More than three million dead

The last sentence of this paragraph from Todd Moss’ book African Development caught me off guard.

Sometimes called “Africa’s World War,” the recent central African conflict has been fought mainly in the eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, formerly Zaire), but has directly involved at least seven countries and dozens of various militias. The war was initially sparked by civil war in Rwanda in 1994, when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) chased the genocidal Interahamwe militia into then Zaire. Once the RPF had regained control of Rwanda and Zaire’s Mobutu was seen as protecting the Interahamwe, Rwanda launched an invasion, backed by Uganda and various Congolese factions opposed to Mobutu. The longtime Zairian leader was weak and increasingly isolated, and the Rwandan-backed rebels marched all the way to Kinshasa, deposing him in May 1997. Rwanda then set up a buffer zone along the border and continued to pursue the Interahamwe. But Rwanda fell out with the new Congolese president, Laurent Kabila, and relaunched the war in 1998. This time, Kabila was able to get help as Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe sent troops and halted the Rwandan and rebel advance. A stalemate ensued with the country carved up among multiple foreign armies and factions. Meanwhile, Rwanda and Uganda began to attack each other inside DRC, presumably fighting over spoils. In 2002 a nominal peace process got under way, allowing gradual withdrawal of the foreign armies and attempting to build a sustainable political situation in DRC. Estimates of the overall death toll from this war are 3-4 million, mostly Congolese civilians.

I hadn’t realized the death toll was that high. Another estimate puts it at 5.4 million. The DRC’s population is a little over 60 million.

For some perspective, here is the number of American deaths (both combat and noncombat) in our country’s major wars:

Revolutionary War: 25,000

Civil War: 625,000

World War I: 117,000

World War II: 405,000

Korea: 37,000

Vietnam: 58,000

Iraq: 4,000

Total deaths in the two world wars are estimated at 15-20 million and 50-70 million, respectively.

4 thoughts on “More than three million dead

  1. Excellent. I tagged this post in delicious with the title: “The human cost of non-intervention.” Here’s hoping that Obama will institutionalize a commitment to intervene immediately in clear cases of genocide.

  2. It’s so tragic, our malign neglect. Lane, did you ever read Adam Hochschild’s (Arlie’s spouse, the historian) book about the Congo: King Leopold’s Ghost? It really elucidates the violent colonial origins of the whole region

  3. One day Africans will be in a position to look at us (the West) and wonder if helping us is a good idea.

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