Book Review -- Africa's World War

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A review of:

Africa's World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe

by Gerard Prunier. 

Published by Oxford University Press, 2008.

Reviewed by:

Thomas (Tom) P. Odom

LTC US Army (ret)

Author,

Journey Into Darkness: Genocide In Rwanda

In early 1994 while serving as the US Defense Attaché in

Kinshasa, Zaire I had an unexpected visitor, a Zairian army lieutenant colonel

who told the Marine Security Guard that he had "urgent business" to discuss with

"le Colonel Odom."  Since he knew my name, I asked my NCO, Stan, to go get him. 

As I sat down with my visitor, I signaled Stan to stay and listen.

The Zairian began with a blast against US perfidy,

imperialism, and assorted rot until I asked him to explain what had him all

excited. Swelling even more, he proclaimed he had written proof that the US had

secretly invaded Zaire in the 1970s. Intrigued I asked him to show me and he

handed me a dog-eared copy of Michael Crichton's novel, Congo

Crichton's book began with a introduction that treated a

fictional infiltration of the Congo in 1979 as fact to entice a would be reader.

Central to the story was a heretofore unknown breed of super apes who would

wreck havoc on the 12-person invasion force. 

The literary slight of hand worked on the Zairian colonel,

so well in fact that he then tried to blackmail me with a threat to go public. 

He was crushed when I told him that a movie made from the book was already

available. I offered to find him a copy but offered no cash. He left no doubt in

search of further conspiracies whose revelation might help his cash flow.

Reading Gerard Prunier's latest book,

Africa's World

War, made me feel like I had that Zairian colonel back in my office.  A

tale of dark conspiracy woven with incompetence made me wonder if there was

indeed a fictional Congo with an eastern neighbor, Rwanda, out there. Prunier's

writings suggest there has to be a parallel universe.  Certainly there are

elements of recognizable truth involved in Prunier's tale if you have the

regional expertise to recognize them.  Without a firm grounding in the region,

however, one risks being fooled just like the Zairian colonel back in 1994.

To be more direct, let me just say that as a participant in

some of the events described in this book,  I found numerous errors of fact,

doubtful analysis, and dubious sourcing,  I am disappointed to say the least

because I looked forward to reading the book as a follow on to Prunier's earlier

works on the Rwandan tragedy.  In contrast to those efforts, this book is

neither good history nor good journalism.  Good history relies on analysis of

facts, personal accounts, public documents, and at least makes a stab at

balanced analysis.  Journalism implies writing without an agenda. Prunier sets

the tone for this work by his dedication to Seth Sendashonga, the exiled former

Interior Minister who was assassinated in Nairobi in 1998. Sendashonga, Hutu

member of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), fled Rwanda after a falling out with

then Vice President Paul Kagame.  In exile, Sendashonga pandered a story of RPF

killings that challenged credibility.  Prunier dedicates his book to him; if you

bother to read the sole appendix to the book about Seth's assassination. On page

367, Prunier admits that he put Seth in contact with Ugandans who might have

been —to back a plan organize an eastern front against Kigali.  Still he

would have you believe that he is somehow an accurate scribe when it comes to

matters Rwandan.

One of Prunier's pet arguments in discussing post-genocide

Rwanda was the US guilt over the genocide, especially the "guilt" of the Clinton

Administration, led us to buy into the RPF without doubt.  We were, according to

Mr. Prunier, naí¯ve, even stupid white guys who were completely fooled by the RPF. 

To make this theory fly of course one has to offer a version of the RPF that

would make Seth Sendashonga proud.  Paul Kagame is to Gérard Prunier a

reincarnation of Stalin or Hitler with the military genius of Napolean thrown in

for good measure.  Prunier singles out the US Department of Defense (DoD) as as

especially culpable in this combination of naivete and stupidity because it was

the US DoD that supposedly enabled little Rwanda to conquer great big Zaire not

once but nearly twice.  Let me offer some examples. 

On age 34, Prunier surfaces "'good guys versus bad

guys': preferred mode of American thinking: Department of Defense fascination

for the RPA, which it was then beginning to discover..." 

In his explanatory note on this jab, Prunier offers, "Following

a limited humanitarian involvement after the genocide, the U.S. Army had started

training program for the RPA and several U.S. officers were quite impressed by

the professionalism of their counterparts.  Maj (later Lt. Col.), the US

military attaché in Kigali played a key role in that warming relationship

between {the} the RPA and the U.S. Department of Defense. "

First on the good guys versus bad guys tripe, that was

hardly the case.  I was impressed by RPA professionalism on the ground when I

first encountered them in 1994; I was also cognizant as was Ambassador David

Rawson that the RPA had won the military fight for Rwanda.  David's guidance to

me was to establish relations with the new government on a military to military

basis.  As for "discovering" the RPA, Rwanda was already benefiting from

expanded international military education and training (E-IMET) under State

Department direction and control after the Arusha Accords were signed.  The

initial phase of E-IMET took place in early 1994, attended by both former

Rwandan Army (ex-FAR) and RPA soldiers. Then Major Rick Orth was the Defense

Intelligence Agency analyst on the conflict in 1994; he joined me on the ground

for 60 days in late 1994.  He replaced me as the Defense Attaché in 1996.  All

of this is of course in my own book which Mr. Prunier lists in his bibliography

incorrectly as being published by the University of Texas. 

