I read this book sitting beside its author on a trans-Atlantic plane flight, which is an unusual level of interaction. It is a tremendously detailed account of how, in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, the new Rwandan government invaded its neighbour Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) kicking off a conflict that sucked in military interventions from Burundi, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad, Sudan and Namibia, and which also entangled Libya, the Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, Zambia and South Africa before it ended in 2002. Roughly four million people were killed. The conflict was complex and remote, and got almost no coverage in international media. The Rwandans essentially got a free pass from the rest of the world because of the genocide, and because nobody like the Zairean/DRC rulers. Prunier details the horror that resulted, and does not spare his criticism of the local and international actors who made it possible. He even criticises his own earlier book on Rwanda, where he admits having believed the government when he should not have. (Interesting to note that his Rwanda book is quoted several times by Jared Diamond in Collapse
An excellent final chapter reflects that probably there will not be another African conflict that is as far-reaching geographically, although the basic conditions for future smaller wars remain. Prunier also analyses the failure of international policy-makers to get to grips with the realities of African political life. I found this point particularly compelling (it should be read as if all in the present tense):
These states were universally weak because they lacked both legitimacy and money. Legitimacy was the biggest problem because even those states that did or could have money, such as the mining states, were also weak. Loyalty to the state is not an internalised feeling in today's Africa... Internally states are seen as cows to be milked. But because there is little milk and the cow can go dry at any time, it would perhaps be better to say that the state is a cow to be bled quickly before it slips into somebody else's hands. The state is an asset for the group in power, but that asset is fragile, there are no commonly accepted rules for future devolution of power, and things have to be grabbed while they last... The state is always somebody's state, never the State in the legal abstract form beloved of Western constitutional law. It is the Museveni dictatorship for the Acholi [Uganda], the Arab state for th southern Sudanese, the mestiço state for UNITA [Angola], or the Tutsi state for the Hutu [Rwanda]. When tribes are not the main problem, pseudo-tribes or other groupings will do.
There is nothing deterministic about conflict: these wars begin because of rational choices made by individuals in leadership positions, reacting to the set of circumstances they find themselves in. Ending them, however, is much more difficult.