Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Blood River - Tim Butcher

I have just finished reading Tim Butchers Blood River - A Journey to Africas Broken Heart. As well as being one of the most entertaining reads I have enjoyed for a while, it has also been one of the most harrowing.

In 2004, after years of obsession and planning, Tim (journalist for The Telegraph) takes the dive and travels to the Congo with the aim of following in the footsteps of Henry Morton Stanley, the man responsible for the world famous soundbite 'Dr Livingstone, I presume?' after tracking down David Livingstone in the Congo jungle in 1871. Stanley was the first white man to charter the Congo River with his expedition in the 1870's. Unfortunately this expedition was one of the major sparks leading to the colonialism of central Africa and the increase in the slave trade.

Travelling by motorbike, pirogue, boat and helicopter, Tim makes his journey from Kalemie in the East of the Congo, through to Boma in the West, not far from where the Congo empties into the Atlantic. Along the way he discovers the true extent of the collapse of Congolese economy and society since 'independence' in the 1960's, the depth of governmental corruption that has caused this downturn, and the alarming level of violence inflicted upon villagers by pro/anti government/Rwanda/Uganda rebel groups. The most striking aspect is the evidence of regression, or 'undevelopment', one such example of this is the complete degradation of extensive transport links that were established in the Congo under colonial rule:

"Above me towered canyons of green, as layer after layer of plant life filled the void between forest floor and treetop....I took a few steps and felt my right boot clunk into something unnaturally hard and angular on the floor....I was a cast-iron railway sleeper, perfectly preserved and still connected to a piece of track....what made it so horrible was the sense that I had discovered evidence of a modern world that had tried - but failed - to establish itself in the Congo....a place where railway track had once carried trainloads of goods and people had been reclaimed by virgin forest....a place where the hands of the clock spin not forwards, but backwards".

Since Tim completed his journey in 2004 the notorious Ugandan rebel group the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony has fled over the border from Northern Uganda and taken refuge in the Congolese bush, the violence still hasn't stopped.

Pouring money into the Congo, as well as a number of other countries on the African continent, is not going to help matters. As long as greedy, corrupt dictators are still in power and funnelling aid money into their personal coiffers, not much can be done to allieve the situation. Until law and order is introduced, and a justice system put in place that can hold these leaders accountable for their actions, the Congo will continue on it's downward spiral.

Read this if you want your eyes opened.

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