In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo
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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 champagne in his jungle palace like some modern-day reincarnation of Joseph Conrad's crazed station manager.
Michela Wrong, a correspondent who witnessed Mobutu's last days, traces the rise and fall of the idealistic young journalist who became the stereotype of an African despot. Engrossing, highly readable, and as funny as it is tragic, In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz assesses the acts of the villains and the heroes in this fascinating story of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
did not wander and the unitary state survived. The demands on his purse were huge. The US Treasury launched preliminary investigations into the matter when, in the early 1990s, Washington, Paris and Brussels briefly played with the idea of forcing political reform on Mobutu by freezing his foreign assets. The Treasury’s assessment was that, in contrast with public perceptions, Mobutu in his last years had been outstripped by his generals—active in the diamond and oil trade—when it came to
largest Kimbanguist church in Kinshasa, so intriguing. Watching a religion and its myths while they are actually in the making is a curious sensation. The story of Kimbangu’s life is full of parallels to the story of Christ and is told in much the same terms: his miracles, his twelve apostles, his initial reluctance to accept his divine destiny, his eventual martyrdom and posthumous apparitions. But the stories Charles was recounting had not been slowly crafted over 2,000 years, taking on an
again and you forgive her once more. She keeps cheating and you keep coming back.’ Now their businesses were barely ticking over. Their numbers had shrunk as, one by one, their friends packed up and left. Resigned to keeping out of politics, they had realised they could not make money either. When they were arrested or threatened by the authorities, they found precious little sympathy at their embassies, whose young diplomats regarded them as unreconstructed colonialists largely deserving the
another great weapon in the Mobutu armoury. Zaire’s statistics-gathering apparatus was so inadequate that many figures were based on extrapolations of surveys carried out in 1959, when the country was still under colonial rule. Curiously, the partial export records, the multiple counting of government employees, the fact that nobody, not even Mobutu, knew the actual size of either the population or the army, never stopped the World Bank and IMF issuing hefty reports full of sweeping analysis and
somewhat belatedly, decided to act on Erwin Blumenthal’s advice. Give or take a few doubts about timing, the overriding tenor of my interviews with IMF and World Bank veterans was simple: ‘I regret nothing.’ Was it really an acceptable answer? The pragmatic line of argument is that, unappetising as the experience was to prove, Western self-interest made indulging Mobutu worthwhile. ‘If we had tried to attach 1990s governance conditionalities to Mobutu, we would have been calling for his