both at the individual and at the collective level become essential features of the conflict because they are essential means of financing it. This has massive consequences on the way the war is fought. Because civilians are the ones from whom the military can take its means of survival, armed violence is more often directed at civilians (including, at times, those of one's own camp) than at the enemy army. Direct armed confrontation is often avoided, and straightforward military victory is only one of the various options in the field. It is actually this nonstate, decentralized form of violence that makes the conflicts so murderous and so hard to stop. Looting and its attendant calamities (arson, rape, torture) become routine operations for the "combatants", who are soon more akin to vampires than soldiers. Even the regular armies - and here the parallel with the Thirty Years War is inescapable - all use militias to supplement or reinforce their own capability. After a while there is a kind of "blending" between the so-called regular forces (who in Africa are usually poorly paid and poorly disciplined) and the militias they have recruited as auxileries. This blending leads more to the de-professionalization of the regular forces than to the professionalization of the militias. This was a key factor in the grotesque fighting between the Rwandan and Ugandan armies in Kisangani, where the invaders seemed to have lost even the most elementary vision of what they were doing in the Congo and turned to fighting each other like dogs over leftover bones.

These problems move straight to the fore when the war ends. In an environment in which economic alternatives are extremely limited or even nonexistent, the well-meaning DDRRR [i.e. post-"war" reconstruction] plans of the foreigners [i.e. the international community] are often totally impracticable, since war has become a way of life for those involved in it.
 

craner

Beast of Burden
[Posted 19-06-2009, 02:52 PM #22



Buy it, read it!! Brilliant, confusing and horrifying in roughly equal measures. Disects the rationales and logics at play and provides a surgical indictment of all the parties involved - both proximate and distant - for their complicity in the (often gruesome) deaths of millions.

A nice light summer read

Seconded; really important and searing book.
 

scottdisco

rip this joint please
thanks for the Prunier excerpt, Jambo.

an elegant and learned expanding of the point i was sort of very clumsily shuffling toward, nice one!

great European history analogy, and crucial on "blending".

"soon more akin to vampires than soldiers"
:(

dire and realistic concluding para it seems, too.
 

Mr BoShambles

jambiguous
A "really important searing book" or "literary excrement"?

Just come across a very critical review of Prunier's book by retired US army officer Tom P. Odom writing at SmallWarsJournal:

let me just say that as a participant in some of the events described in this book, I found numerous errors of fact, doubtful analysis, and dubious sourcing, I am disappointed to say the least because I looked forward to reading the book as a follow on to Prunier’s earlier works on the Rwandan tragedy. In contrast to those efforts, this book is neither good history nor good journalism. Good history relies on analysis of facts, personal accounts, public documents, and at least makes a stab at balanced analysis. Journalism implies writing without an agenda.

It's worth noting that Odom has written on the Rwanda genocide himself though i am unfamiliar with his work.

And here's a blog review of the review which ends up asking "The question is of course, is their any truth to Odom's allegations?"

Well quite!

[Craner: the title is in no way meant to cast aspersions on your judgment -- if Odom is correct and the book is "literary excrement" comprised of "poor scholarship" and "a large dose of conspiracy theory" then i too have been duped!]
 
Last edited:

vimothy

yurp
The ground keeps shifting, eh. Wonder if there will be a RUSI review at some point -- they hosted Kagame for a talk celebrating the opening of their Africa programme (IIRC) in '06.
 

Mr BoShambles

jambiguous
NYT review:

Prunier has a reputation as a maverick historian. A research professor at the University of Paris and the director of the French Center for Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa, he has written not only about Rwanda but about Darfur, too. Probably the best way to read him is to assume that most of what he has to say is solidly researched, but that some of it is not. In “Africa’s World War,” [The US release title of "From Genocide to Continental War"] for example, Prunier says the Rwandan Army invaded Congo using rubber boats provided by an American aid organization. He cites unnamed eyewitnesses as his sources and presents this as possible evidence of wider American involvement.

No one comes out a hero in this book, neither the guilt-ridden United States nor the pusillanimous United Nations, and definitely not the French, whom Prunier blames for enabling the génocidaires. But that, to Prunier, is old news. His sharpest barbs are reserved for Rwanda’s current leaders, who in his pages lie, betray, plunder and kill, massacring tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, in vicious revenge attacks. He even asserts that Rwandan death squads were reputed to carry special little cobbler’s hammers in their backpacks to “silently and efficiently smash skulls.”

