In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in the
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In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in the

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  1,267 ratings  ·  92 reviews
Known as "the Leopard," the president of Zaire for thirty-two years, Mobutu Sese Seko, showed all the cunning of his namesake -- seducing Western powers, buying up the opposition, and dominating his people with a devastating combination of brutality and charm. While the population was pauperized, he plundered the country's copper and diamond resources, downing pink champag...more
ebook, 368 pages
Published October 13th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published 2000)
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As a candidate for the past century's worst country it has no parallels. In order you've got: pillage, rape, genocide, more rape, CIA-sponsored political assassinations, a brutal dictatorship, the world's first genuine "kleptocracy", corruption on a grand and almost immortal scale, bad interior decorating, a surfeit of Louis Vutton luggage, hunger, AIDS, bankruptcy, civil war, more genocide, more civil war, and even more rape. There is even a fucking decaying nuclear reactor there, if you can be...more
Jul 24, 2010 Lobstergirl rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: John Galliano
Recommended to Lobstergirl by: John Kay
As a foreign correspondent stationed in Zaire/Congo, Michela Wrong witnessed the strangeness and tragedy of Mobutu Sese Seko's gangster dictatorship up close. For three decades of kleptocracy, Bretton Woods (the World Bank and the IMF) didn't just look the other way - they acquiesced in Mobutu's corruption, allowing him more than $3 million per month for his "presidential endowment:" personal security, an entourage, and travel expenses. Bretton Woods kept doing business with Zaire even after Mob...more
Jon Mountjoy
A wonderful historical account of the life of Mobutu Sese Seko, dictator of Congo (Zaire). It's very readable, and comes across as a balanced account of the man and the historical events surrounding his rise to power.

It also provides a lot of insight into how such a kleptocracy can come about: support from the west: CIA, IMF, World Bank, European governments etc. etc. It's their corruption that undoubtedly aided his regime, and which probably account for similar situations in Africa - Mugabe co...more
Ms. Wrong is a talented journalist and here she's written a solid obituary to the Mobutu era with some real-time observations on the brief and tumultuous reign of Mzee Laurent Kabila. The entire story of post-colonial DR Congo/Zaire is painted as outlandish and foolhardy with brushes of acerbic irony.

The book brought together several pieces of the puzzle for me and several times provoked an 'aha' out loud as I made connections to the life I observe daily in present-day DR Congo.

Footsteps is well...more
This is a richly detailed account of Zaire (aka Congo) under Mobutu. It's chock full of amusing anecdotes and evdence of the corruption that has permeated every level of Zaire's society. It lucidly explains how Mobutu's kleptocracy and the "fend for yourself" culture has decimated a country that is rich in natural resources. It also outlines the hypocrisy of Western nations that used Zaire as a pawn during the Cold War. I enjoyed reading this book, and yet....there is something missing. The auth...more
Sorin Hadârcă
A very truthful account of Congo under Mobutu Sese Seko, rich in detail, deep in analysis and coherent in structure. It's more than a portrait of controversial leader, it is understanding how history works. I'll will definitely read more of Michela Wrong.
Wrong, a journalist, documents the reign and fall of Mobutu, head of Zaire for thirty years, and his influence upon the country’s fortunes. It’s a tale of tragicomic proportions, with all the requisite details. From the gold taps in the bathrooms of the president’s palace to the hangar-sized lobby of the never-used greeting area of the mammoth presidential retreat, Mobuto lived and stole like a king. Meanwhile the CIA, World Bank, IMF and other Western agencies poured money into Zaire’s coffers...more
Wrong is at her best when she offers nuances into the psychology of corruption. As a description of absolute power and an attempt to look at Mobutu's legacy of leaving one of Africa's richest states in terms of natural resources as one of its poorest in institutions it is interesting. But Wrong's tendency to indulge the adjectives and become strangely didactic (as when she tells us that that Mobutu had his Brutus moment with Lumumba, like when Brutus says "Et tu Brutus." In Julius Caesar. By Sha...more
D.E. Meredith
If you want to know what happened in Zaire, then read this. I know a lot about near by Rwanda but DRC was something of a mystery to me. Michela Wrong is a fantastic guide through the politics of Mobutu and the emergence of DRC today. Very readable, lots of quirky detail and told by a writer who clearly loves Africa. Told with passion and lots of humour. Incredibly well researched but not remotely heavy reading. In fact, I finished it in a few days and I felt like I'd been there. Strongly recomme...more
Another account of another brute raping and ruining his country. This time its Mobutu. And yet again it is the story of one kept in power by the West which coyly turns its head away and raises the fan so it doesn't need to look too closely. It s only when another fan comes into contact with some stuff flying that the West takes note and says....Goodness I had no idea
A really interesting, wild wild west story of modern Africa. However, her writing style is very disjointed, which might annoy some readers. Also the narration left me feeling like I couldn't be sure who was relaying the facts and if they were indeed facts.
Coming with pretty limited knowledge of the DRC, I enjoyed this book and found it useful in learning about the history and region. I was a bit concerned that the book would prove a little dated, since it appeared to be a current events type book published a while ago, but that did not prove to be the case. It isn't as much a history of the DRC or (now) a current events book, as a well written journalist view of the history and politics of the Mobutu era. Even as this fades futher into history, i...more
The story of the fall of both Joseph Mobutu and the Congo (formally called Zaire).

