In This Review

Why Comrades Go to War: Liberation Politics and the Outbreak of Africa’s Deadliest Conflict
Why Comrades Go to War: Liberation Politics and the Outbreak of Africa’s Deadliest Conflict
By Philip Roessler and Harry Verhoeven
Oxford University Press, 2016, 512 pp
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The two Congo wars that shook sub-Saharan Africa between 1996 and 2003 constitute a tragedy of mind-boggling proportions, with casualties in the millions. Much effort has gone into explaining the wars’ causes. Area experts have tended to focus on complex local dynamics that resist theorizing. Political scientists and economists, meanwhile, have emphasized more generic problems, such as the looting of the failing state’s natural resources and the grievances caused by the exclusion of ethnic groups from power and prosperity. Roessler and Verhoeven avoid the either-or trap. In their telling, the First Congo War saw the replacement of the “neocolonialist” Mobutu regime with a “neoliberation” state inspired by socialist, pan-African ideals. The second war broke out when former allies—the “comrades” of their book’s title—turned against one another in a fight to secure the spoils of victory. This fascinating book is both analytically sharp and empirically rich, drawing on a vast amount of primary-source research, including scores of interviews with various high-level protagonists.