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Posts Tagged ‘Great African War’


While we were still in the process of adopting, a friend mentioned a book about the Congo prior to his trip to Africa to do some counseling. I thought it would be a good idea to read the book to understand the recent history of the region. I wanted to keep it so my kids would be able to understand the land they left.

I didn’t expect anyone to say this:

“It is true that the Tutsi killed,” Bugera told me at one point. “But we all had brothers, schoolmates, uncles who had been killed. It’s all part of the whole. Can you portray that to your readers in Arizona or Berlin? Can you make them understand why someone would kill?”

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters by Jason Stearns is a difficult book to read. He tries to help you understand “why someone would kill” and not just other soldiers, but even women and children. Correct that, why they think they should kill. It is difficult to read because there are so many stories of horrendous acts. He interviewed many people, and gives us their eyewitness accounts through much of the book.

The book covers the history of the Great War of Africa, which was largely ignored in the West even though millions of people died. Coverage of Darfur greatly exceeded coverage of The Great War even though far more people died in the Great War.

“There is no Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin. Instead it is a war of the ordinary person, with many combatants unknown and unnamed, who fight for complex reasons…”

He theorizes that one reason is that there were no clear cut good guys and bad guys. Everyone had blood on their hands! Another reason may just be how utterly confusing it can be due to the enormous cast of characters. It is like a Russian novel. He has a page and a half of acronyms, many of which are the various military groups.

The first part of the book sets the stage for the war, analyzing the problems that contributed to the war.

“The Congo has always defied the idealists.”

One important factor was that during the time of colonization, the Belgians had set up the Congolese to fail. There were no native leaders that made their ways up the ladder of power. There was no one ready and able to rule and administrate a nation when they left. They had impoverished leadership, and slowly ate up the left over capitol left behind. Called Zaire, prior to the War, it was run by a deified dictator (aren’t they usually) who used privilege to purchase loyalty. But the infrastructure was rotting, and the military leaders were selling off supplies, parts and arms to maintain a good standard of living. Zaire was rotting from the inside out. Stagflation was impoverishing the nation.

The civil war in neighboring Rwanda was another contributing factor. Many of the refugees fled into eastern Zaire. The Hutu, who were in power, were guilty of stirring up the genocide which saw 800,000 Tutsi and Hutu killed by the army and militia groups. Eventually, Tutsi rebels led by Kagame took power in Rwanda. This time it was the Hutu crossing the border into Zaire to find refuge.

“Such is the human being: when he is afraid, he sees enemies everywhere and think the only chance to stay alive is to exterminate them.” Beatrice Umetesi

Racism drove a number of regional conflicts that erupted into larger conflicts. The camps were divided, and refugees outside the camps often attacked those inside. Humanitarian crises broke out in the camps. One UN official noted, “It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion.” The UN was not allowed to get accurate counts for well over a year. They underestimated the amount of money needed to provide food and medicine for the refugees. They ended up dying by the thousands. The U.S., under Clinton, not only did essentially nothing but blocked efforts on the part of the international community. They would help in Bosnia, but not the heart of Africa.

Rumble in the Jungle: Zaire in its short-lived glory

Mobutu liked to shelter the enemies of his enemies however. It would de-stablize the region. Eventually it would catch up with him as those foreign enemies assisted his domestic enemies.

It was not just the Hutu who hated the Tutsi. Generations earlier, in the 1800’s, some have moved west into the Congo. Called the Banyamulenge, they were ostracized and minimized. They were considered outsiders even though they’d lived there for over 100 years. They were denied citizenship. Apparently everyone hated them. They didn’t fit in. They were insulted with slang words for “penis” and the word kijuju after a local plant similar to the cassava, but which could not be eaten.

“Everyone seemed to be a killer or a victim or both.”

The Congolese were stirred up against the Hutu and Tutsi refugees. And the local Banyamulenge.

It is here that Stearns makes explicit the pattern we too often ignore in such situations of racism. Each side only remembers the atrocities committed against them, not those they have committed. As a result, each side feels justified in their hatred and thinks nothing of the damage they do in return. Think of race relations in this country. Both whites and blacks have selective memories whenever something comes up.

