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In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz Paperback – 1 Jun 2002

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (1 Jun. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060934433
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060934439
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2.1 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,364,104 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


‘A stylish account of the absurd as well as the tragic.’ Sunday Times

‘This book will become a classic.’ Economist

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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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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By Philip on 3 May 2006
Format: Paperback
The Congo basin is the most cruelly raped part of Africa. It and its immediate northern and southern neighbors were the principal source of slaves for the American plantations. In colonial times, Belgian Congo suffered more than all the other African territories from the harshness of colonialism, a legacy that was carried over to the 1960s when efforts at liberation led to the independence of many African countries. That contemporary legacy of misrule, the fomentation of ethnic strife and genocide is what is haunting the land today, and the Belgian king Leopold played a crucial role in bequeathing that horrible legacy. The genocide in Rwanda and the strife in Burundi are all parts of the legacy. French genocidal legacy abound in Cameroon, Algeria etc. German legacy is felt in Namibia. DISCIPLES OF FORTUNE, LE GENOCIDE FRANCO-AFRICAIN,WHEN VICTIMS BECOME KILLERS, THE HERERO REBELLION IN SOUTH WEST AFRICA , THE TROUBLED HEART OF AFRICA are some of the books that provide an insight into the plague.

Who should be blamed for seed of ethnic strife and genocidal tendencies that has been planted in Africa? Is it the fault of some of those former colonial masters who have not changed their ways and support the African leaders with the evil disposition who have hijacked their nations? On the other hand, is it the inherent fault of the Africans who fail as masses to liberate themselves from the horrible legacies?
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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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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Charles Vasey TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 12 May 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Michela Wrong has written a very good study of General Mobuto's place in Congolese/Zairois history. Her analysis is as good as that of Frederick Cooper in AFRICA SINCE 1940 and she writes as well as (if not better than) Bill Berkeley in THE GRAVES ARE NOT FULL YET. The mixture of good political reporting and the anecdotes of the impact events have on individuals reminds me of the sort of radio journalism in which Radio 4 specialised. Since Mobuto is generally portrayed as a complete rotter I found her closing section where she talks to one of his sons and to his ex-security adviser provided an excellent counter-point.
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