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

In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's CongoWrong, 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 in the name of anti communism, conveniently ignoring the unpaid wages of the soldiers, the mismanaged diamond mines, the human rights abuses, the internal strife, and myriad other reasons the West should have given Mobutu the cold shoulder.It s the old African story of mismanagement, meddling, and money, and Wrong tells it perfectly She s an intrepid current affairs journalist, an amazingly thorough and informed researcher, and shows a firm grasp of the history from Belgium s vicious rule to the present day Her charge is that the Western powers share a large part of the responsibility for making Zaire the bottom of the barrel Third World nation it is today, and she makes a good case While she also paints Mobutu as an egocentric thug with no knowledge of how to run a state, she makes it clear that Western meddling helped ensure that the corrupt situation Mobutu created stayed firmly in place Brilliant. 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 liberation I got a new perspective on the Mobutu Lumumba relationship.Mobutu is said to be charming hard to imagine and clever undoubtedly so Against the recommendations of any accountant not cowed by him, US, the EU countries and the IMF give him money His hangers on are the big vegetables who take these fortunes and then extract taxes from an already poor population Their lavish lifestyles are described cars, homes hotels, travel and party life There is no understanding that the government should do anything for the people.Despite the country s great mineral wealth there is nothing for the citizens All the outside money loans which the poor who could not flee will eventually have to pay goes to the top Most of the photos show a theme of the book which is how the enterprising Congolese make a living hustling over nothing In the midst of the poverty and chaos, many turn to religion and there is a profile of a Kimbangu a large and well supported sect that believes God is a black man Some young people embrace sapeur which seems to be a way for young people to feel beautiful You learn of Article 15 where the disabled can use transport free, and there are many disabled There is an interview of a once idealistic European couple who seem to have lost millions in trying to farm after the Belgians left.You learn how Mobutu played the US, EU countries and the IMF despite all the accountants warnings He did not keep much watch on this own money overpaying for champagne, cars and all else, ignoring the schemes of his family and friends and handing out 100 bills You learn how he did not grasp the post Soviet world When opportunities opened up elsewhere, fair weather friends deserted him The army that he paid only erratically behaved in kind Wrong notes that despite this blatant extraction of wealth, there were no cells at home or abroad plotting Mobutu s downfall I did not know how the Rwanda genocide eventually led to Mobutu s resignation While Congolese joined the opposition, he was essentially brought down from the outside Wrong does not explain why the King of Morocco took him in, but you get the feeling that it is similar to the innuendo surrounding his support from France.This is a good overview and a starting place for understanding today s Congo. 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, Downing Pink Champagne In His Jungle Palace Like Some Modern Day Reincarnation Of Joseph Conrad S Crazed Station ManagerMichela Wrong, A Correspondent Who Witnessed Firsthand 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, Her Book Assesses How Belgium S King Leopold, The CIA, And The World Bank All Helped To Bring About The Disaster That Is Now The Democratic Republic Of Congo If, In This Poignant Account, The Villains Are The Big Vegetables Les Grosses L Gumes The Fat Cats Who Benefited From Mobutu S Largesse The Heroes Are The Ordinary Citizens Trapped In A Parody Of A State Living In The Shadow Of A Disintegrating Nuclear Reactor, Where Banknotes Are Not Worth The Paper They Are Printed On, They Have Turned Survival Into An Art Form For All Its Valuable Insights Into Africa S Colonial Heritage And The Damage Done By Western Intervention, In The Footsteps Of Mr Kurtz Is Ultimately A Celebration Of The Irrepressible Human Spirit 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 committed by King Leopold s Belgian venture have been covered in many bestselling books The author acknowledges in her bibliography that King Leopold s Ghost by Adam Hochschild is a stellar read I would say that the author would have been better off skipping these chapters as her strength is not as a historian.The author then briefly discusses Mobutu s overthrow of Lumumba These events should have been a dramatic scene in the book but were not emphasized enough in my opinion I found the section covering Mobutu s demise to be far and away the best part of the book This is probably because it was contemporary to the author s time in Zaire I would go as far as to say the book would have been better if it only focused on the last year of Mobutu s reign and the stories of the million Tutsi s refugees from the Rwandan crisis that flowed into Zaire and led to the rebellion that brought down Mobutu I have no regrets in reading the book but at times it was a slog Focused on facts with solid sentence composition and compelling yet the story lacked consistent show me storytelling and at times was unsuccessful in highlighting the especially dramatic portions of Mobutu s life and Zaire s history.Somewhere between 3 and 4 stars 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 puns, wordplay and wisecracks He would get the crowd giggling, cheering and laughing As often as not, there would be a public putdown for an unpopular aide or minister, sometimes a sacking It was his way of assessing the national mood and lancing the boil of public discontent before it turned septic He was a speaker of genius, said a journalist who was a student at that time I would go unwillingly, because I didn t really approve of him But as soon as he began speaking, we would be swept away We d stand in the sun for hours, but the time would slip by without you noticing If you study those speeches now, in the cold light of day, you can see there was almost nothing in them, they were full of inconsistencies, gossip and tittle tattle But he knew just how to speak to the people He would tell us nonsense and we would believe him He had charm Those who had a brush with him rarely forgot the experience, remarking on his extraordinary personal charisma He had a presence, a capacity to command attention, an innate conviction of his uniqueness, combined with the manipulative ability of making the interlocutor believe he has his undivided attention and has gained a certain undefinable something from the encounter W hen you were in his presence discussing anything that was important to him, you suddenly saw this quite extraordinary personality, a kind of glowing personality No matter what you thought of his behaviour or what he was doing to the country, you could see why he was in charge.He had a gift for the grand gesture, a stylish bravado that captured the imagination H e could be all things to