On page 118, Prunier writes in discussing the taking of

Bukavu by RPA and Congolese rebel troops, "They were soon joined by a

group of about sixty African American mercenaries.  According to

English-speaking Zairians who had occasion to talk with them, they had been

privately recruited in the United States and flown to Uganda, from where they

had been taken by road to Kigali and later to Bukavu.  The way their passage

from the United States had been facilitated by Customs and police suggested

undeniably that they were on some kind of unofficial government mission.  They

were soon battling the FDD at Mwenga and Kiliba."

In footnoting this remarkable claim, Prunier goes on to

explain, " It is extremely likely that they had been recruited through

what a former U.S. intelligence officer called, 'the second-echelon little black

book,' managed by a Los Angeles-based mercenary company run by retired U.S. top

brass who have kept good Pentagon contacts. Interview Washington DC, October

1999.  On government-sanctioned operations such as the Croatian offensive in the

Kajina, they use what is known as "first-echelon people (i.e., former U.S. army

personnel with honorable discharges). For the "black operations" (i.e., covert

operations about which Congress is kept in the dark) they use second-echelon men

who are also former GIs with shady records of drug offenses, theft, or sexual

offenses.  These men are contacted indirectly, through 'friendly' private

companies, and can include foreigners.  Colette Braeckman, in L'enjeu congalais

(Paris, Fayard, 1999). 43, mentions that this company recruited a number of

Liberian Krahns for the Congo mission.  As late as October 2007, U.S. government

officials were still trying to convince me that the whole operation had never

existed." 

The U.S. did support the use of mercenaries in the Congo in

the 1960s. 

I have written quite extensively on the subject.  The dying regime in Zaire

recruited Serbian mercenaries against the rebels and the RPF; they had little

effect on the outcome.  But to posit that the U.S. would recruit drug dealing,

sexually deviate, former soldiers who were African-American to fight in the

Congo is C-rate Hollywood fiction.  Interestingly this rumor has been kept alive

by writers like Prunier and other conspiracy theorists and has even been offered

in testimony to the

U.S. Congress.

On page 117 Prunier states that Rwandan forces attacked

Goma on November 1, 1996 by land and from the lake, while denying that Kigali

had a role in those operations.  That much is quite true but the footnote is

most revealing when is comes to Mr. Prunier's documentation.  He states,

"The lake attack had an interesting dimension: the rubber dinghies used by the

Rwandese army belonged to the American NGO International Rescue Committee and

were apparently loaned and not commandeered.  Interviews with eyewitnesses,

Paris, March 1997, and Kampala, December 2000.  This was the first visible sign

of any U.S. involvement in the Rwandese invasion plan."

 

First of all the RPA had its own high speed inflatable

troop transports; I rode one of them to Iwawa Island in November the previous

year.  They were of Canadian manufacture, provided to Rwanda by Uganda as a gift

during Museveni's visit in 1995. Twin-engine, with a crew served weapon mount,

radar, and capable of 20+ knots carrying 14-20 troops they were assault boats

and the RPA had at least two.  I would seriously doubt that an American NGO

would "loan" its "rubber dinghies" to support the RPA.  Secondly even had the

RPA commandeered or borrowed the rubber boats as alleged by Prunier, that is not

a sign of U.S. government involvement.  

I will offer one final selection of Prunier's dismal

scholarship.  On page 126, he claims that the U.S. military-RPA relationship

began on 31 July 1994 when a party of 60 Amrican soldiers arrived in Kigali.  I

have already noted that E-IMET training with the ex-FAR and the RPA took place

in early 1994; that course was taught by U.S. military officers from the Naval

War College.  Prunier then states that the U.S. started a large training program

for the RPA in early 1995 that sent RPA officers to the U.S. and brought U.S.

soldiers to Rwanda.  His reasons for the ties to the RPA was his claim in the

supporting footnotes that we as Army officers in 1994 were ""Still shaken

by their (our) Vietnam defeat and their (our) poor showing in Somalia." 

" ..the frustrated macho environment of the 1990s U.S. Army"

allowed us to justify "bending the rules to help the RPA." I

should also remind the reader that according to Mr. Prunier we were naí¯ve and

stupid in our frustrated condition.

