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In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz

Mr Kurtz, the colonial white master, brought evil to the remote upper reaches of the Congo River. A century after Conrad's Heart of Darkness was first published, Michela Wrong revisits the Congo during the turbulent era of Mobutu Sese Seko. From the heart of Africa comes grotesque confusion: pink-lipsticked rebel soldiers mingle with track-suited secret policemen in hotels where fin de siecle dinner parties are ploughing through vintage wines rather than leave them to the new regime. Congo, the African country richest in natural resources, has institutionalised kleptomania. Everyone is one the take. Someone has even swiped one of the uranium rods from the country's only nuclear reactor. Having presided over unprecedented looting of the country's wealth, Mobutu, like Kurtz, retreated deep within the jungle to his palace of marble floors and gold taps. A hundred years on and nothing has changed.
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About the Author

Michela Wrong has been a foreign correspondent since joining Reuters after University and has worked extensively in Africa for the BBC and has also worked for the Sunday Times. She now writes for the Financial Times.


This is a terrific if disheartening book. A foreign correspondent and eyewitness to the demise of Mobutu Sese Seko's Zaire in 1997, Wrong combines travelog with astute political analysis. In lively prose, she traces the country's dysfunction to its history of permitting outsiders to exploit its wealth of natural resources, including diamonds, timber, and oil. Indeed, the very borders of Zaire, now Congo, reflect not geographic or ethnic realities but bargains struck between late 19th-century European firms and tribal chiefs. The key to Mobutu's survival despite his infamous corruption and ordinary citizens' professed loathing for him was his ability to forge a sense of nationhood amid the chaotic conditions he inherited. Whoever succeeds Laurent Kabila who ousted Mobutu before being assassinated early this year will gain not the presidency of a viable nation-state but the power to barter natural riches for political support abroad. Recommended for all academic collections. James R. Holmes, Ph.D. candidate, Fletcher Sch. of Law & Diplomacy, Tufts Univ., Medford, MA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

`A stylish account of the absurd as well as the tragic.' Sunday Times `This book will become a classic.' Economist

The beauty of this book is that it makes sense of chaos. For the past few decades, the Congo, one of Africa's richest countries in natural resources, has been in an economic decline that has resulted in violence and lawlessness. Wrong, a British journalist who spent six years covering Africa as a reporter for European news agencies, skillfully balances history with nuanced reportage. She details the "discovery" of the Congo by the British explorer Lord Stanley, the land's subsequent exploitation by the Belgian King Leopold II for his own personal benefit and the role of the United States and other Western nations in propping up Joseph Mobutu. Without apologizing for his brutal regime, Wrong explains how the cold war dictator used a mixture of terror and charisma to maintain his hold on the country for three decades. But although the roots of the country's downfall are traced to Western policies the book's title comes from Joseph Conrad's famous anticolonialist novel this book is no anti-imperialist screed. What Wrong finds is a widespread refusal, among Westerners and Congolese alike, to accept responsibility for the country's deterioration, which has led to a situation in which "each man's aim is to leave Congo, acquire qualifications and build a life somewhere else." And when Wrong uses her keen eye to describe contemporary life in Congo as in her portrayal of the handicapped businessmen's association the streets of this now-wretched nation come alive. Illus. (Apr. 29) Forecast: Wrong will come to the States to do a three-city tour: New York, D.C. and Boston. This fine book should benefit from being one of several books on Africa coming out, including Ryszard Kapuscinski's (see above) and Bill Berkeley's The Graves Are Not Yet Full (Forecasts, Mar. 26). Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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