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Great Lakes Conflagration: The Second Congo War, 1998–2003

Great Lakes Conflagration: The Second Congo War, 1998–2003 Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review January 2014 Title Great Lakes Conflagration: The Second Congo War, 1998–2003
Author Tom Cooper Publisher Helion
Published 2013 ISBN 9781909384668
Format 64 pages, softbound MSRP (USD) $29.95


Tiny Rwanda's stunning conquest of Zaïre – today's Democratic Republic of Congo, a nation the size of Western Europe – brought no peace to that ravaged region.

Congolese President Laurent Désiré Kabila's infant regime soon alienated partners and patrons.  And war rapidly resumed between the Great Lakes Alliance (Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda) and the Southern African Development Community (Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe) – the latter aligned with Kabila.

Its multinational makeup prompted historians dub it the "First African War".

Author Tom Cooper calls it a "chaotic cocktail" of conflict.  And he wonderfully recaps the hostilities in his Great Lakes Conflagration: The Second Congo War, 1998–2003 – 14th volume in Helion's splendid "Africa@War" series.

The sequel to Cooper's terrific Great Lakes Holocaust begins with a brief chapter summarizing the immediate aftermath of Rwanda's remarkable victory.  Contents then segue to two chapters on the opposing alliances.  Coverage abstracts not only national forces, but insurgent groups, as well.

Subsequent sections turn to combat.  And Cooper deftly describes all major actions through the war's nominal end – including fratricidal "Six-Day" fighting between Rwandan and Ugandan forces over Kisangani in 2000.

Airpower – especially deployed Zimbabwean assets – played a puissant part.  And those accounts proved particularly and personally intriguing.  AFZ Hawk Mk 60 light attack jets, for instance, proved reliably instrumental in arresting enemy advances.  And pilots felt confident in pitting their nimble, British-built warplanes against anything their enemies fielded – even Ugandan MiG-21s.  Zimbabwe also employed CASA C-212 light transports as makeshift bombers.  Fascinating!

Intervention by Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia had saved Laurent Kabila's government in 1998.  By 2000, however, the battlefield initiative shifted to Rwanda and Uganda – who pursued a military solution.  But Kabila's assassination – and George W. Bush's election – foiled Great Lakes Alliance schemes.  And after protracted politics and pressures, a "semblance of peace" arrived in 2003.

Well, not quite.  Fighting never really stopped – even with UN intervention.  And over 50 years after independence from Belgium, the Democratic Republic of Congo remains a fractured, dysfunctional state.

Cooper capably tells the tragic tale.  Photos, maps, tables and annotations augment text.  The author's excellent color plates of participating aircraft and vehicles will really rouse your modeling muse.  And a concise "conclusion", acronym glossary and selected bibliography complete contents.

Few have so illumined Third World conflicts as Tom Cooper.  His incandescent insights perfectly complement Helion's splendid "Africa@War" series.  And I thoroughly enjoyed this absorbing account.  Read it with Cooper's companion title, Great Lakes Holocaust: First Congo War, 1996–1997 – the 13th "Africa@War" installment.

Rabidly recommended!

My sincere thanks to Casemate Publishing for this review sample!