Mobutu’s foreign enemies needed a Congolese face to head the attempt (which was successful) to remove him from power. They found one of the few domestic enemies that Mobutu hadn’t locked up- aging Communist and eccentric Laurent Kabila. He was crazy, like a fox. They underestimated him. But he would underestimate how hard it would be to rule the Congo.

There is plenty of back story and intrigue in the first part of this book. It could be confusing at times. But the whole story is confusing as seemingly unrelated things all came together to make something greater than their sum. It is a sad, tragic story that reveals the darkest sides of the human condition.

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If you follow my other blog, you know CavWife and I have adopted 2 children from Africa. In a recent post there, I mentioned that we expect to experience various forms of racism.

Racism has many sources. Okay, ultimately one source- the sinful heart of a man or woman. Why they sin in this way can have many different causes. Some people have grown up among racists, and “caught” it. They heard various lies all their lives, and take them as true.

Sometimes racism has found a place in our hearts because of mistreatment at the hands of people from that race. We’ve been robbed, beaten or worse. We wrongly project our fears upon all of those from that race. As I have been (slowly) reading about the Great African War in Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, one thing that stuck out to me as the tales of ethnic hatred (racism) was that people recall the atrocities committed against their tribe, but not those committed by their tribe. I notice the same thing in America. Each ethnic group is quick to point out how they have been wronged, but can’t seem to remember how they have wronged the other groups.

Another reason I can think about is fear. Often new ethnic groups threatened to take away job from the working poor. That fear often drives racism. Where I grew up, we saw prejudice against French Canadians and Puerto Ricans. The French Canadians often came south for jobs in construction.

I’m sure you may be able to come up with other reasons for racism. I really want to focus on the cure of racism.

I’m sure education has its place. But it really is insufficient. In his book Union With Christ, Billings brings us to union with Christ. As a Christian, individuals have to realize they are not only united to Jesus by the Spirit, but also with all those who are united to Jesus. This means you are united to people of the ethnic group you despise or look down upon. Ponder that. The Reformed Church in South Africa began to ponder that, Billings notes. Separate communion is part of what justified apartheid. Restoring communion between people of different races is part of what dissolved apartheid, or more correctly the racism that drove it.

This is a theological reality that we need to grow into as we are sanctified. We come into a greater understanding and experience of our union with Christ, and one another. This union is not merely an intellectual thing. But as a spiritual union, is done by the power of the Spirit. It is by that union that we receive the power of the Spirit by which God raised Christ from the dead. The Spirit gives us the power to love- both God and neighbor. We begin to ask God to give us, by virtue of this union and the power of the Spirit, love for those for whom we currently have no love.

I am a big movie goer. Or I should say watcher since I rarely go to the movies anymore. But if you watch the movies that deal with racism, like Remember the Titans, American History X and The Hurricane, you find a commonality. Racists change, not because of education, but because of relationship. There was a relationship they had which slowly eroded the lies, fear and bitterness. Soon the hatred was replaced by love.

Too often we want God to just reach in to our miserable, sin-ridden hearts and pluck out the racism and bigotry. He refuses to do this. What He tells us to do is love them, or get into a relationship with some of the people you hate. As you relate to people and get to know them better, the lies and fears will rise to the surface. Now is when the real sanctification takes place. We put those sinful desires to death. We confront those lies with truth. We overcome those fears with courage. We bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to bear on these sinful responses, and begin to love these people we have refused to love in the past.

Racism is a sin against both creation and redemption. It fails to recognize our common ancestry, and (at least for Christians) our common redemption. Racist have a gospel problem, and need the gospel cure. That cure is more severe than forgiveness. The gospel calls us to, and empowers us to, put these particular sins to death. The gospel enables us to put on love. Being gospel work doesn’t mean it is easy. It is painful to face the racism that exists in our hearts. It is shameful to have those thoughts about another’s supposed inferiority based on the color of their skin, ethnic background or other reason not connected to their character. Faith and repentance are painful to the sinful nature. But they are something that must happen if we are to move beyond racism, one person at a time.

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