Pity the unlucky people of the Congo. After suffering decades of repressive rule by one of the world’s most notorious kleptocrats, rebel and allied forces finally drove their dreaded dictator Mobuto Sese Seko from power in May of 1997. But just when everyone thought things would finally improve, by the following year the armies of eight different African nations in addition to over two dozen armed militias would plunge Congo’s eastern half into years of bloody fighting and human misery, eventually causing the deaths of 5.5 million people, making it the deadliest conflict since World War Two. Despite this carnage and misery lasting years and spread across the eastern third of a nation roughly the size of continental Europe, (and with the scope, lethality and pointlessness of the conflict sadly reminiscent of the 17th century’s Thirty Year’s War), the Second Congo War, was seldom if ever discussed in Western newspapers, usually relegated to about a paragraph or two somewhere around page 14. Called by some as Africa’s World War or Great War, many dubbed the conflict the Coltan War, after just one of the lucrative minerals the belligerents fought for control of during the course of the conflict. Although the war officially ended in 2003, lingering violence and disruption have caused by some estimates close to 2.7 million deaths from disease, malnutrition and armed conflict. Sadly, just like before much of this being financed by the export of gold, tin, coltan and the like.
Venturing into the cauldron of human misery is journalist Peter Eichstaedt who made it his mission to visit Eastern Congo and meet with both the victims and perpetrators of this tragedy, thereby putting a human face on this largely ignored bloody conflict. The result is a short but fairly informative Consuming the Congo: War and Conflict Minerals in the World’s Deadliest Place, Eichstaedt’s account of the current situation in the Congo. While Consuming the Congo for the most part is a quick read, at times I felt some of the material was a tad repetitive and could have been edited down, if only by just a bit. Overall though, I liked his direct and unadorned journalistic style which I’m sure helped make this a book I effortlessly burned through in only a few days. Kudos to the author as well for giving an honest analysis of the causes of the conflict and how best to bring about a realistic and long-term solution to help end the use of mineral exports to fund armed conflict.
In all, I found Consuming the Congo to be a no-frills, straight-forward and readable account of a hugely overlooked tragedy. Thankfully it’s inspired me to read other books about the Congo and Africa including King Leopold’s Ghost, Blood River, Africa’s World War and maybe while I’m at it Untapped:The Scramble for Africa’s Oil as well as How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. While not perfect, Consuming the Congo was nevertheless effective in teaching me about the ongoing situation in the Congo.