In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz

Michela Wrong

Mr Kurtz, the colonial white master, brought evil to the remote upper reaches of the Congo River. A century after Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ was first published, Michela Wrong revisits the Congo as the era of Mobutu Sese Seko collapses into absurdity, anarchy and corruption. Hers is a brilliant portrait of the grotesque as confusion takes over: pink lipsticked rebel soldiers mingle with tracksuited secret policemen in hotels where fin de siecle dinner parties are ploughing through hotel wine cellars rather than see bottles lost to the new regime.

Congo, Africa’s richest country in terms of its natural resources, has institutionalised kleptomania: everyone is on the take. In a country where the minimum wage has dropped to below $150 a year, the government over twenty-five years spent $250 million providing courtesy cars. Congo has a vanity nuclear reactor built on a subsiding slope and one of its uranium rods is missing…

The Mobutu reign, successor to Belgium’s failed imperial experiment in Africa, was fed by World Bank dollars and IMF loans. Having presided over unprecedented looting of the country’s wealth, Mobutu, like Kurtz, retreated deep within the jungle to his absurdly overwrought palace of marble floors and gold taps. A century on, nothing seems to have changed at the heart of Africa: it is lawless, graceless and it slaughters its own.

Reviews of In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz

  • ‘Michela Wrong made the so-called ‘Heart of Darkness’ much less opaque to me when I visited the Congo. She can do the same for you if you read this brave and witty book.’
    Christopher Hitchens

    ‘A brilliant account of Africa’s most extraordinary dictator told with wry wit and delicious irony… this book will become a classic.’
    The Economist

    ‘Michela Wrong nimbly balances absurdity and outrage in her portrait of Mobutu Sese Seko and the wreckage he visited – with steady Western sponsorship – on the country he called Zaire. Her book is charged with pity and terror, and with the sort of sustaining humour that she rightly admires in Mobutu’s former subjects.’
    Philip Gourevitch, author of ‘We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We will be Killed with Our Families’