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.
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. Wrong, a British journalist who spent six years covering Africa as a reporter for European news agencies, skillfully balances history with nuanced reportage. She details the "discovery" of the Congo by the British explorer Lord Stanley, the land's subsequent exploitation by the Belgian King Leopold II for his own personal benefit and the role of the United States and other Western nations in propping up Joseph Mobutu. Without apologizing for his brutal regime, Wrong explains how the cold war dictator used a mixture of terror and charisma to maintain his hold on the country for three decades. But although the roots of the country's downfall are traced to Western policies 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, which has led to a situation in which "each man's aim is to leave Congo, acquire qualifications and build a life somewhere else." And when Wrong uses her keen eye to describe contemporary life in Congo as in her portrayal of the handicapped businessmen's association the streets of this now-wretched nation come alive. Illus.