Jon Mountjoy's Reviews > In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo

In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz by Michela Wrong
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's review
Aug 20, 2007

really liked it
Read in October, 2007

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 comes to mind.

I love the way the book starts: "The feeling struck home within seconds of disembarking. When the motor-launch deposited me in the cacophony of the quayside, engine churning mats of water hyacinth as it turned to head back across the brown expanse of oily water that was the River Zaire, I was hit by the sensation that so unnerves first-time visitors to Africa. It is that revelatory moment when white, middle-class Westerners finally understand what the rest of humanity has always known - that there are places in this world where the safety net they have spent so much of their lives erecting is suddenly whipped away, where the right accent, education, health insurance and a foreign passport - all the trappings that spell "It can't happen to me' - no longer apply, and their well-being depends on the condescension of strangers."

The "cacophony on the quayside" is perfect.
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