Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters - Jason K Stearns

Title: Dancing in the Glory of Monsters
Author: Jason K Stearns
Publisher: PublicAffairs
ISBN: 978-1-61039-1078
Year: 2012
Pages: 380 

The West is very aware of the horror of the Rwandan genocide that took place between April and July, 1994; over 800,000 people (mainly Tutsi's) were slaughtered. What is not well known, indeed hardly commented or reported upon, was the follow-on war and genocide that took place in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) between 1995-2001. This 'Great War' of Africa involved 5 countries and resulted in an estimated 1.7 million dead, untold wounded, millions displaced and hundreds of thousands raped and ravaged. Stearns book is an effort to redress this shortfall and it makes for dark and difficult reading.  

Stearns contends that the fundamental reasons for the lack of interest on the part of the West to this agony in Africa centres upon two main themes: one represents the complexity of the war and the causes thereof and two is the fact that it was far away from the West and of little immediate impact. The first cause is indicative, the author contends, of a modern world interested in quick and simple explanations and the second, a media that both recognizes and enables that simplistic approach. 

He is absolutely correct in his contention that the underlying causes of the war were complex; indeed, there were no clear 'good guys' or 'bad guys'; all players were both. Sadly, the one consistency were the victims of personal, national and tribal greed. Commencing with a history of the region, Stearns takes the reader through the tangle of the ensuing years with candid interviews of key players and evaluations of the political and societal conditions that enabled the tragedy to unfold. His eye for detail and the human condition paint, for the reader, a depressingly predictable pattern of idealism, corruption and acceptance.

This is a very disturbing rendition of the events of this period, made all the more so by the complete indifference of the West. The West does play a key role in developing the historical conditions for the tragedy; however, responsibility lies equally with the Africans in taking advantage of those vulnerable members of their societies. There does exist some aspects however, that leave the reader with cause for hope, primarily centring upon the resilience of the human spirit. The Africans repeatedly move forward, not without rancour or memory, but in recognition of the need to rebuild.  

The complexity of the causes and unfolding of this war are indeed manifest. Stearns has done an outstanding  job of presenting the drama with clarity and accuracy without diminishing impact or 'dumbing down' the story. He has a strong eye for the human condition and is able to translate the visual to the written with subtlety and frankness. This book is uncomfortable to read as it cracks the vault on aspects of the human psyche rarely seen on such vast scales. It is nevertheless, extremely educational for Western readers to begin the process of understanding the tragedy and complexity of Africa. Especially recommended for those who may find themselves preparing for deployments or jobs in Africa.  

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