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The International Impact on Africa’s Past

By Eve Donegan, Sales & Marketing Assistant

I thought it would be interesting to provide a quick peek into Gérard Prunier’s thoughts on the history of Congo and the impact of the West. Below is an excerpt from Prunier’s most recent book, Africa’s World War, in which he looks at the history of Congo, the Rwandan genocide, and the events that led up to Africa’s world war.

In many ways Africa was – and remains – the bad conscience of the world, particularly of the former colonialist powers of the Western world. They entertain a nagging suspicion, played up on by the Africans themselves, that perhaps the continent wouldn’t be in such a mess if it hadn’t been colonized. So in the ten years that followed jettisoning the heavy African baggage of apartheid, the international community was only too happy to support the so-called African Renaissance, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the New Millennium Goals, and the Peer Review Mechanism of the newly revamped African Union. Within this new paradigm the continental war began as a seemingly bright illustration of the new trend, but then began to evoke an embarrassing reincarnation of some very old ghosts.

Caught in the web of its own tangled guilt – that of having long supported the gross Mobutu regime, combined with the more recent sin of not having helped the Tutsi in their hour of need – the international community tried to hang on to the image of the new Tutsi colonizers of the Congo as basically decent men devoted to making Africa safe for democracy. Of course, there was a bit of a problem factoring in the personality of the leader they had put in power as their Congolese surrogate. It was difficult to smoothly include Laurent-Désiré Kabila in the New Leader movement because the others were reformed communists whereas he was an unreformed one and his democratic credentials were hard to find. So, in a way, when the break occurred in 1998 and the Rip Van Winkle of Red African politics sided with the surviving genocidaires, it was almost a relief: the good Tutsi could go on incarnating Africa’s decent future while the fat Commie could symbolize its refusal to change. The massacre of a number of Tutsi in Kinshasa and the obliging incendiary remarks of the Yerodia Ndombasi helped the international community integrate the new war into its pro-democracy and anti-genocide ideology. But there were lots of contradictions, and it was going to be a harder and harder conjuring trick to pull off as time went on.


Gérard Prunier is a widely acclaimed journalist as well as the Director of the French Centre for Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa. He has published over 120 articles and five books, including The Rwanda Crisis and Darfur: A 21st Century Genocide. His most recent book, Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophefocuses on Congo, the Rwandan genocide, and events that led to the death of some four million people. Living in Ethiopia allows Prunier a unique view of the politics and current events of Central and Eastern Africa. Be sure to check back on Tuesdays to read more Notes From Africa.

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