In The Footsteps Of Mr Kurtz. Living On The Brink Of Disaster In The Congo Hardcover – 3 Aug 2000
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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
‘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.’
‘A brilliant account of Africa’s most extraordinary dictator told with wry wit and delicious irony… this book will become a classic.’
‘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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Top Customer Reviews
I found the similarities of Mobutu's past regime and Mugabe (of Zimbabwe)'s regime fascinating. Mobutu's drive for indigenization constituting little more than approval to loot the country by politicians and their families and being of little benefit to the average Zairean in the street. The need for constant access to easy funds to keep a corrupt system running - starting off with the looting of the central bank by printing of money (resulting in hyperinflation) & the following of absurd economic policies. Another tool which Mobutu used to fund his regime was the looting of state mining companies such as Gecamines & MIBA, which the Zimbabwean government now seems to do through the Zimbabwean Mining Development Corporation and the exploitation of the Marange diamond fields.
This book also highlights the amazing phenomenon of how previously oppressed liberation leaders seem to mimic the characteristics and attributes of their previous oppressors. Most important lesson from this book is that it shows that not even the Papa of the most African of African countries was immune from facing justice. Mobutu may have never been held to account through a court but he died an undignified death, is buried in an alien land, his family living as exiles relying on the hospitality of a foreign government & the only people who truly seem to have profited from his corruption were his political associates who betrayed & criticized him in his moment of need.Read more ›
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.
Wrong's account of the times of 'The Leopard' (as Mobutu liked to be addressed) is thoroughly enjoyable. She provides a detailed narrative - based on interviews with Mobutu's allies. The plot of the book is straight forward. She argues that while Mobutu robbed his country blind, it would be amiss to blame only Mobutu for the state of Zaire. Other important dramatis personae in Zaire's saga are Belgium, the United States, France and the venal Zairean elite.
1. BELGIUM. 'A none-too-impressive European nation' (pg. 196) with pretensions to empire, seeking to maintain a toe-hold of influence in a former colony. Before Mobutu, Belgium had pillaged and raped the Congo. Belgium's embrace of Congo had started with the ambitions of Leopold II. This corrupt, contemptible brute had instituted near industrial scale torture and brutality in his bid to extract the country's resources.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
There are two names that the mention of ‘The Congo’ might conjure. One is the fictional Kurtz, the renegade colonial administrator in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and the... Read morePublished 5 months ago by F Henwood
An astonishing account of the recent history of a country. Brilliantly written and unputdownable.Published 7 months ago by Ms V H Graveson
A very clear and courageous writer. Deeply absorbing picture of a kleptocratic state wasting the opportunities which its freedom from colonial rule hade given it.Published 23 months ago by Amazon Customer
Absolute must read for anyone willing to understand the Democratic Republic of CongoPublished 23 months ago by Jessica Saulle
Michela Wrong writes so fluidly. This book is a capitivating read with fascinating background on an era in Africa whose events were driven by the cold war.Published on 13 Mar. 2014 by Mr D C Dobie
This is a must-read book for anyone going to the Congo. It is a truly jaw-dropping account of what happened.Published on 8 Feb. 2014 by Nigel from Bristol
It is one of the books related to the history of Africa after colonilisation. Will come back later with more comments.Published on 23 Oct. 2013 by Osman Gulaie
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