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In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in the Congo Paperback – 2 Jul 2001

4.7 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate; New Ed edition (2 July 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841154229
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841154220
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 40,040 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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.

Review

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

‘This book will become a classic.’ Economist

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

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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Interesting book. The body of the book creates a pretty harsh (but realistic) image of what Mobutu was, only for Michela to make a somewhat contradictory analysis of the man's billions and who is responsible for the pillage of the Congo over Mobutu's 32 year rule.

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.
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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Mobutu Sese Seko Ngbendu Kuku Wa Za Banga, Zaire's strongman for thirty years was a larger-than-life autocrat. His name, which means 'the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake', struck fear into the hearts of his enemies. He was charismatic leader, student of Machiavelli, wily politician and kleptocrat per excellence. I have always been fascinated by this dictator who hosted the famous 1974 'Rumble in the Jungle' between Muhammed Ali and George Foreman. I bought 'In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz' as an introduction to Mobutu. Who was he? How did he rise to power? And how did he maintain power for so long? Thankfully, Michela Wrong did not disappoint in answering these questions.

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.
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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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