Excerpt from In The Footsteps of Mr Kurtz by Michela Wrong, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

In The Footsteps of Mr Kurtz

Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo

by Michela Wrong

In The Footsteps of Mr Kurtz by Michela Wrong X
In The Footsteps of Mr Kurtz by Michela Wrong
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2001, 336 pages
    Jun 2002, 368 pages

  • Rate this book

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

The hotel incident swiftly descended into farce, as things had a tendency to do in Zaire.

'Block the lifts,' ordered the hotel's suave Jordanian manager, determined, with a level of bravery verging on the foolhardy, to protect his guests. The night staff obediently flipped the power switch. But by the time the manager's order had got through, Kongulu and two burly soldiers were already on the sixteenth floor.

Storming from one identical door to another, unable to locate their intended victims -- long since fled -- and unable to descend, the death squad was reaching near-hysteria. 'Unblock the lifts, let them out, let them out,' ordered the manager, beginning to feel rattled. Incandescent with fury, the trio spilled out into the lobby. Cursing and spitting, they mustered their forces, revved their vehicles and roared off into the night, determined to slake their blood lust before dawn.

The waiting was at an end. May 17, 1997 was destined to be showdown time for Zaire. And it looked uncomfortably clear that the months of diplomatic attempts to negotiate a deal that would ease Mobutu out and rebel leader Laurent Kabila in, preventing Kinshasa from descending into a frenzy of destruction behind the departing president, had come to precisely nothing.

The fact that so many of the key episodes in what was to be Zaire's great unravelling took place in the Hotel Intercontinental was not coincidental. Africa is a continent that seems to specialise in symbolic hotels which, for months or years, are microcosms of their countries' tumultuous histories. They are buildings where atrocities are committed, coups d'état consecrated, embryonic rebel governments lodged, peace deals signed, and when the troubled days are over, they still miraculously come up with almond croissants, fresh coffee and CNN in most rooms.

In Rwanda, that role is fulfilled by the Mille Collines hotel, where the management stared down the Hutu militiamen bent on slaughtering terrified Tutsi guests during the 1994 genocide. In Zimbabwe, it used to be the Meikles, where armed white farmers rubbed soldiers with sanction-busters during the Smith regime. In Ethiopia it is the Hilton, where during the Mengistu years some staff doubled as government informers; in Uganda, the Nile, whose rooms once rang with the screams of suspects being tortured by Idi Amin's police.

In Congo the honour most definitely goes to the Hotel Intercontinental. I know, because I once lived there. With one room as my living quarters, another as dilapidated office and a roof-top beer crate as the perch for a satellite telex -- my link with the outside world -- I soon realised that the hotel, as emblematic of the regime as Mobutu's leopardskin hat, offered the perfect vantage point from which to observe the dying days of the dinosaur.

The hotel was built on a whim. On a visit to Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, President Mobutu saw the Hotel Ivoire, and decided he wanted one too. For once, his impulses were based on canny business instincts.

  • 1
  • 2
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Eat the Apple
    Eat the Apple
    by Matt Young
    Truth is stranger than fiction. Matt Young's memoir tackles the space in between truth and ...
  • Book Jacket: Educated
    by Tara Westover
    Tara Westover had the kind of upbringing most of us can only imagine. She was the youngest of seven ...
  • Book Jacket: The Girls in the Picture
    The Girls in the Picture
    by Melanie Benjamin
    Melanie Benjamin's fine historical novel about the relationship between two women in the early ...
  • Book Jacket: The Driest Season
    The Driest Season
    by Meghan Kenny
    On a summer afternoon in 1943, an almost sixteen-year-old Cielle Jacobson walks into the family barn...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano

    A charming, bighearted novel starring Auntie Poldi, Sicily's newest amateur sleuth.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Sometimes I Lie
    by Alice Feeney

    This brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something a lie if you believe it's the truth?
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Balcony

The Balcony
by Jane Delury

A century-spanning novel-in-stories of a French village brimming with compassion, natural beauty, and unmistakable humanity.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

I Y L D W D, Y'll G U W Fleas

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.