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Thomas Turner, 'The Congo wars: Conflict, Myth and Reality'

Zed Books, 2007; ISBN: 978-1 84277 689 6; pp. 243; £17.99

The ongoing war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has the unfortunate distinction of being the world's biggest “forgotten emergency” according to a 2005 poll of experts by Reuters. The numbers are staggering, with the International Rescue Committee recently estimating that over 5 million people have died since 1998, the majority due to preventable diseases and starvation aggravated by the fighting.

Extensively referenced, with a useful chronology of events and a map to guide the reader, The Congo Wars is a concise, well-written history of this often confusing conflict. Thomas Turner is particularly impressive when analysing the actions and motivations of the many African states involved in the fight- ng - Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad and Namibia. Of course, the conflict has a multitude of interlocking causes, but for Turner it is largely a war of partition and pillage”, with vast quantities of the DRC's mineral wealth - coltan, cobalt, gold and diamonds - flowing out of the country.

In the face of the bloodiest war since the second world war, Turner charges the West, and the UN specifically, with being ineffective and slow to react to the horrors on the ground, with individual nations more interested in furthering their own interests rather than alleviating the unfolding humanitarian emergency. However, no mention is made of the substantial US and UK arms exports to the region - Zimbabwe has used British-supplied Hawk jets in the DRC according to Campaign Against the Arms Trade - or of the Western companies involved in facilitating the plunder of the DRC according to a 2002 UN report, including Anglo-American, Barclays Bank and De Beers.

While The Congo Wars is certainly a useful resource for concerned citizens in the West, its strong academic flavour does not endear it to those new to the subject. Where are the human stories and the sense of moral indignation at a conflict that John O'Shea, chief executive of the Irish Relief Fund, cites as “the greatest example on the planet of man's inhumanity to man”? Those ooking for a more accessible primer could do worse than read Johann Hari's impassioned 2006 eyewitness account for the Independent newspaper entitled Congo's tragedy: the war the world forgot”.

Topics: Global South