The book describes how Mobutu used the profits from the copper and diamond mines and the help of the indifferent West to pay his political cronies for political support and to purchase numerous lavish items, including mansions, champagne, boats and many flights on the Concorde super jet for his family.

Obviously this had an enormous effect on the Zairian economy. Mobutu's style of raping the state for his and his...more
As told in Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost, in 1885 Leopold II, King of the Belgians, seized a Western Europe-sized chunk of land in the Congo river basin in central Africa. He exploited its natural resources and people mercilessly, and in 1908, bowing to international pressure, sold the colony to Belgium. The Belgians continued the exploitation, though it was no longer as harsh, as the population grew, while under Leopold's rule it shrank; they built hospitals, schools, and even a univer...more
Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga ‘the all-powerful warrior who will go from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake’ (what a fool) will go down as another of Africa's crude sociopathic dictators. His massive ego was only surpassed by his all-consuming greed.

Calling his regime a ‘kleptocracy’ (government by theft) is putting it mildly. He and his sycophants systematically raped and plundered a country with great promise. He was used by the west under the guise of the cold war, t...more
Rachel Smith
The Congo bears a putrid history as a fruitful land constantly being pillaged and destroyed by leaders corrupted by endless greed. The reign of Mobutu Sese Seko, trademarked with the notorious leopard-skinned hat and pink champagne with which the greedy tyrant thrived, sickeningly juxtaposed the poverty, disease and neglect which plagued the nation which he robbed. Michaela Wrong declares, in her book "In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz," “In Mobutu’s hands, the [Congo] had become a paradigm of all...more
Cath Murphy
A luminous, wry account of Congo during its time as Zaire when it was effectively ruled by Mobutu Sese Seko. Wrong takes us from the Belgian inspired murder of Patrick Lumumba through the asset stripping decades when Mobutu and his "Big Vegetables" built themselves huge mansions in the jungle complete with private zoos and gold sanitary ware. It's a story which was repeated across the continent and a period from which Africa is only just starting to emerge. Wrong's gift to us is to show how inev...more
David Bales
This is an excellent book by a British reporter who covered Africa in the 1990s, particularly in Zaire, previously and now known as the Congo. This book covers the long misrule of Mobuto Sese Seko, (once known as Joseph Mobuto, who "Africanized" Congolese personal and place names in 1971). Mobuto was a soldier in the Belgian Congo's security force and rose to general in the early 1960s during the chaos of Belgium's abrupt departure from its only colony. Eventually, Mobuto took over the country i...more
This book tells the story of what happened in the nation of Zaire (aka Congo) after the Belgian colonial presence ended in 1960. The author is a foreign correspondent who spent six years in Africa writing for the BBC, Financial Times, and Reuters. Here, she talks about her time in Congo/Zaire, and what life was like in this country trying to recover from the hangover of the three decade-long reign of "The Leopard," President Mobutu Sese Seko. Mobutu grabs hold of the government in 1960 and throu...more
The author has compiled a comprehensible account of the corrupt and autocratic regime of President Mobutu, together with a historical record of the systematic rape of the Congo's natural resources, and exploitation of its people. As such, this book justifiably seeks to indict not only the outrages and excesses of the Mobutu regime but also the role played by those international powers and organisations who propped up this villanous tyrant. Moreover, Wrong traces the history of the systematic abu...more
Jay Hinman
Michela Wrong, who wrote this book about Mobutu Sese Seko's Congo in 2002, spent a good chunk of the 1990s living in this country as a correspondent during Mobutu's last days, and put together a fine overview of how this cunning and complex dictator came to power, and the ruin of a country he presided over as he was chased out of the country in the 1990s. Moreover, it doesn't approach its subject from a political angle – it's very much a work of social science and sociology, seeking to make sens...more
I started out loving this book which seemed an obvious follow-on to King Leopold's Ghost (by Adam Hochschild) about the Belgian (actually the king's) occupation of the Congo. Wrong picks up on that colonial history and connects it with the Congo's disastrous history as Zaire under Mobutu. She stretches the point a bit with Conrad's Heart of Darkness, assuming that it's always been interpreted as about the darkness and evil that exists in the heart of the African jungle while really it's about th...more
Quite an interesting book about Mobuto Sese Seko, the president of Zaire and how he took advantage of his country and wasted its natural resources all the while living the high life. Despite obviously being a bad risk the west including the IMF and World Bank continued to bank roll him even though they could obviously see that there would never be a repayment.

