Paperback reader

In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz

Michela Wrong <em>Fourth Estate, 336pp, £7.99</em>

ISBN 1841154229

In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz is a wonderfully readable book, written with a novelist's eye that makes Mobutu Sese Seko and his colleagues seem thoroughly comprehensible as they extend their web of extortion and military rule. Rare for a book about Africa, it is without moral superiority or preachiness, and often turns the tables on the west by showing how it built up Mobutu as an anti-communist hero of the cold war.

Michela Wrong shows how the terrible dictatorship of Belgium's King Leopold II, who made the Congo his private colony and massacred and humiliated its inhabitants, was a prelude to Mobutu's own dictatorship. She also shows how foreign diplomats willingly connived in the tyranny. Wrong is most devastating in her description of how the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund continued lending to Zaire when they knew that the money was filling Mobutu's coffers.

This is a gripping and illuminating book, which throws its light way beyond the borders of the Congo, on to the wider problem of preventing the drift to corruption and tyranny in other parts of Africa.

This article first appeared in the 18 June 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Meet the people who make Tony Blair sweat