The statistics wash over us: “Over five million people have died [due to the wars taking place in the Congo since 1996]” (Stearns 327); “Over 200,000 women have been raped in eastern Congo since 1998” (Stearns 263); “[In conflict areas throughout the Congo] a full 60 percent of all children died before their fifth birthday” (Stearns 250).
Can we really grasp these numbers? The sheer enormity of the devastation that they describe gets lost in the fine print of newspapers. Jason K. Stearns’ recent book, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War in Africa, explains the stories behind these numbers and attempts to understand the West’s weak reaction to the Congo war during the past fifteen years.
The West has paid far too little attention to the Congo war. According to Stearns, when attention is paid the media’s tendency is to focus on the most brutal stories, such as the repeated rape of girls as young as five and the disembowelment of pregnant women. Explaining the negative effects of these stories, Stearns writes, “They reinforce the impression that the Congo is filled with wanton savages, crazed by power and greed. This view, by focusing on the utter horror of the violence, distracts from the politics that gave rise to the conflict and from the reasons behind the bloodshed” (Stearns 328).
Stearns argues that it is the obligation of the guilty West to do all that it can to support a peaceful solution to the conflict continuing today in eastern Congo. This starts with truly understanding the complicated web of history and politics that stand behind the Congo war.