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In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo Paperback – May 28, 2002
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Wrong turns first to Belgian's King Leopold II, who instituted a brutal colonial regime in the Congo in order to extract the natural and mineral wealth for his personal gain. Mobutu, with the aid of a U.S. government determined to sabotage Soviet expansion, stepped easily into Leopold's footsteps, continuing a culture built on government-sanctioned sleaze and theft. Under the circumstances, it's hard not to feel some sympathy for the people who survived in the only ways they could--teachers trading passing grades for groceries, hospitals refusing to let patients leave until they paid up, cassava patches cultivated next to the frighteningly unsafe nuclear reactor. What is less comprehensible--and rightly due for an airing--are Wrong's revelations about foreign interventions. Why, for example, did the World Bank and IMF give Mobutu $9.3 billion in aid, knowing full well that he was pocketing most of it?
In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz is a brilliantly conceived and written work, sharply observant and richly described with a necessary sense of the absurd. Wrong paints a far more nuanced picture of the wily autocrat than we've seen before, and of the blatant greed and paranoia of the many players involved in the country's self-destruction. --Lesley Reed --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Through it all, however, shines a nuanced portrait of "President" Mobutu. A thief, certainly. A thug, yup. A man who bears some responsibility for turning a potentially wealthy country into a cesspool, sure. But the Mobutu that emerges here is also a talented politician who brought a measure of order to Congo's post-colonial chaos. Once on top, however, he had to loot the national treasury in order to pay off rapacious underlings who would settle for nothing less than chartered Concordes and Mirage fighters. As she relates how Mobutu's obscenely opulant Versailles-in-the-jungle is rapidly being reabsorbed by the forest, one truly grasps the meaning of Ozymandius.
All in all, one hell of a lesson in the perils of being a strongman.
Written by a British journalist, the book conforms to the conventions of the "Screwed Up African Nation" genre: it quotes Conrad, tells colorful stories about venal politicians, offers self-flattering journalistic details (the author was on assignment in Kinshasa when the regime fell), and salutes plucky, long-suffering, ordinary Congolese making their way in a ruined economic environment. To the extent that the book rises above the genre, it is by placing the anecdotes and vignettes in political and economic context. It explains, for example, how Mobutu's despostism was enabled by patrons like the IMF and the CIA. It also spreads the blame around by tracing the continuities between Mobutu's larcenies and Belgium's barbaric colonial policies.
Unfortunately, the book is not scholarly: the bibliography is scanty, there are no footnotes, and the chronology is jumbled and riddled with gaps. Certain sections are clearly recycled journalism, going on at unnecessary length about minor figures who happened to be interviewed by the author during the course of her newspaper duties. But overall, the book can be recommended to anyone interested in the story of how one great African nation was undone by the greed of its rulers and the connivance of the international system.
Hochschild gives us the first half of the century, when King Leopold II of Belgium, a man whose inferiority complex knows no bottom and whose greed no limits, jumps into the feeding frenzy for colonies and comes up gripping the very heart of Africa, the vast area around the Congo River and it's tributaries that would later become the Belgian Congo, then Zaire, and today is the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is also the setting for my novel, Heart of Diamonds: A Novel of Scandal, Love and Death in the Congo. Wrong covers this era also, but in less depth, helpfully referring readers to Hochschild for the full story.
Where she picks up steam, though, is with Joseph Desire Mobutu, better known as Mobutu Sese Seko, who became the archetype African strongman dictator. She paints a remarkably nuanced portrait of the man, exposing not just his brutality but his cunning; his charm as well as his lust for power. Wrong witnessed Mobutu's last days and tells us how he ultimately lost control of the nation he ruled for over thirty years.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Good reading, pieces of the Congo story I didn't know. Apparently the book came out (and the other reviews were written) before the documentary came out:... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Michael E Sweeney
Fantastic book, I throughly enjoyed it - so well written that I devoured it in just 4 days!Published 6 months ago by laura mardon
The conclusion may surprise you; it did me and I am fairly well read on the Zaire/DRC. Ms. Wrong takes the reader through the history of Mabutu; his rise to power and how he deftly... Read morePublished 7 months ago by World traveler
I had to read a chapter of this book for an assignment on development studies and ended up going from cover to cover. Read morePublished 14 months ago by matius
Michela Wrong has an unusual ability to inform and entertain and engender compassion all at the same time. Read morePublished 16 months ago by R. Strickler
A fascinating look at a big country and a big man, neither of whom are well understood. Well worth the read!Published 20 months ago by Handukani L Moyo
Outstanding history of the Congo.
Not for the fainthearted as it describes in detail, Belgium's genocide in the Congo, its enslavement of the people and the ugliness of a... Read more
A great read. I have visited various locations in DRC and know other African countries and loved the way the country is depicted. The story is rich with informationPublished 23 months ago by George