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on 30 August 2000
Michela has done an outstanding job of Mobutu's downfall. "On the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz" is written with grace, humour and a passion for the absurd detail of Zairean life. This is the book to read as a modern complement to "King Leopold's Ghost". One wishes Michela now got an assignment in Angola.
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on 22 August 2011
This is a truly brilliant book about Mobutu and his rule in what was then Zaire. Wrong gives a brilliant history of the country since its independence and shows how Mobutu conspired against the first president of the country and became leader. She goes on to give a vivid and detailed account of the corruption that Mobutu introduced into the country. The west is not spared. Wrong shows how the US financed Mobutu out of fear of communism sweeping across Africa (a fear Mobutu played upon with brilliance).

The real worth of this book is not just to tell us about Zaire and its horrific corruption, it is an insight into how an average African country worked since independence. Africa is gradually (too gradually) coming out of this "Big man" mentality.

Congratulations to Ms. Wrong on a brilliant book, really well written.
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on 22 January 2013
Michaela wrog is a wonderful writer and in this masterpiece she explores the long reign ( of Tyranny and corruption) of Mobutu former ultimate ruler of Zaire . The poor congo has had a lot inflictd on it this book details the theft of a countries assets by it's ruler. It shows the idiocy and compliance of western governments. It also shows the mistakes made by the IMF , will they make similar mistakes in the current economic climate. This is not a dry story it is littered with amusing stories some of which enthrall and others terrify. This is an essential book for any one trying to come to rems with Africa, corruption , and the mindset of tyrants.
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on 16 December 2012
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. He so thoroughly mistreated native Congolese in his quest for lucre that - even by the standards of the 1900s - he was forced to cede control of Congo to the Belgian State. Belgium then continued where Leopold II had left off. They refused to develop a cadre of administrators that could run the country. At independence, therefore, Congo, a country the size of Western Europe, had only 17 university graduates. According to Ms. Wrong, we cannot understand Mobutu without understanding Congo's deplorable colonial heritage. Belgium had prepared the stage well before Mobutu made his entrance.

2. WESTERN(U.S., French and Belgian) COLD WAR MACHINATIONS. Where did Mobutu get money from? The answer, mostly from Western allies.The United States and France were all too happy to lend Mobutu hundreds of millions of dollars as long as they were assured that he would be a bulwark against the spread of Communism on the Continent. Mobutu, the wily politician, became adept at extracting money from anxious Western powers, playing them off against one another. Did the Western powers know that Mobutu was pilfering the money while indebting his country? Of course. When interviewed by Ms. Wrong, many former IMF and World Bank staffers said everyone (Mobutu, the Western governments) had agreed to play the I-will-pretend-not-to-notice-as-long-as-you-don't-blush game. Funny, sad, but true.

3. A VENAL ZAIREAN ELITE. What did Mobutu do with all that stolen wealth? He bought houses, lived lavishly and greased a patronage system that makes the Nigerian system look amateurish in comparison. It is easy to blame Mobutu now, but Mobutu distributed the spoils quite liberally to a rapacious, venal Zairean elite.

In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz is a sympathetic portrayal of Mobutu. Her disdain for the former colonial power, U.S. policies and the Zairean elite are palpable. Mobutu comes across as the muscular leopard who did not notice the world change around him and who was finally devoured by the pack of ferile dogs, whom he had once protected. Her narrative is refreshing and engaging. It is a corrective to the voices that portray Congo as 'The Heart of Darkness'; a place were humanity is in the state of nature and incorrigibly destined to exercise its basest instincts. Ms. Wrong contends that such generalisations - common in popular press accounts - are shallow, self-serving and ignorant. My main criticism of the book is that it is 'expatriatist'; the views and complexities of Mobutu's rule as experienced by Zaireans is largely missing. Nevertheless, it is a well-written book. If you are looking for an introduction to the times of Mobutu, then 'In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz' is a good place to start. As such, it deserves three stars.
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on 13 September 2006
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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on 14 November 2000
Wrong's account of the history of Zaire is both fascinating and disturbing. All of the reader's emotions are stimulated with seamless convergence. It's delivery is reminiscent of the finest black comedy, this is not to say that Wrong does not write with great balance, tact and humility. Spectacular.
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on 20 February 2008
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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on 2 December 2012
This book has encouraged me to take an interest in the history and politics of Africa. Reading the stories beyond the headlines proved an eye opener and went some way to understanding one of the "big men" of Africa. This is a book you can read many times and learn something new on each occasion.
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on 31 August 2000
Michela has produced an excellent history full of pithy descriptions of the individuals who were touched by Mobutu. This book is well written and a joy to read - I've read it twice already.
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on 18 May 2013
Very interesting reading about the Congo/Zaire under Mobutu. Really well written takes you right into the heart of the corrupt,decaying regime and the madness of it all. Mobutu's palace in the jungle was just the icing on the cake really.
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