Back to reality, I outlined the program we began in 1995 in

my book, the one Mr. Prunier listed in his bibliography but either didn't read

or merely ignored.  E-IMET was resumed as a result of then Vice President

Kagame's invitational visit to Washington in December 1994.  In essence we

picked up where the E-IMET training begun in early 1994 left off: we sent a

small group (about 10) RPA officers for military justice training at the Naval

War College, led by then Major, and later Ambassador to the United States, Dr.

Richard Sezibera. 

Another component of our assistance was humanitarian

demining.  I asked Undersecretary of State Tim Wirth to push for a program when

he visited Kigali in September 1994. he did so and we began in earnest in early

1995 with a US European Command and US Special Operations Command-Europe site

visit.  We took a train the trainer approach with 2 Special Forces Operations

Detachment --Alphas (A teams) under an Operations Detachment-Bravo (B Team) and

trained nearly 100 RPA deminers.  We also set up a Rwanda-US Demining office

with Civil Affairs and PSYOP personnel to design a mine and unexploded ordnance

awareness program.  To facilitate teaching and provide usable facilities, I got

USEUCOM to fund renovation of the Rwandan staff college, which had been

ransacked by the ex-FAR as they retreated from Kigali in 1994. In the last

quarter of 1995, USECUCOM provided end of year monies through USAID to secure a

RONCO demining dog program.  All in all the program was well under USD$ 3

million, miniscule when it comes to this sort of thing and microscopic to the

amount of money flowing into the refugee camps outside the country. 

The third leg of my efforts in 1995 was to take advantage

of any and all excess non-lethal material freed up by the US military drawdown

in Europe  offered through the Office of the Secretary of Defense-Special

Operations and Low Intensity Conflict--Humanitarian Affairs (OSD-SOLIC, HA).  One

of my partners from Goma, Mr. Bill McCoy, ran the program and I told him I would

take whatever he wanted to load on an airplane. Beginning in late 1994 through

my last day in country in March 1996, I brought in one, sometimes more, aircraft

a month with cargoes that ranged from school desks to field ambulances.  One I

was most proud of was loaded with woolen army blankets and soccer balls.   With

the assistance of the Rwandan Minster of Health Colonel Dr. Joe Karemera, I

delivered a truck load of those blankets to my friend, Roz Carr, and the fifty

orphans she had under her care. 

Remember that we were stupid, macho frustrated army types

who sought to live out our fantasies through the RPA?  Well Prunier then takes

the programs I outlined above and makes them fit the mold he has crafted for us

by declaring on page 127 we were sly dogs indeed—stupid, naí¯ve, but sly

nonetheless:

"After some American arm twisting at the UN the U.S.

Ronco Consulting Corporation got a large demining contract in Rwanda to remove

more mines than had ever been laid during the war.  This has the advantage of

legitimizing the impressive U.S. military air traffic since 'supplies' were

needed.  It was an impressive performance which was completely different in

style from the heavy-handed U.S. interventions during the cold war.  It was

stealthy, light, and indirect, with one remaining superpower on earth easily

running circles around frustrated French diplomacy still caught up in the

inefficient old web of its questionable Franco-African friendships."

Glad we impressed you Mr. Prunier.  I wish I could say the

same about your book.  I am disappointed that Oxford University Press would

actually print this piece of literary excrement.  That publications like

Publications Weekly and professors at Princeton, Miami University, and

James Madison University provided laudatory comments for the dust cover suggest

poor scholarship is a contagious disease, especially when taken with a large

dose of conspiracy theory.

Thomas (Tom) P. Odom

LTC US Army (ret)

Author,

Journey Into Darkness: Genocide In Rwanda

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Comments

Sir,
I enjoyed your excellent review. I still treasure my time in Rwanda as one of the best experiences I have had during my career. I had a front row seat to both conflicts (1996, 1998).

MSG US Army (ret)

Tom,

Indeed the book is really like a C-rate Hollywood production.
Definitely the frustrated outcry of a man that wanted to be a king maker with his good friend Seth Sendashonga. And how incredible it is to see that so many people react as the Zairian officer? By the way talking about Zaire/ DRC, how was the number of 4 million deaths, or sometimes more, calculated?

I will fully trust Tom on this.

The sad story of the great lakes is like a fire with which everyne tried to play and finaly burned everyone.
We can talk long about the first african world war or the first african cold warlike between US, UK and Europe...
The reality is that nobody in West planed a genocidy neither the 4 millions victimes of the conflicts in Congo.
Having said that, saying that nobody defended its national interrests in a country like Congo is also untrue.

"But to posit that the U.S. would recruit drug dealing, sexually deviate, former soldiers who were African-American to fight in the Congo is C-rate Hollywood fiction." Yes is, quite preposters. Especially considering the, http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/09/05/afghanistan.embassy.whistleb..., and what you can watch on the youtube about these incidents. The United Stats only hires mercanaries of the highest moral standards.

Well, I was going to buy the book. Now maybe I'll look for a highly discounted or used copy. Is there anything else out there to read about the DRC during that period?
Roy