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In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060934433, Paperback)During Mobutu Sese Seko's 30 years as president of Zaire (now the Congo), he managed to plunder his nation's economy and live a life of excess unparalleled in modern history. A foreign correspondent in Zaire for six years, Michela Wrong has plenty of titillating stories to tell about Mobutu's excesses, such as the Versailles-like palace he built in the jungle, or his insistence that he needed $10 million a month to live on. However, these are not the stories that most interest Wrong. Her aim is to understand all of the reasons behind the economic disintegration of the most mineral-rich country on the African continent; in so doing, she turns over the mammoth rock that was Mobutu and finds a seething underworld of parasites with names like the CIA, the World Bank and the IMF, the French and Belgian governments, mercenaries, and a host of fat cats who benefited from Mobutu's largesse and even exceeded his rapaciousness.
Wrong turns first to Belgian's King Leopold II, who instituted a brutal colonial regime in the Congo in order to extract the natural and mineral wealth for his personal gain. Mobutu, with the aid of a U.S. government determined to sabotage Soviet expansion, stepped easily into Leopold's footsteps, continuing a culture built on government-sanctioned sleaze and theft. Under the circumstances, it's hard not to feel some sympathy for the people who survived in the only ways they could--teachers trading passing grades for groceries, hospitals refusing to let patients leave until they paid up, cassava patches cultivated next to the frighteningly unsafe nuclear reactor. What is less comprehensible--and rightly due for an airing--are Wrong's revelations about foreign interventions. Why, for example, did the World Bank and IMF give Mobutu $9.3 billion in aid, knowing full well that he was pocketing most of it?
In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz is a brilliantly conceived and written work, sharply observant and richly described with a necessary sense of the absurd. Wrong paints a far more nuanced picture of the wily autocrat than we've seen before, and of the blatant greed and paranoia of the many players involved in the country's self-destruction. --Lesley Reed
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 14 Apr 2011 12:21:03 -0400)
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.
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