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

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  • Posted November 22, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A Fascinating View

    In The Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz follows the history of Mobutu Sese Seko, president of Zaire. The Mr. Kurtz in the title is, of course, Joseph Conrad's character from The Heart Of Darkness; a European who came to conquer the African Congo but instead found failure and madness.
    Mobutu was a young scholar and military leader when he took over the reins of the newly independant Zaire. Unlike many African leaders who reign for short periods of time, Mobutu reigned for over thirty years, and took a vibrant, thriving economy to ruins in the process.

    Michele Wrong follows and tries to understand what went wrong. The biggest part of the problem was the sheer amount of money that Mobutu and his family and friends took out of the country. Hundreds of millions of dollars were diverted from trade, aid, and thriving businesses to their secret bank accounts. While Mobutu was a master manipulator of people and understood how to do that, he was bored by economic concepts and ignored what his policies did to the country.

    Wrong covers all the areas in this tragedy. Those who had thriving businesses but were not African had their properties confiscated. Aid meant for refugees was diverted, and by the time Mobutu left, the average life expectency had fallen to the mid-fifties and diseases that had been reined in were once again rampent. Trade with other countries had dried up, as no one could count on contracts being honored. One of the richest countries in resources was left with a crumbling infrastructure and everyday services such as phones or electricity worked on a hit-or-miss basis.

    This was an interesting book. I found the history itself interesting, as well as the blame that could be apportioned to international agencies like the IMF, which continued to give huge loans to Zaire when it was evident they would not be repaid, or the governments of Belgium, France and the U.S., which provided help to Mobutu regardless of his actions under the theory of "better the devil you know". This book is recommended for those interested in the history of Africa, or in reading how the best of plans often go astray.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2004

    Fascinating description of a third world dictatorship

    An amazingly easy to read and highly gripping book of recent history. Mobuto's reign of Zaire reads like a thriller. I found many similarities to the current situation in Zimbabwe. The book is a must for Africa fans and should be made compulsory lecture for foreign aid workers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2003

    Survivor Africa

    It's takes one in the world of modern Africa were it's every one for themselves...fighting for survival...It makes one realize how as an American one takes so much for granted and the history of foreign intervention that help create many of the problems that still exist today

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2001

    The universality of dictatorial regimes

    Michela Wrong's book on Mobutu and the Congo reads at times like a work of fiction, proving once again that truth is far more exciting than the product of any fiction writer's imagination. We learn early in the book that there was an entire population of both Congolese and foreigners caught up in Mobutu's web, forced to learn intricate dance steps in this dance macabre as a means of survival. Others hung on to the dictator's web in order to boost their personal fortunes in a country plagued by poverty. One quickly realizes in reading Wrong's accounts of the dictatorship that there are similarities between Mobutu and all the other autocrats who came before and after him just about anywhere in the world. The hunger for power, the wild expenses, the paranoia, the need to divide and conquer, the love-hate relationship with the military (who protect you today but can also overthrow you tomorrow), and the ultimate demise in which the dictator is left grasping at straws are universal plots that have been played out time and again in Africa, Latin America and most of the developing world. Reading about Mobutu helps recall accounts of Duvalier's Haiti or Trujillo's Dominican Republic or Cecesceau's Romania as if these men were all bred to join an elite club of despots that follow similar rules and standards. In Wrong's book, we get a glimpse at Mobutu's rise to power in a move that may have even brought hope to his people and follow his story through the country's potential nuclear fiasco, Mobutu's frequent Concorde charters, the costly race to complete his palace in the jungle as much of the population barely survived, to his final days in which we know he was reduced to wearing diapers and saw his international friends abandon him. Wrong's book is a fact-filled insider's view of Mobutu's rise and fall that should be read not only by those interested in African history and politics but also by anyone interested in the inner workings of authoritarian regimes worldwide.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2001

    A gripping memory evoking account of 'darkest Africa'

    Michelle Wrong provides a well constructed, yet enthralling account of a somewhat larger than life Mobutu. So multi dimensional I found it hard to put it down but needed to, simply to absord its heady impact. Having journied quite extensively throughout then Zaire, been taken off the streets of Kinshasa at gun point by Security and interrogated and under constant serveillance for three months travelling, I could readily idenify with so much in nuance and fact in her book. The difference from so many other treatise on Africa is the skillful use of humour, anecdote and historical fact. Michelle Wrong's research is remarkable for its depth and breadth and will I predict, become one of the great and lasting 'textbooks' to a region so brutually scarred and exploited by human beings/countries from around the world.Especially Belgium,France and USA who should hang their heads in shame. I laughed and almost cried at the real life pathos of Mobutu's reign. Tracing developments from the Portugese in the 17th century to Henry Morton Stanley's discoveries in the late 19th century, one can only conclude as the author does, that we've hardly learnt anything except how venal we can be. Mobutu while graphically personifying this was not alone. Nor should he be. This book deserves to be up there with Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' as a classic.

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    Posted January 1, 2011

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    Posted August 10, 2010

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    Posted August 5, 2011

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