Some of this is undoubtedly true. The United Nations has documented the vast criminal enterprise set up by Rwanda in the late 1990s to pump Congo’s minerals back to Kigali, the Rwandan capital. But the more overtly bloodthirsty material in “Africa’s World War” still seems to lie somewhere between rumor and fact.

In Africa, however, you never know. And things change fast. Congo is no exception.
 
Last edited:

vimothy

yurp
Per Odom, this (which I didn't even notice reading) seems totally unbelievable:

On government-sanctioned operations such as the Croatian offensive in the Kajina, they use what is known as “first-echelon people (i.e., former U.S. army personnel with honorable discharges). For the “black operations” (i.e., covert operations about which Congress is kept in the dark) they use second-echelon men who are also former GIs with shady records of drug offenses, theft, or sexual offenses. These men are contacted indirectly, through ‘friendly’ private companies, and can include foreigners.

That said, what are Odom's substantive criticisms of Prunier -- that he is mean to the US?
 

Mr BoShambles

jambiguous
The Economist assesses the current situation in Central Africa via a short review of From Genocide to Continental War and Rene Lemarchand's recent book The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa (which i also recommend as fascinating if, at times, a little dry).
 

Mr BoShambles

jambiguous
Per Odom, this (which I didn't even notice reading) seems totally unbelievable

Agreed -- and you wouldn't remember reading it unless you fastidiously refer to all footnotes.


That said, what are Odom's substantive criticisms of Prunier -- that he is mean to the US?

Well yeah. And that he takes a partisan position with regards to his relationship with Sendashonga.

So he hardly invalidates the majority of the book... but he does raise some questions about the objectivity and thoroughness of parts of Prunier's account. The NYT review is perhaps a more balanced reflection.
 

Mr BoShambles

jambiguous
Oh and lest we forget... Prunier referenced Odom's book as published by the University of Texas Press, which is apparently incorrect! An unforgivable crime if ever there was one ;)
 

vimothy

yurp
I guess a certain amount of messiness is to be expected given the subject matter. And perhaps it's not hugely surprising that a French historian is not particularly well informed vis-a-vis the ins and outs of US military aid to Rwanda...
 

padraig (u.s.)

a monkey that will go ape
That said, what are Odom's substantive criticisms of Prunier -- that he is mean to the US?

not having read the book yet myself (just ordered it via inter-library loan, also ordered On Violence) - it seems the criticisms have more to do w/Prunier's views on Rwanda then w/the book's actual topic? specifically in re: the RPF.

which, I dunno, everything I've ever read about Kagame & the RPF - which, admittedly, not a great deal but a fair bit tho - suggests otherwise. admittedly I've perhaps a bit of a pro-Tutsi & pro-Kagame bias - I remember being totally shocked by We Wish to Inform You... when I was 15 or so & later on I was friends w/a Tutsi girl. but still - some of the things Odom mentions do seem patently absurd. tho I guess Prunier's not the only person w/at least some credibility (that is, not an ex-Interahamwe member*) to level series critiques at Kagame/the regime. one problem is that it seems very difficult to sort out where fighting the Hutu militia who escaped to the Congo (& were still carrying out attacks across the border) stops & where the resource-grubbing, wanton slaughter etc. begins

still going to read it of course (w/such high recommendations how could I not) tho I remain a bit wary about, as mentioned, any French historian writing about Rwanda.

*speaking of which, I thought that bit about who the book was dedicated too was well dodgy
 

vimothy

yurp
Bear in mind that Prunier hardly spares the rod from either the French or Hutu militia. In fact the only people that you come away from the book with any sympathy for are the victims of the conflict.
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
In fact the only people that you come away from the book with any sympathy for are the victims of the conflict.

But isn't one of the things people always say about this conflict, or series of conflicts, that many of its victims had committed atrocities themselves? Obviously not all of them, or even most of them, but a sizeable minority...right?

Not that any victim of terrible violence isn't deserving of sympathy, of course.
 

vimothy

yurp
But isn't one of the things people always say about this conflict, or series of conflicts, that many of its victims had committed atrocities themselves? Obviously not all of them, or even most of them, but a sizeable minority...right?

That's certainly a tidier, more morally acceptable narrative than the one Prunier portrays.
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
I can't see how it's "tidier" - surely it makes the whole situation much more complicated? I'd have thought a conceptually 'tidy' conflict would be one in which there is a clear aggressor and agressed-against. Either that or a simple state-against-stare or faction-against-against bust-up with a well-defined military on each side - not one of these weird messy entanglement where civilians are fighters and fighters civilians...does that make sense?
 
Top