Few heroes emerge from this informative account of the wars that have been afflicting the Democratic Republic of the Congo since the demise of the Mobutu regime in the mid-1990s (and that have now caused well over three million, mostly civilian, deaths). Nest and his colleagues argue that the original causes of the conflict are to be found in various ethnic grievances in the eastern part of the country. Mobutu Sese Seko's legacy of inept and corrupt governance of what was then called Zaire led to the collapse of the central state, and into this vacuum, motivated by remarkably obvious mercenary goals, stepped an assortment of ethnic warlords, neighboring governments and armies, and private entrepreneurs and corporations of different sizes and degrees of respectability. The authors do a great job of sorting out the different actors with misleading acronyms and their shifting alliances and tactics. They show that Congo's great mineral wealth has contributed to the wars' persistence and general nastiness, but they are at pains to dismiss an economistic explanation of the conflict that does not take into adequate account identity politics and the absence of viable governance structures. Although they are sparing in their criticism of the ineffectual UN-led peace efforts, theirs is a pessimistic account that does not even attempt to trace the necessary steps toward a long-lasting peace.
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