Dancing in the Glory of Monsters

The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa

You can’t solve problems without understanding them well. The book Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, written by Jason Stearns, doesn’t really offer much insight on how to deal with the Congo’s – and, to an extent, the entire Africa’s – myriad of problems. But it does shed light on the continent’s so called “World War”, the Congo War. A deadly mixture of ethnic conflicts, political ambitions, illegal mining, and a lot of other factors in between all came together in a convoluted conflict that became a microcosm of Africa’s tragic situation.

Technically, the Congo War is divided into two large conflicts: the first one, where Congo’s post-colonial dictator Mobutu Sese Seko was overthrown chiefly by Rwandan forces, allied with other neighboring countries; and the second one, where discontent with Mobutu’s successor, Laurent Kabila, caused Rwanda to attack Congo once again. But a lot of experts generally view the wars as a single continuous conflict, considering the second war began just months after the first one ended. Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, for the most part, also treats the events as a single war, one where the main conflict contains within it various underlying feuds between warring factions and ethnic groups – “wars within wars.”

The book tells the general narrative of the entire Congo War, starting from the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, and up until the late 2000s, when the Democratic Republic of Congo is ruled by Laurent Kabila’s son, Joseph. It is, overall, a very convoluted and meandering state of affairs. And while the book does succeed in narrating the main and minor conflicts within the entire War, in the end it still remains a highly complex and confusing story. Such is the tragedy of the Congo War, that its underlying causes, the issues that caused it, and that it caused, are so difficult to grasp and untie from the War they are tightly interwoven into.

The story of the Congo War is full of textbook African corruption, background on the various ethnic conflicts tied into the War, issues in mining and so-called “conflict resources” (e.g. blood diamonds), and a lot of comical scenes of military incompetence, corruption, and downright lunacy. But for the most part, it was a story mainly of Africans and their world; there was very few discussions on what the rest of the world did during the conflict, possibly because there wasn’t much that they did in the first place. The Congo War was an entirely African affair.

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters has a compelling story to tell, albeit a rather Byzantine one. It’s less about offering solutions and policies to address the ills of Congo – and Africa as a whole – and more about shedding light on the conflict that exploded from the various complex issues in the continent, and that further exacerbated Africa’s already tragic situation. Because Africa’s problems won’t just magically disappear; they have to be dealt with, using properly planned and implemented policies and social programs. And the first step in solving Africa’s problems is to understand them.