Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa

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Overview


A Best Book of the Year- The Economist & the Wall Street Journal

At the heart of Africa is the Congo, a country the size of Western Europe, bordering nine other nations, that since 1996 has been wracked by a brutal war in which millions have died. In Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, renowned political activist and researcher Jason K. Stearns has written a compelling and deeply-reported narrative of how Congo became a failed state that collapsed into a war of retaliatory massacres. Stearns brilliantly describes the key perpetrators, many of whom he met personally, and highlights the nature of the political system that brought these people to power, as well as the moral decisions with which the war confronted them. Now updated with a new introduction, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters tells the full story of Africa’s Great War.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“The best account [of the conflict in the Congo] so far….The task facing anyone who tries to tell this whole story is formidable, but Stearns by and large rises to it.” —Adam Hochschild, New York Times Book Review

“[A] tour de force, though not for the squeamish.” —Washington Post

“This is a serious book about the social and political forces behind one of the most violent clashes of modern times—as well as a damn good read.” —Economist

“[P]erhaps the best account of the most recent conflict in the Congo.” —Foreign Policy

“A serious, admirably balanced account of the crisis and the political and social forces behind it… perhaps the most accessible, meticulously researched, and comprehensive overview of the Congo crisis yet.” —Financial Times

“Impressively controlled account of the devastating Congo war…The book’s greatest strength is the eyewitness dialogue; Stearns discusses his encounters with everyone from major military figures to residents of remote villages (he was occasionally suspected of being a CIA spy)…An important examination of a social disaster that seems both politically complex and cruelly senseless.”-Kirkus

“Covering the devastating effects of these deadly contests on the Congolese infrastructure, Congolese institutions, and people’s lives, Stearns informatively reports on affairs for students of African politics.”Booklist
 
“He is a cracking writer, with a wry sense of understatement…Mr. Stearns has spoken to everyone—villagers, child soldiers, Mobutu's commanders, Kabila's ministers, Rwandan intelligence officers. In these conversations he found gold, bringing clarity—and humanity—to a place that usually seems inexplicable and barbaric. ‘Dancing in the Glory of Monsters’ is riveting and certain to become essential reading for anyone looking to understand Central Africa.” -Wall Street Journal
 
“Stearns is more concerned with the perceptions, motivations, an actions of an eclectic mix of actors in the conflict—from a Tutsi warlord who engaged in massive human rights violations to a Hutu activist turned refugee living in the camps and forests of eastern Congo.  He tells their stories with a judicious mix of empathy and distance, linking them to a broader narrative of a two-decade-long conflict that has involved a dozen countries and claimed six million victims.”-Foreign Affairs
 
“Stearns is a leading authority on the region, having lived there for years working for the United Nations and the International Crisis Group. He has built up a superb knowledge of Congo and how it articulates with its neighbours, particularly Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. He frequently imparts his understanding to journalists far less well-informed than he. And now he has produced a book where he makes the whole convoluted and confusing war in Congo a little more comprehensible, which is quite a feat. If you want to understand modern Congo then Stearns’ book should be required reading.”-Global Post
 
“A brave and accessible take on the leviathan at the heart of so many of Africa’s problems… Stearns’s eye for detail, culled from countless interviews, brings this book alive… I once wrote that the Congo suffers from ‘a lack of institutional memory’, meaning that its atrocities well so inexorably that nobody bothers to keep an account of them. Stearns’s book goes a long way to putting that right.”Telegraph,

“(t)his courageous book is a plea for more nuanced understanding and the silencing of the analysis-free ‘the horror, the horror’ exclamation that Congo still routinely wrings from Western lips.” -The Spectator,

“Stearns has done a fine job of amassing vast amounts (of material), much of it based directly on interviews with the participants and victims, to bring to light details of a scandalously under-reported war… (T)his book succeeds in providing a vivid chronicles of this rolling conflict involving 20 rival rebel groups."-Sunday Times

“a vivid chronicle of the carnage that helps illuminate a tragedy too enormous to comprehend” -The Shepherd Express

Adam Hochschild
…the best account so far: more serious than several recent macho-war-correspondent travelogues, and more lucid and accessible than its nearest competitor, Gérard Prunier's dense and overwhelming Africa's World War…The task facing anyone who tries to tell this whole story is formidable, but Stearns by and large rises to it. He has lived in the country, and has done a raft of interviews with people who witnessed what happened before he got there…on the whole his picture is clear, made painfully real by a series of close-up portraits.
—The New York Times
Robert Guest
Most books about Congo's war focus, understandably, on the victims…Yet on their own, they do not allow us to make sense of this most confusing of wars. Enter Jason Stearns. One of Congo's most intrepid observers, he describes the war from the point of view of its perpetrators. He has tracked down and interviewed a rogue's gallery of them. The resulting book, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, is a tour de force, though not for the squeamish.
—The Washington Post
Kirkus Reviews

Impressively controlled account of the devastating Congo war, which has caused more than 5 million deaths.