all men, holding up a mirror to his interlocutors that reflected back their wishes, convincing each that he perfectly understood their predicament and was on their side He could treat people with kid gloves or he could treat them with a steel fist, remembered a former minister who saw of the fist than the glove It was different for everyone He was very clever at tailoring the response to the individual All throughout the years of his rule he would give the impression of movement, reform and change He liked to do frequent government reshuffles, ministerial sackings, appointments, transfers and reappointments He d formulate government policies and decisions using nebulous and suspicious statistics He had the capacity to tell the most outrageous lies without pausing for breath His monstrous presidential fibs are legends He spoke against corruption but was surrounded by corrupt sycophants on whose graft ridden activities he turned a blind eye on as he needed allies to keep himself in power Just a few months into his rule, he antagonized the west by flirting with Moscow and angered the United Nations as well Believing in his greatness, he started a movement to allegedly recover national pride and had pushed for a change in his country s name He was Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu, or President Mobutu of Zaire formerly Congo and he ran his country to the ground, which brought untold sufferings to his people, including those who laughed and cheered during his speeches.God save the Philippines 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 total collapse of Congolese society brought about by the draining of resources by the corrupt regime., and finally, An account of the Rawandan genocide and the fall and death of Mobutu., by which point I was exhausted and sated what a mess Very well written, with intensity and passion and analytical clarity A fine book. 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 written from an expatriate journalist perspective My only major critique is that it seems Ms Wrong has no time or interest in seeing the beauty of DRC in its land and its people, of at least giving a serious and direct nod to the suffering that is part of Mobutu s legacy There is plenty to gawk at and rant over to fill this book and probably three , but the kind of eye that sees the controversy and doesn t strive to also show the society in its humanness and loveliness is short sided It sounds a little too much like a burned out expat who can t see the beauty amidst the mess. 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 author, Michela Wrong, is, essentially, a muckraking journalist writing an expose on the economic self destruction of Zaire She produces a stinging condemnation, but her book lacks the empathy that even the most venal of nations deserves Wrong clearly regards everyone she interviews with utter contempt The one exception is an ex pat European farmer who seems to be beneath her contempt There are other problems here, too The causal relationship she draws between the brutal excesses of the Belgian colonialists and the complacency of the population under Mobutu seems a bit too neat Her portrait of Mobutu himself seems incomplete She never fully explains how the pragmatic young leader became the paranoid, corrupt dinosaur other than the maxim absolute power corrupts absolutely I also think her references to Mr Kurtz and Conrad s Heart of Darkness are too simplistic.Still, this book has value for readers who are interested in 20th century African history. As a candidate for the past century s worst country it has no parallels In order you ve got pillage, rape, genocide, 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, genocide, civil war, and even rape There is even a fucking decaying nuclear reactor there, if you can believe that I still can t Anyways, as a history of the Mobutu period this is a cracking good read Like King Leopold s Ghost, it s mostly just a catalog of one absurd horror after another, punctuated by mini bios of the colorful characters responsible Mobutu and the Big Vegetables This is a good template for writing about Africa, I think, but there s a predictable downside the author comes across as pretentious and slightly uneven in tone not dissimilar from yours truly, and like most whites in Africa spends too much time focusing on the quirky ex pats who populate her immediate social sphere and not enough on the 60 million plus black Africans who ve been catching it in the shorts for a century plus For this I give her a single demerit Still, I mean, read it already. 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 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 Mobutu sanctioned the police beating of a BW official and the rape of his wife and daughters Wrong s chapter on the ways Mobutu played the development and diplomatic communities, and how they allowed themselves to be played, makes for eye opening reading Not supporting Mobutu would be the equivalent of calling for a coup, State Department officials continually felt in the Reagan administration, Alexander Haig and George Schultz s answer to the Mobutu problem was always Who else is there Zaire had rich mineral resources, which, managed properly, should have been a source of national wealth Instead, over many years they were looted and wasted, which should serve as a warning to those who think Afghanistan s recently announced lodes will automatically lead to prosperity and other good things For a good discussion of how mineral resources often have little to do with national wealth and GDP, see John Kay s Culture and Prosperity The Truth About Markets Why Some Nations Are Rich but Most Remain Poor, which is what led me to this book By the end of the 20th century, Wrong notes, Congo s annual operating budget for what was potentially one of Africa s richest states was dipping below the daily takings of the US superstore Wal Mart What funds Mobutu didn t distribute to regional and local tribal leaders pork barrel style, to maintain power, tended to go toward his Louis XIV style aspirations He routinely chartered the Concorde, which was often to be glimpsed idling on the tarmac in the rainforest town of Gbadolite, where he was building a luxurious personal compound dubbed by the foreign press Versailles in the Jungle The main villa featured 7 meter malachite doors which required two men to open Pink champagne, Mobutu s favorite beverage, flowed constantly 12,000 bottles year and lunch was mussels flown in from Zeebrugge a Belgian village Large imported herds of sheep and cattle would in later years be barbequed by looters and Laurent Kabila s rebels.Wrong s writing is lively and colorful, as in this description of Mobutu s estranged Belgian son in law Yet his fleshy, sun kissed face hardly spelled deprivation he had the cocktail goers habit of avoiding eye contact, constantly scouring the expensive Chinese restaurant we had retired to for someone interesting to talk to As his search was rewarded Look, there s John Galliano

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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  • Paperback
  • 338 pages
  • In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo
  • Michela Wrong
  • English
  • 25 July 2019
  • 9780060934439

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