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

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  2,535 ratings  ·  138 reviews
He was known as "the Leopard," and for the thirty-two years of his reign Mobutu Sese Seko, president of Zaire, 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 ...more
Paperback, 338 pages
Published May 28th 2002 by Harper Perennial (first published 2000)
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3.98  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,535 ratings  ·  138 reviews


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Jacob Overmark
Nov 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I have never been to Congo, or Zaire. It is one of the countries on the African continent I, despite all my curiosity and lust for adventure, will probably never experience.

Nearly 150 years have gone by since “The Congo Free State” was established. 150 years of terror, divide and rule governance and kleptocracy, internal wars and closed eyes to Hutu/Tutsi conflicts, letting the genocides happen.
From colonialism to relative freedom – one bad ruler was exchanged for another.

Painstakingly depressi
...more
Stephen Witt
May 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Lobstergirl
Jul 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Dan
Apr 01, 2018 rated it liked it
In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz is part biography and part historical book on Mobutu’s reign in Zaire from the 60’s to 90’s.

The author, Michela Wrong, is not a historian but a foreign correspondent. Close to the heart of the dictatorship, she knows the situation well, because she lived in Zaire and Kinshasa for six years during Mobutu’s reign and overthrow.

In the early chapters, there is a lackluster attempt by the author to provide background history on the Congo region. The atrocities committe
...more
Louise
Jan 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Michela Wrong’s biography of President Mobutu of Zaire is also part travelogue and part political commentary. The sketch she gives of Mobutu can be gleaned from the press of the time, but the travelogue and commentary may be unique.

Wrong shows how the brutality of the Belgians working (literally) for King Leopold (this was King’s personal colony, and not that of Belgium) created the society that made Mobutu possible. There is some speculation as to how Mobutu prevailed in the early days of liber
...more
AC
Dec 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found the first half of this book to be riveting. An analysis of the historical background to the Congo, Leopold, the rise of Mobutu, and a fascinating analysis of the anatomy simply of a dictatorship, but of the particular form of kleptocracy that Mobutu pioneered.

The second half describes different sectors of the society, economic, mining, the hyper-inflation, the abysmal condition of infrastructure of all sorts from roads to airports to hospitals — much of which was the result of the tota
...more
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
This leader, the President of his country, was insanely popular as he was not without his good qualities. He was a pragmatic, hardworking leader with a quiet good sense. He had this admirable decisiveness and courage under difficult circumstances, time and again demonstrating his ability to make the unruly and the troublemakers behave.

The people looked up to him as a father. In rallies he would speak to them in his native dialect, in a lingo easily understood by the masses—


“It would be full of p
...more
Brian
Mar 16, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Ensiform
Dec 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: africa, non-fiction
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
Michael
Aug 31, 2010 rated it liked it
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
GoldGato
May 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
When the new Congo nation said goodbye to its Belgian overlords in 1960, there was enthusiasm and hope in the air for the new nation. The horrid times of amputations and slavery were suddenly in the past and the resource-heavy Congo was going to be a big player on the African continent. The wildcard factor turned out to be a young soldier who was to turn everything upside down while showing how easy it was to slough off one foreign oppressor for one native oppressor.

The new nation's leader, Patr
...more
Jon Mountjoy
Aug 20, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Yvonne
Oct 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
There are many highlights and quotes in this book, with echoes to my country too. Kleptocracy is an illness in Africa, that we need to find solutions to. If we have hope of leaving a good legacy to our grandchildren.

With this in mind I loved this: Failing to understand the reasons behind a country's ruin makes repetition all too easy.
Could we as a generation stand up and do better for our countries?
elizabeth
Jul 29, 2007 rated it it was ok
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
Ruth
Aug 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The book left me with many questions, questions to ponder on. The most important revelation was the need to think of the role of colonisation and subsequent independent rule on the current state of Congo's political, social, and economic environment. I could connect with many instances in the book, finding similarities with my country. This excerpt got me thinking "Knowing nothing about the past, of course, frees a population from any sense of blame for the present".... Pg 56

I would read this bo
...more
D.E. Meredith
Aug 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Mark
Aug 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Sorin Hadârcă
Jul 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, africa
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.
Ian .
Mar 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Overall a very good book. Gave it four stars because I didn't like the structure of the book. From chapter to chapter it jumps from one subtopic to another plus the timeline was a bit fuzzy. But still, a very good overview of a nation that was ruled by a true autocrat. Plus gives you a little more information about the whole continent and colonialism overall.

I actually didn't know that Congo was once a colony of Belgium (under king Leopold II) and the only Belgium colony in Africa. The history o
...more
Ashley Clark
Mar 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Well written, this book was a good contrast to the last book by a reporter I read on a country in Africa. The book mostly explains the collapse of Mobutu, and also why he was able to retain power for so long. The central thesis of the book could be called "it takes a village," which I was somewhat convinced of by the end. I wish the author included more facts and dates to sort of cement her argument. It was more "corruption was happening and happening" with no temporal changes, except for at the ...more
Gavin
Feb 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Wendy Jackson
Jul 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: africa
Have read this twice (2009; 2015), and I loved it both times. Michela Wrong is one of my favourite writers on African issues. Her books are meticulously researched, and she is an excellent writer. Having been to DRC (although only briefly), the book provides excellent context for some of my experiences there.
Anina
Feb 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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.
Phil
Nov 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
A frighting look inside the world of an African dictatorship. Violence is endemic and the economy is in shambles.
Andrea
Mar 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: africa
Fast paced and revealing look at how Western interference and internal corruption destroyed Zaire.
Don
Mar 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Colonialism, underdevelopment, kleptocracy, autocracy, violent cruelty and corruption - In The Footsteps Of Mr. Kurtz is a horrifyingly fascinating and well-told case study of the all-too-human workings of our international political economic system. It is a case study of what has been called “under-development” in the academic literature (harking back to works by Gunder Frank, Baran and Sweezy, Amin, Wallerstein and others) - ways in which a newly created “national” political economy is integra ...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
Keen
Apr 17, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
To put this all in perspective we have to understand the time and place that lead to the instalment of Mobutu. In the late 50s and early 60s Americans had recently come out of a decade of feverish McCarthyism and still had the bogey man of communism looming and the possible domino effect. The Congo lies literally at the heart of Africa and has no less than nine neighbouring countries, so the Americans were thinking ahead, though probably not thinking hard enough. No doubt the country’s vast mine ...more
Richard Mendell
Too sad. A Tale as old as time. A Kleptocracy aided by the West, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund all at the expense of tens of millions of Congolese. In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz - all too true.
Josh
Nov 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Spent a lot of time on the decline and painted the different crimes in Zaire. I would've liked more details on Mobutu himself and some of his crimes.
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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
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“Spirituality can go hand-in-hand with ruthless single-mindedness when the individual is convinced his cause is just” 4 likes
“Experience has taught that politics is a game played by conmen and hypocrites.” 4 likes
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