Stearns, who in 2008 led a special UN investigation regarding the region's violence, argues that the war "had no one cause, no clear conceptual essence that can be easily distilled in a couple of paragraphs." While he agrees that the 1994 Rwandan genocide provided the war's genesis, he argues that a less-understood factor was the experience of the Banyamulenge, a Tutsi group that emigrated to the Congo long before and suffered persecution ever since. The Congo was first invaded in 1996, when Laurent Kabila deposed Mobutu, but the wider war began in 1998, between disparate coalitions: Kabila's army and Hutu militias on one side, and the Rwandan military and their allies on another. "The war scuttled all plans for long-term reform and prompted quick fixes that only further debilitated the state," writes Stearns. The author illuminates the tangled relationships between Kabila, Rwandan Tutsi leader Paul Kagame and many other players as few journalists have. The book's greatest strength is the eyewitness dialogue; Stearns discusses his encounters with everyone from major military figures to residents of remote villages (he was occasionally suspected of being a CIA spy). He reveals the bravery and suffering of ordinary Africans, while underscoring "how deeply entrenched in society the Congolese crisis had become." As the chronology moves into the previous decade, his tale becomes increasingly complex and disturbing. Regional proxy wars involving rebel offshoots and tribal militia groups spun out of control, intensifying violence against civilians. Kabila was assassinated in 2001, possibly due to grudges held by angry child soldiers backed by Rwanda, and replaced by his son, who pursued a tenuous peace marred by continued economic stagnation and chaos. By that time, the belligerent nations "had over a dozen rebel proxies or allies battling each other."

An important examination of a social disaster that seems both politically complex and cruelly senseless.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781610391078
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 3/27/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 178,075
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author


Jason Stearns has been working on the conflict in the Congo for the past decade, most recently as the head of a special United Nations panel investigating Congolese rebel groups. He worked for the United Nations peacekeeping operation, and as a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group. He is currently completing a PhD at Yale University.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Acronyms xi

Maps xiii

Introduction: Understanding the Violence 3

Part I Prewar

Chapter 1 The Legacy of Genocide 13

Chapter 2 Aiding and Abetting 33

Chapter 3 A Country in Ruins 45

Chapter 4 Six Days 57

Chapter 5 Onion Layers 69

Chapter 6 Mzee 81

Part II The First War

Chapter 7 Many Wars in One 93

Chapter 8 The Dominoes Fall 109

Chapter 9 A Thousand Miles Through the Jungle 127

Chapter 10 This Is How You Fight 143

Chapter 11 A Wounded Leopard 153

Chapter 12 The King Is Dead; Long Live the King 163

Part III The Second War

Chapter 13 One War Too Many 181

Chapter 14 The Rebel Professor 201

Chapter 15 The Rebel Start-Up 217

Chapter 16 Cain and Abel 235

Chapter 17 Sorcerers' Apprentices 249

Chapter 18 The Assassination of Mzee 267

Chapter 19 Paying for the War 285

Part IV Neither War Nor Peace

Chapter 20 The Bearer of Eggs 307

Conclusion: The Congo, On Its Own Terms 327

Notes 339

Index 367

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 27, 2012

    Highly Recommend

    Well paced, detailed but not overly pedantic, good illustrations of lives ranging from political figures to child soldiers. Wish I had it on my reading list from War College.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2012

    Excellent, must read for anyone with an interest in africa.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    Excellent well written.

    I read the book when I was flying on a international flight.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2011

    Will help you understand the congo

    A conflict few people have heard of and even more who have no clue of the tragedy that took place in the congo, this book really helps the reader understand the background of the conflict that was a geneocide which the whole world ignored.

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  • Posted May 9, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Explains The Congo Tragedy

    If you want to understand the tragedy that is the Congo, put aside the mythology and read Dancing In The Glory of Monsters. Jason Stearns has untangled the snarling mess that is the history of this sad nation.

    As someone who's researched and written about the Congo myself (Heart Of Diamonds: A novel of scandal, love, and death in the Congo), I found new insights into the interminable conflicts that have wracked the country for it's entire modern history. Stearns delineates the players, putting them into context and showing how they interacted to make the Congo what it is today. He clearly explains the role of Rwanda's Paul Kagame and other outsiders in the turmoil, but also delineates the power hunger and shortcomings of the Congo's own leaders, including current President Joseph Kabila.

    Most importantly, Stearns demonstrates that there is no one single cause of the Congo's troubles. He calmly shows how tribal rivalries fuel the strife just as much as the struggle to control the country's mineral wealth. He explains how the internal politics of Zimbabwe, Uganda, Angola, and other countries in addition to Rwanda led to their deep involvement in the DRC's wars. While he rightfully deplores the epidemic of rape in the Congo, he puts it in context and doesn't dwell on it--not because it's not important, but because there's more to the story.

    I found it refreshing that Stearns resists the impulse to blame rapacious multinational corporations for much of anything except trying to find a way to do business in the Congo. He doesn't ignore the many shortcomings of most of the deals to exploit the Congo's riches, but correctly points out that most of them were struck by Congolese leaders eager to fund their own ambitions. He leaves the conspiracy theories to other, less informed writers.

    Dancing In The Glory Of Monsters is an objective, clear-eyed look at one of the greatest ongoing tragedies in modern history.

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