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In The Footsteps Of Mr Kurtz. Living On The Brink Of Disaster In The Congo Hardcover – 3 Aug 2000


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate (3 Aug. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841154210
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841154213
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 13.5 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 678,892 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Towards the end of Michela Wrong's highly readable debut, she quotes a military analyst wryly observing that so many mercenaries live to write their memoirs. The same could be said of foreign correspondents. Wrong separates herself from the hack pack by hitting the ground running, to apply a military metaphor, with her absorbing history of the country currently known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Colonised by King Leopold II of Belgium (the only European monarch to personally own an African country), durable foundations for kleptocratic rule paved the way for Mobutu's "authentic" Zaire, the Leopard following Leopold. Clad in his trademark leopardskin toque and Buddy Holly sunglasses (purest African dictator kitsch, thus the ironically tacky cover), Wrong uncovers all the qualities of an autocrat: formidable memory, demagogic charisma, chameleon-like pragmatism, and a disastrous disdain for economics. In one memorable incident, Mobutu agreed a price for a neo-classical French villa, before casually enquiring whether the currency was US dollars or Belgian francs--the 39-fold difference being of no consequence. Tales of hidden Mobutu fortunes are tantalising, but hide a more prosaic truth: the most significant legacy taken up by his rotund ouster, Laurent Kabila, is Mobutuism, exemplified by a strong security force, "divide and rule", and a strangulated economy.

Perhaps more modest of intent than Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost,Wrong's account excels at scrutinising a nation as abundant as the mineral and ore deposits beneath its troubled soil. Gently drawing out testimonies from a former Belgian administrator, a former CIA man, ex-pats, Mobutu'sex-son-in-law, the disabled peddlers of Kinshasa, and the immaculately costumed sapeurs with their Lingala music, her sympathetic manner belies a keen intelligence and sensitivity to environment, whether it's Mama Yemo hospital, with guards to protect against non-paying patients escaping, or a terrifying White Elephant of a nuclear reactor. "In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz" teases out the nuances of a complicated, haunted country in a wonderfully clear, uncluttered manner, while remaining sympathetic to its entrancing, troubled rhythms. --David Vincent

Review

‘Michela Wrong made the so-called 'Heart of Darkness' much less opaque to me when I visited the Congo. She can do the same for you if you read this brave and witty book.’
Christopher Hitchens

‘A brilliant account of Africa’s most extraordinary dictator told with wry wit and delicious irony… this book will become a classic.’
The Economist

‘Michela Wrong nimbly balances absurdity and outrage in her portrait of Mobutu Sese Seko and the wreckage he visited – with steady Western sponsorship – on the country he called Zaire. Her book is charged with pity and terror, and with the sort of sustaining humour that she rightly admires in Mobutu’s former subjects.’
Philip Gourevitch, author of ‘We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We will be Killed with Our Families’


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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By SimonK on 19 Dec. 2000
Format: Hardcover
Congo is possibly the hardest country in the world to write about, and Michela Wrong has spoken to hundreds of people across the world as well as living in the place for years and come up with an account that isn't sentimental or finger-wagging or scornful. It's fascinating, moving and often funny. It's about everything in the Congo: the craze for Western fashions among very poor men, how the super-rich live, how Mobuto could hang on for 35 years and why there doesn't seem any hope of improvement. Books on Africa are rare nowadays, but perhaps because they demand so much effort to write, they tend to be labours of love and thus excellent.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By B. In -t Veld on 7 Mar. 2007
Format: Paperback
An interesting and well treated story, but what makes me write a review here is the beauty of the sentences which Wrong produces. It's highly unusual in a non-fiction book to see such well crafted language, which simply adds to the enjoyment of a well told history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kate Nivison on 6 Jun. 2009
Format: Paperback
This book should be on the reading list of anyone interested or concerned with the problems of African development (or the lack of it), from the most powerful to those who can only watch in near despair as so many of its countries sink further into the mire. Not only is it extremely well researched, it reads beautifully as a fascinating, truthful and illuminating personal account by someone who clearly loves the place and feels that its people deserve better. The high praise it has already received suggests that it could become a classic, and so it should. It is a shining contribution to a field that is at last beginning to grasp the fact that nothing is going to get better for Africa unless its problems, and the horrendous mistakes that have been made, are thoroughly understood and acknowledged, not just by outsiders, however well-meaning, but by Africans themselves.In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in the Congo
Also brilliant:The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By G. Smith on 13 Sept. 2006
Format: Paperback
A Highly insightful investigation into the consequences of European colonialism at its most rampant, and a clear and well illustratted indictment of the world banking system as it continues to stumble clumsily for solutions in the heart of Africa. The book's focus is on Zaire / Congo and the consequences of two egos; Firstly King Leopold II of Belgium and secondly Mobuto, a former congolese army officer supported by the CIA in the 1960's, who until the end of the cold war was able to exploit at terrible cost to the population, the mineral wealth of the region. A fantastic book and deserves rightly to be considered a 'classic'. I would also recommend Leon Gast's documentary film "Muhammad Ali - When we were Kings" (another classic) which gives further context to the reign and power of Mobutu and the rightful backlash against the legacy of White colonialism.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Christine Wallace on 20 Feb. 2008
Format: Paperback
This is a truly excellent book. I found the whole story of Mobutu and the Congo utterly compelling. Each chapter is a finely polished essay and there is none of the jarring repetition and clumsy use of language so common in journalism nowadays - I think the author may actually have read through what she had written. She even manages to make the sorry story funny - the chapter about Congo's nuclear reactor had me almost crying with laughter. Fascinating. I just wish she would write another book to explain the years since Mobutu's rule.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 2 Jan. 2002
Format: Paperback
This brilliantly written, easy to understand account of life in the Congo, is a must for anybody interested in African politics. The book goes way back into the Congo's history, accurately describing the colonnial days in which King Leopold of Belgium presided over the country up to the rise and fall of Mobutu.
Laced with humour, wit, elegance, conspiracy and treachery, it is and interesting read throughout. Not a single page does not have its own little story to tell.
Particularly powerful are the insights into Mobutu's personality and the birth of the leopard and later on his paranoia. Additionally the political intervention from the CIA and other interested parties that would like a hand in the Congo's resources is revealing and the extreme lengths to which they protected their interest is both clever and frightening.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Antonio on 19 Sept. 2000
Format: Hardcover
I was goig to write a review of this most amusing book, but found that Mr. Brokesley had beaten me to it. Following his cogent and penetrating review I find there isn't much left to say. However, in the best tradition of reviewers everywhere, I would like to refer to other parts of the book, which I found to be very entertaining. In the Constitution of a region of Zaire that wanted to secede from Mobutu's Kinshasa government there was an article (article 15) suggesting to anyone who wanted the government's protection or support to "take care of your own business" ("debrouillez-vous"), which essentially the legal form of Mobutu's dictum that corruption was OK so long as it wasn't excessive (President Turbay of Colombia said the same thing in 1978, although he didn't manage to hang around as long as Mobutu did). There is an operating nuclear reactor in Zaire. An enriched uranium core disappeared recently, only to resurface in the hands of the Sicilian mafia. A profet jailed by the Belgians who believed himself to be the incarnation of the Holy Ghost created a church complete with hierarchy and miracles and Holy Writ. Mobutu kept twins as lovers, to ward off malignant influences from his defunct first wife's spirit. I agree with Mr. Brokesley that the soul of the story is Mr. Mobutu. A cunning man, he had that rare combination of shamelessness and grandeur. One would need to go back to Mussolini or Napoleon III to find a similar European mindset.Read more ›
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