Posted on September 24, 2017

Why would allies, who successfully ousted a military dictator in an attempt to create a new era of peace and security, turn on each other? A new book on the deadliest conflict since the Second World War aims to answer this question, through the analysis of hundreds of interviews with those involved in and impacted by the conflict.  

In Why Comrades go to War: Liberation Politics and the Outbreak of Africa’s Deadliest Conflict, authors Philip Roessler, and Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q) professor Harry Verhoeven offer new insight into the Second Congo War. To celebrate the publication of the volume, GU-Q will be hosting a public book launch event at its Education City campus at 6:00 p.m. on Monday, September 25.

The idea for the book emerged after the researchers realized that many existing reports about the war are focused on the events of the conflict, rather than the causes. Verhoeven and Roessler, an assistant professor at the College of William and Mary, began collaborating on the project in 2009. “I was looking at this fallout between people who had conspired to come to power together—a fall out that was not just tragic because these people know each other, but they fell out in such a way it ended up triggering the worst war in African history (in terms of the number people who died in it),” said Verhoeven. “To my utter surprise, when I was surveying the literature that existed out there, nobody had quite asked the question why that happened.”

To gather the evidence they needed, Roessler and Verhoeven travelled to twelve countries to interview former presidents, financial elites, military leaders, and those affected by the war. While this fieldwork was often done at great personal risk to the authors, they continued because of the importance of sharing these stories. “I think it was a tremendous opportunity to be able to do this, but also an important responsibility once you have people who start trusting you. You owe it to them,” said Verhoeven. “If we didn’t record certain testimonies, certain people will get away with it, certain stories will not be told, and certain context will not be given.”

Verhoeven hopes that the book will help readers in their attempts to make sense of violence, both in this particular war, and on-going conflicts across the globe. “I very much believe that the way we think about the world (and about events and about people) changes the world. You obviously cannot undo the violence, you cannot undo the war – but good scholarship can help explain, it can help provide context, it can help make sense,” said Verhoeven. “Hopefully the book makes a modest, but not insignificant, contribution to the thinking about certain places and historical events.”

Why Comrades go to War is Verhoeven’s second book, following the 2015 publication of Water, Civilization and Power in Sudan: The Political Economy of Military-Islamist State Building. The GU-Q professor, who holds a Ph.D. from Oxford University, has a range of research interests including African politics and failed states.