In This Review

The War That Doesn’t Say Its Name: The Unending Conflict in the Congo
The War That Doesn’t Say Its Name: The Unending Conflict in the Congo
By Jason K. Stearns
Princeton University Press, 2021, 328 pp

In 2003, an internationally brokered peace deal formally ended the murderous Second Congo War and created a transitional national government in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But the fighting never stopped. Stearns’s book seeks to explain why, despite major UN peacekeeping missions and substantial foreign aid, the last two decades have been marked by regular outbreaks of violence in the eastern and northeastern regions of the country. Stearns details the emergence of warlords with ambiguous motivations, the repeated interventions by Rwanda and Uganda, and the role of the incompetent and rapacious national army. An old Congo hand who appears to have interviewed all the key players, Stearns does not offer a linear history of the conflict, instead moving back and forth across the two decades to develop his arguments. But he makes a convincing case that the violence has been sustained by a “military bourgeoisie” that benefits from instability by plundering natural resources and foreign aid. The government has made things worse by shelling out “fighting bonuses” to military personnel that dwarf their peacetime salaries. The violence has created a small but influential ruling class that has little motivation to end the bloodshed.