Thursday, May 5, 2011

Literary Bite: Dancing in the Glory of Monsters

Most people don’t know about the Congolese wars. You’ve heard of Darfur, everyone knows about the Rwandan genocide, but did you know that in the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) over 5 million people have died war-related deaths, and over 3.4 million Congolese were forced to leave their homes??? (I just think people should know about this!) 

I’ve been recommending Dancing in the Glory of Monsters to everyone. (And I’m going to see Jason Stearns talk about it tonight!)

It’s difficult for me to judge this book objectively, since I think anything related to the DRC is absolutely fascinating…and of course my refugees are Congolese…but if you like non-fiction, give it a try!

The main reason the DRC is not media-genic is its complexity. “How,” Stearns asks, “do you cover a war that involves at least 20 different rebel groups and the armies of nine countries, yet does not seem to have a clear cause or objective?” 

The DRC is bigger than Western Europe and arguably has been in turmoil for 40 years. The conflict is not about race, nor economics, nor power nor politics – it’s far more complicated than that and includes aspects of all those issues. “Like layers of an onion, the Congo war contains wars within wars.”

Stearns is an expert on the DRC and does an amazing job of combining interviews, personal portraits, and historical facts to paint a clear portrait of the DRC. He’s interviewed victims and perpetrators and has amazing access to all sides of the conflict. Dancing in the Glory of Monsters is (of course) a history book, but it’s a page-turner! I think Stearns has made it accessible to everyone, not just Africanists like me.

This book starts in 1994 with the Rwandan genocide and its affects on the Congo. Then, in 1996 the “first war” overthrew Congo’s (then Zaire’s) dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. That was closely followed by the “second war” in 1998, when Rwanda and Uganda invaded the Congo. 

Of course the end is not happy, but hopefully will make you care, even just a little bit.

And I love the title, it comes from a speech by Laurent Kabila, the DRC’s first president after the dictator Mobutu:
 “Vous Zairois…,” He would begin, a finger thrusting upward, berating the crowd for having pu tup with the country’s moral decline for so long. “Who has not been a Mobutuist in this country?” he asked during one press conference. “Three-quarters of this country became part of it! We saw you all dancing in the glory of the monster.” (p.9)
Check out Stearn’s blog, Congo Siasa.
Read this interview with Stearns, and the NY Times book review.

And if you do pick up Dancing in the Glory of Monsters (please do!), let me know so we can discuss!