Synopses & Reviews
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 manager.
Michela 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 légumes) -- 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.
"A superb book...the absorbing, witty, and wryly observed account of Mobutu's reign and collapse." Financial Times
"A brilliant account of Africa's most extraordinary dictator...This book will become a classic." The Economist
"[A] fascinating book...a stinging portrait of the country's despair under Mobutu." The New Yorker
"The beauty of this book is that it makes sense of chaos. For the past few decades,
the Congo, one of Africa's richest countries in natural resources, has been in
an economic decline that has resulted in violence and lawlessness....But although
the roots of the country's downfall are traced to Western policies and the book's
title comes from Joseph Conrad's famous anticolonialist novel, this book is no
anti-imperialist screed. What Wrong finds is a widespread refusal, among Westerners
and Congolese alike, to accept responsibility for the country's deterioration....And
when Wrong uses her keen eye to describe contemporary life in Congo...the streets
of this now-wretched nation come alive." Publishers Weekly
"As a foreign correspondent, Wrong witnessed the final days of Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire....She examines the colonial legacy, of which modern Belgians are ignorant, not least because they cringe from recognizing any possible linkage between Belgium's frighteningly efficient, 'kleptocratic' exploitation of old and Mobutu's excesses, wrought on a national community primed for a repeat performance. In Leopold and Mobutu alike, Wrong sees manifestations of the power-crazed Mr. Kurtz in Conrad's Heart of Darkness. A riveting inspection of the legacy of European colonialism in Africa." Booklist
"This is a terrific if disheartening book. A foreign correspondent and eyewitness to the demise of Mobutu Sese Seko's Zaire in 1997, Wrong combines travelog with astute political analysis. In lively prose, she traces the country's dysfunction to its history of permitting outsiders to exploit its wealth of natural resources, including diamonds, timber, and oil. Indeed, the very borders of Zaire, now Congo, reflect not geographic or ethnic realities but bargains struck between late 19th-century European firms and tribal chiefs. James R. Holmes, Library Journal
In the Congo, a country rich with diamonds, gold, copper, uranium, oil, and timber, the average worker was reduced to a living income of $120 a year under the rule of Mobutu. This is a brilliant journalistic account set amid the heart of the apocalypse a nation plunged back to the Iron Age, whose citizens miraculously continue to survive. 8-page photo insert.
About the Author
Michela Wrong has worked as a foreign correspondent for Reuters, the BBC, and the Financial Times. She has written about Africa for Slate.com and is a frequent commentator on African affairs in the media. Her first book, In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz, won the James Stern Silver Pen Award for Nonfiction. She lives in London.