Brash hustlers, sinister colonels, resilient refugees, and intrepid radio hosts: meet the future of Congo
In this extraordinary debut – called ‘gripping’ by The Times of London – Ben Rawlence sets out to gather the news from a forgotten town deep in Congo’s ‘silent quarter’ where peace is finally being built after two decades of civil war and devastation. Ignoring the advice of locals, reporters, and mercenaries, he travels by foot, bike, and boat, introducing us to Colonel Ibrahim, a guerrilla turned army officer; Benjamin, the kindly father of the most terrifying Mai Mai warlord; the cousins Mohammed and Mohammed, young tin traders hoping to make their fortune; and talk show host Mama Christine, who dispenses counsel and courage in equal measure. From the ‘blood cheese’ of Goma to the decaying city of Manono, Rawlence uncovers the real stories of life during the war and finds hope for the future.
Though this travel memoir concerns a trip into what could be called the "heart" of Congo, Human Rights Watch researcher Rawlence is determined to avoid clich . Less predictably, this account of a 2007 trip through the troubled, postwar nation begins with Swedish crime novelist Henning Mankell's point that too many Europeans "only know how Africans are dying, not how they live." It's in service of that idea that the author sketches the Congolese he meets, including impoverished, elderly Benjamin, whose son just happens to be one of Congo's most vicious warlords; riverboat captain Mashine, destined to work with engines, but unable to swim; and beer-loving Catholic priest Jean-Baptiste. Thankfully, Rawlence prefers their company to any bravado over his deliberately low-tech trip's discomfort and occasional danger. A sense of showmanship shines through, however, in his choice of an almost literal "lost city" as endpoint: Manono, a "modernist experiment in the jungle" nearly forgotten by Westerners since being built by Belgian architects after WWII. Per the title, Congo's isolated radio stations come to stand in for hope, against the memory of a war sparked by Rwandan genocide and fed by vast mineral wealth, but not for any comprehensive solution to its problems.