Jean Pierre Bemba… announced the existence of a new rebel movement, the Mouvement de Liberation du Congo (MLC). His approach, as he explained to a French journalist, could be characterized as “empirical”: “I had identified the possibility of launching an armed movement. So I went looking for serious partners. There were two countries in the region which were interested but I chose to present my dossier to the Ugandans. They liked it and so I went in.” When the interviewer asked him whether he had the support of rich former Mobutuists, he replied with a laugh, “If they want to invest, now is the time. When I get to Kinshasa they’ll have to queue up to reach my office.”
That was 1998. Bemba is presently in the Hague awaiting trial for war crimes. In between he was a vice-president and senator in the DRC.
The quotes come from Gerard Prunier’s Africa’s World War. The war in the Congo dragged virtually every country in south, east, and central Africa into muddy conflict (and still does). The book is not for beginners–Prunier launches straight into events and ethnic rivalries that will mesmerize all but close followers of the continent. I’m muddled myself half the time (a few more maps would help).
What makes the book worthwhile is the historian’s dedication to setting the record straight–on the brutal massacres by Rwanda’s post-genocide regime, on the role of US and French interests, and on the African leaders personally responsible for fifteen years of conflict and misery. I don’t know enough about the countries to contradict Prunier on any count, but he has some very disturbing facts on his side. Rwanda’s Paul Kagame comes out looking even more dangerous than I feared.
What I like best is the geopolitical view. Balance of power theorists: you have a new case to study. Too much African history and journalism treats each nation as an island. Prunier appreciates the blurry borders of central Africa, where places are nations in name only.