Harry Verhoeven Faculty Research Workshop

CIRS held a Faculty Research Workshop on June 8, 2015, for Harry Verhoeven, Assistant Professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar, to discuss his forthcoming book Why Comrades Go To War: Post-Liberation Politics and the Outbreak of Africa's Deadliest Conflict. The book is co-authored with Philip Roessler, Assistant Professor in the Government department at the College of William and Mary. Why Comrades Go To War emerges from 6,5 years of field research in Congo, Rwanda, Angola, Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Tanzania, South Africa, Belgium, Italy, the UK, and the US. It draws on a unique set of elite interviews with the protagonists of the most lethal conflict since World War II.

To review the manuscript, CIRS brought together a group of world-class experts on the themes and countries discussed in Why Comrades Go To War. These included David Anderson of Warwick University; Naomi Chazan of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Ibrahim Elnur of the American University of Cairo; Afyare Elmi of Qatar University; Theodor Hanf of the American University of Beirut; CSR Murthy of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi; and Peter Van der Windt of New York University in Abu Dhabi. The discussions were moderated by Mehran Kamrava and Zahra Babar of CIRS. Providing practical help to the workshop was SFS-Q rising senior Umber Latafat. 

Why Comrades Go To War discusses how, in October 1996, a motley crew of ageing Marxists and unemployed Tutsi youth coalesced to revolt against the regime of Mobutu Seso Seko, Zaire’s president since 1965. Backed by Rwandan and Ugandan firepower, the rebels of the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo/Zaire (AFDL) marched over one thousand kilometres in seven months to crush the dictatorship. The revolutionaries and their foreign backers heralded the overthrow of Mobutu in May 1997 as an opportunity to restore stability and democracy in the heart of the continent.  Across the world, the liberation of Zaire (renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)) was hailed as a second independence for Central Africa as a whole.  In 1998 United States President, Bill Clinton, toasted AFDL leader, Laurent-Desire Kabila, and his regional allies from Rwanda, Uganda and Eritrea—all of whom knew each other well, having developed a unique camaraderie and high degree of personal trust on the region’s battlefronts and in East Africa’s leftist universities—as a “new generation of African leaders” who had the potential to usher in an “African Renaissance.” 

Within fifteen months of its overthrow of Mobutu, however, the Pan-Africanist alliance that was supposed to transform Central Africa from its dark days of political violence, corruption, and tribalism fell apart. The AFDL’s collapse triggered a cataclysmic confrontation that became the deadliest conflict on earth since World War II, drawing in eight African countries and pitting some of the continent’s strongest militaries against each other.  The fratricide between the heroes of the war of liberation against Mobutu would devastate the Congolese population and drive one of the world’s least developed countries further into the abyss. This book, drawing on hundreds of interviews with protagonists from DRC, Rwanda, Angola, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Eritrea as well as diplomats, politicians and observers from Belgium, the United States, the United Kingdom, South Africa and France, offers a novel theoretical and empirical account of Africa’s Great War. Bridging the gap between comparative politics and international relations, we argue that one cannot explain the breakdown of the AFDL and the outbreak of the second Congo war without understanding the two-level game that arises in post-liberation states, in which elite bargaining within the new regime and the regional balance of power intersect and are mutually constitutive.   


Why Comrades Go to War?CIRS supported the publication of Philip Roessler and Harry Verhoeven's book Why Comrades Go to War: Liberation Politics and the Outbreak of Africa's Deadliest Conflict (Oxford University Press/Hurst, 2017).