The Congo Wars as Africa’s Thirty Years’ War

The First and Second Congo War saw upwards of 6 million people killed between the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, and involved armed forces and militias from across the continent.  How are we to understand this horrific and protracted war?

From Gerard Prunier’s Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe (2009):

…the expression “Africa’s First World War,” used by the Africans themselves, is only partially correct.  Yes, Rwanda and the Congo experienced in several ways the anger, the fear, the hatred that were evident in Belgrade, Paris, and Berlin in 1914.  But in the case of Angola, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Burundi, and Namibia the pattern of conflict was much older and prenationalistic: it was more like the Thirty Years’ War that had ravaged Europe between 1618 and 1648.  For most of the African countries involved, as had been the case for seventeenth-century Sweden, Poland, France, and Lithuania, the war took place purely because of the princes’ ambitions, prejudices, and security fears.  And the Congo, like Germany in the seventeenth century, was their battlefield.  The violence and the meaninglessness were the same.  In Burundi and Angola, already ravaged by civil wars of their own, projecting troops into the DRC had just been an extension of internal conflicts, and in Zimbabwe and Uganda, where the Congolese intervention was highly unpopular, it was perceived as an elite strategy that had nothing to do with the ordinary lives of ordinary people.  For the really peripheral actors, such as the Sudan, Chad, Libya, and the Central African Republic, the populations were barely aware of their country’s involvement in the Congo; if and when they were aware, they saw it as their leaders’ political calculations about domestic problems, having almost nothing to do with the Congo itself.  None of the nationalistic fervor that was such an essential feature of the First World War was in evidence in any of these countries.  This set Rwanda and the Congo, where the mass of the population deeply cared about the war, in a category apart.  (285-6)

…”Africa’s First World War” will probably remain a unique phenomena, but one that was, here again like the Thirty Years’ War in Europe, a transforming moment in the history of the continent.  Albeit in ways that are quite far from the international community-approved ways, Africa has now entered the modern age.  Following its own rocky road. (364)


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