Sunday, November 25, 2012

Current Reading on Congo

I am currently reading Thomas Turner, The Congo Wars: Conflict, Myth & Reality (London: Zed Books, 2007). A couple of things that stand out in the first couple of chapters. First, the author is rightfully critical of Marxist scholars for ignoring or at least seriously downplaying the role of ethnicity, race, and nationalism in favor of class. I would say that this criticism applies to everything and not just Congo. But, it is good to see a confirmation of my own observations. Second, the role of foreign powers is greatly highlighted and the author avoids the usual leftist cliche of placing all the blame on the US or the even more usual leftist cliche of placing all the blame on Republicans in the US. There seems to have been a complete rehabilitation of LBJ recently by American liberals based solely on his membership in the Democratic Party. But, it should be remembered that it was his administration that helped put Mobutu in power in 1965. The Belgian paratroopers that landed at Kisangani were dropped from US planes (Turner, p. 34). The Canadians and even more so the Belgians up to the present day have also been major factors in the neo-colonial exploitation of Congo (on the role of Canadian companies see Turner, pp. 39 and 47). How such a small state as Belgium has been able to consistently cause so much damage to a large and distant state like Congo is somewhat of a mystery to me. But, given that the Belgians murdered more Congolese than Hitler killed Jews, the relative dearth of denunciations of Belgium versus Germany in scholarship and popular culture does point to a persistent structural racism among left wing intellectuals in the West. Other powers that have been involved in Congo include Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia. I was not previously aware of the role of Angola or Namibia. Turner consistently reinforces the point that the conflict in Congo is intimately tied up with the history of Rwanda. I will have a more thorough review of the book when I have finished reading it. But, so far it has been quite informative.


Allen Palmer said...

Otto, I know it isn't quite your area of interest, but you should try to get your hands on "Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine 1958-1962" by Yang Jisheng. It is getting a lot of buzz in US.

J. Otto Pohl said...

I will look for it Allen. Frank Dikotter who wrote "Mao's Great Famine" was one of my professors at SOAS.