Shutterbug_iconium's Reviews > Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart

Blood River by Tim Butcher
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Jun 28, 2012

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Read in July, 2012 — I own a copy

Before reading this book, I have never read a non-fictional book which focuses on Africa. All I know about Africa consisted of the movies I have seen (like Hotel Rwanda and Tsotsi) and what my Zimbabwean and my former Ivory Coastian penpal wrote. Still, I believe you don’t need to read lots of books to make sense of the situation in Africa, which is you can’t solve the problems of Africa with the flow of cash.
I’ve always thought people can’t know the value of something they have unless they did really fight for it. You can’t just import a right from an outsider. For instance, in my country Turkish women could vote and stand for election in 1934 long before French or Bulgarian women could stand for election. Are Turkish women well-represented in today’s parliament? I doubt it. Do Turkish women fight for more representation? I doubt it. They were just lucky because a revolutionist like Mustafa Kemal and a group of young Turks offered them unprecedented rights on a silver plate. They didn’t have to fight for their rights. In my opinion, the same case applies to today’s Africa.NO UN aid, no foreign aid, no human rights fighters, not any cash flow will save Africa as long as they don't believe in saving their continent, as long as they are main fighters for their own continent.
Africa’s lack of institutional memory, white men’s destroying the African system of tribal justice, white men’s racist ways of making sure that an “inferior” insider never climbed up stairs to rule over anything…Well none of them could be accepted as excuses about the situation in Africa today. Why are Africans just plain bad at running Africa? should be the main question, I always assumed and for that matter Mr. Butcher’s book did not change my mind, on the contrary it just strengthened my thoughts about the way the cookie crumbles in the continent.
I don’t really agree with the views questioning the fact that the writer could not communicate with the locals very often and he was constantly on the run. Here, I guess, the reader should just put himself/ herself in the shoes of the writer. You are a journalist and you are basically on your own. You are not officially on a mission and you need to beware of the rebels who see any foreign element as an anathema to their interests. You need to tactful in communicating with the locals who have an ingrained distrust of outsiders. In that sense, I think Tim Butcher did his best by chronicling simple details from the lives of simple African people who have toil away on the-once comfortably travelled now looking way unchartered- roads of Africa.
But as a reader, I couldn’t feel the ordeal the writer mentioned. I may not have related to the writer’s odyssey or to the plight of the people but the overland travel sounded too easy for me. I mean I was expecting something much more of an agonizing ordeal after having read the graphical details about those mai-mai. For that matter, I did enjoy ample historical interludes provided throughout the book unlike some of the readers here. Without them, I would be utterly bored. I know that this is a journalistic piece but maybe just maybe it would be very interesting if the writer could make us feel his agony. For instance, some unevenly rambling intellectual peregrination would do. As a simple reader, I wondered whether he ever remembered ‘Jane’ for example.
Incidentally I thought this would absolutely turn up better if it were a regularly updated blog with enhanced pictures -instead of a book. I also thought Mr. Butcher’s peregrinations on the continent would make a movie script better than Hotel Rwanda (which is a movie I found good)
P.S This may not sound relevant to what I wrote here but the writer mentions a “a well-meaning foot soldier in Christianity's long battle for the soul of Africa” I never thought Christianity or any other celestial religion (I am not a non-believer. I am a practicing Muslim but this is irrelevant.) did anything just for the soul of Africa. Maybe they believe in their work. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be there but I never thought they are that selfless. Christian or not, any missionary activity is just serving other purposes.
P.S.S-Special thanks to my British friend who sent me this book, without whom I wouldn't know about the existence of this book.
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Quotes Shutterbug_iconium Liked

Tim Butcher
“….So much crueller than any British colony, they say, so much more brutal towards the local Africans, so much more manipulative after begrudgingly granting independence. But the history of British colonialism in Africa, from Sierra Leone to Zimbabwe, Kenya to Botswana and else-where, is not fundamentally different from what Belgium did in the Congo. You can argue about degree, but both systems were predicated on the same assumption: that white outsiders knew best and Africans were to be treated not as partners, but as underlings. What the British did in Kenya to suppress the pro-independence mau-mau uprising in the 1950s, using murder, torture and mass imprisonment, was no more excusable than the mass arrests and political assassinations committed by Belgium when it was trying to cling on to the Congo. And the outside world's tolerance of a dictator in the Congo like Mobutu, whose corruption and venality were overlooked for strategic expedience, was no different from what happened in Zimbabwe, where the dictator Robert Mugabe was allowed to run his country and its people into the ground because Western powers gullibly accepted the way he presented himself as the only leader able to guarantee stability and an end to civil strife. Those sniffy British colonial types might not like to admit it, but the Congo represents the quintessence of the entire continent’s colonial experience. It might be extreme and it might be shocking, but what happened in the Congo is nothing but colonialism in its purest, basest form.”
Tim Butcher, Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart

Tim Butcher
“The old man might have been drunk, but he was right. Outsiders have robbed and exploited the people of the Congo ever since the days of the first European and Arab slavers. The territory that Stanley staked in the name of Leopold witnessed what many regard as the first genocide of the modern era, when millions of Congolese were effectively worked to death trying to meet the colonialists’ almost insatiable demand for resources, most notably rubber. And since independence, foreign powers have toyed with the Congo, stripping its mineral assets and exploiting its strategic position, never mindful of the suffering inflicted on its people. And that really was the point. At every stage of its bloody history, outsiders have tended to treat Congolese as somehow sub-human, not worthy of the consideration they would expect for themselves. For progress to be made, outsiders must treat Congolese as equals and they could do worse than follow the example of an amazing white woman I discovered after we got back to Kalemie.”
Tim Butcher, Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart

Tim Butcher
“The collapse of the state in this large swathe of Africa meant that its people either relied on the charity of outsiders or took to violence. I must have looked bit dejected because Louise tried to lighten my mood. 'From my point of view as a church worker,it's great.'she said.When I go on leave back to the UK and I go into a church on Sunday,I am the youngest person there by a long way. But here in the Congo,I am always the oldest.”
Tim Butcher, Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart

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