The province of Kasai, in the south, was the diamond province. For a brief time this province was its own empire and the emperor, Albert K...more
Clivemichael Justice
Articulate and engaging bio during a troubled time in a troubled country. Her analysis, research and interviews provide much insight into the complex and chaotic situation during Mobutu's "reign". The descriptive and evocative language carries the humanity of the man while never denying the massive and outrageous abuse of power. This is an incredible chronicle of criminality, an indictment of manipulation extraordinaire, with endless examples of provocative, blatant abuses of power and privilege...more
Susan Hester
Mr. Kurtz was the character in Heart of Darkness who uttered the words..."the horror, the horror," about his experience in the Congo. This non-fiction book follows the 30 year rule of Mobutu over the Congo/Zaire from 1967 to 1997 and filled in some gaps for me, one who was there in the early 1970's. I learned some interesting facts about his style of leadership (Machiavellian, divide and conquer); fire your entire cabinet every 6 months; build an extraordinary palace in the middle of the jungle;...more
Sean Kavanagh
Gets under the skin of Congo, a country that's usually just a bad a story on the news, and explains the stories of the people who live there. full of surprises and no colonial pomp, this a great book by a super author.
In a land of plenty, natural resources, water, food, lives a post colonial conundrum, "Why is Africa so pillaged from without and within?" Ms Wrong carefully documents the flow of power from Belgium to post-colonial Congo under Mobutu. Stuffed with her personal insights and experiences, this is an incredible story, so outrageous as to skirt disbelief in its factual recounting. Shadowy inter-tribal disputes and overt tribal warring join forces with corruption beyond compare, all verbally painted...more
Jeff Lanter
This is a powerful account of the Mobutu "kleptocracy" gained control of Congo after the Belgians were removed from power. The author is sympathetic to the Congolese people and thankfully uses humor to keep you from being overwhelmed by sadness. I learned a lot about the culture in Congo which I really appreciated. By the time I finished reading, I was left with a profound sense of sadness and shame for the US, French, and Belgian role in the Congo. This is an excellent followup to King Leopold'...more
This was an enjoyable read even though the pacing was a bit off in places. It provides a rough historical outline of the Congo from independence forward, but I doubt I'd have followed the timeline very well if I hadn't previously read other books on the Congo and the Great LAkes region. I think it's most valuable for featuring life profiles of various individuals from every cultural and socio-economic strata-their experiences and perspectives fill out the predominantly sketchy and generic narrat...more
Though I didn't enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed her book about Eritrea, I think its in large part because the book on Eritrea is so relevant to my current work. Nevertheless, this is a good book for people who are just trying to dip their feet into the modern history of the DRC. Its a journalistic account, so its not going to be super nuanced or in-depth, but it was still very informative. Michela Wrong does a really good job in making connections between the legacy of colonialsm and the me...more
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Half-Italian, half-British, Michela Wrong was born in 1961. She grew up in London and took a degree in Philosophy and Social Sciences at Jesus College, Cambridge and a diploma in journalism at Cardiff.

She joined Reuters news agency in the early 1980s and was posted as a foreign correspondent to Italy, France and Ivory Coast. She became a freelance journalist in 1994, when she moved to then-Zaire a...more
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