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Dancing In The Glory Of Monsters Summary
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Dancing In The Glory Of Monsters by Jason Stearns.
Dancing in the Glory of Monsters is a non-fiction book published in 2011 by American author and United Nations special investigator Jason Stearns. Based on Stearns’ own extensive reporting in Africa, the author seeks to tell the story of the First and Second Congo Wars, which have killed at least 5 million people, making it the deadliest conflict since World War II. The book is subtitled The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa.
The genesis of the Congo Civil Wars is complex, and Stearns seeks to detail it for the uninitiated. Although ethnic tensions and precariously-held dictatorships had prevailed in the region for decades, a big catalyst for an increase in fighting and instability occurred in 1996 in Rwanda, just two years after the heavily-armed Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) put an end to the Hutu-led genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi people. Many Hutus fled to refugee camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which ever since the takeover by military dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in the 1960s had been known as “Zaire.” The RPF, frustrated by an increase in raids in Rwandan territory led by Hutus living in Zaire, began to arm ethnic Tutsis living in Zaire to fight the Hutus. Led by one of Mobutu’s long-time adversaries, Laurent-Desire Kabila, the Tutsi forces ended up marching down the Congo River and taking the capital. Eventually, Mobutu was expelled and exiled to Morocco where he died three months later of prostate cancer. Kabila renamed the nation the Democratic Republic of Congo.
However, there was a huge amount of opposition to Kabila’s reign. While Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe supported Kabila, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi opposed him. Other countries, like Sudan, Chad, Libya, and the Central African Republic, offered political or logistical support for Kabila. The result was a massive conflict involving nearly a dozen countries covering roughly half of the continent, along with no less than 25 separate armed factions. The reason, the author writes, that so many countries had an interest in controlling the Democratic Republic of Congo is that the region is rich in gold, diamonds, coltan, uranium, timber, tin, and other minerals, but at this time it was the biggest and most potentially profitable region in the world that had virtually no functioning government.
To tell his story, Stearns seeks out some of the perpetrators of the conflict’s worst violence. For example, he interviews one member of a Congolese death squad that murdered upwards of 100 civilians a day by striking a hatchet to the back of victims’ necks because that “was the fastest way, and we didn’t spill blood.”
Stearns also discusses the committed and admittedly daring acts of war carried out by the Tutsi-led Rwandan army, who sought to depose their puppet dictator, Kabila, after he stopped behaving like their puppet. For example, in one Hollywood-worthy gambit, the Rwandans hijacked a Boeing 707 and prepared to land at a Congolese airstrip. Although they suspected that they had turned the airport garrison over to their side, the Rwandans were anxious. The pilot, in particular, was afraid to approach the airstrip for fear of getting shot down. And so the commanding officer on board, in a bold attempt to assuage the pilot’s concerns, used a radio to presumably call the airstrip below. A voice on the other end gave the pilot the go-ahead to land. In reality, however, the voice was that of another Rwandan soldier, hiding in the back of the plane. In truth, the Rwandans had no idea if they would be shot down or not. Nevertheless, the gambit worked, and the Rwandans took the airstrip on their way to Kabila’s palace. Only at the last moment were the Rwandans beaten back by two of Kabila’s allies, Zimbabwe and Angola.
“Like layers of an onion,” Stearns writes, “the Congo war contains wars within wars.” For example, while Rwanda and Uganda had once been allied against Kabila, relations between the two nations cooled to the point that they were eventually fighting each other in Congolese territory. Meanwhile, all these warring factions led to mercenaries and warlords teaming up with whatever group could offer them the biggest paycheck. As for paydays, Stearns writes that Rwanda’s leader, Paul Kagame, boasted that the country’s involvement in the war was “self-sustaining,” meaning that Rwanda had reaped an estimated $250 million in Congolese mineral profits during the war, which more or less made the war a profitable business for Rwanda. Stearns also discusses the ways in which American politicians, oligarchs, and journalists have offered philosophical and material support for Kagame, despite the atrocities his army perpetrated in this conflict.
Dancing in the Glory of Monsters is at once dizzying and sobering, painting a portrait of a conflict so big and complex and deadly that, for those involved in it, it might as well be World War III.