A compulsively readable account of a journey to the Congo a country virtually inaccessible to the outside world vividly told by a daring and adventurous journalistEver since Stanley first charted its mighty river in the s, the Congo has epitomized the dark and turbulent history of a failed continent However, its troubles only served to increase the interest of Daily Telegraph correspondent Tim Butcher, who was sent to cover Africa inBefore long he became obsessed with the idea of recreating Stanley s original expedition but travelling aloneDespite warnings Butcher spent years poring over colonial era maps and wooing rebel leaders before making his will and venturing to the Congo s eastern border He passed through once thriving cities of this country and saw the marks left behind by years of abuse and misrule Almost harrowing miles later, he reached the Atlantic Ocean, a thinner and a wiser manButcher s journey was a remarkable feat But the story of the Congo, vividly told in Blood River, is remarkable still From the Hardcover edition At the outset, you have to admire his gutsiness in attempting this journey across Africa at the Equator His mom did a trip along the Congo River back when the Congo was under Belgian rule Now he was attempting the trip in 2004 just after the end of a brutal civil war not all parties were maintaining peace as he starts A brief review of history and geography leads off his book view spoiler Modern hydrographical surveys show the outflow of fresh water from the Congo River is so strong tha At the outset, you have to admire his gutsiness in attempting this journey across Africa at the Equator His mom did a trip along the Congo River back when the Congo was under Belgian rule Now he was attempting the trip in 2004 just after the end of a brutal civil war not all parties were maintaining peace as he starts A brief review of history and geography leads off his book view spoiler Modern hydrographical surveys show the outflow of fresh water from the Congo River is so strong that it has carved out of the seabed a submarine canyon 1,000 metres deep reaching almost 200 kilometres out into the ocean In the late fifteenth century Cao did not have the benefit of such surveying equipment He measured the river s forceprosaically he recorded that the outflow of fresh water was so prodigious that far out to sea from the river s mouth it was possible to drink water straight from the ocean By the time it reaches the sea, the river that swallows all rivers pumps outfresh water into the ocean than any other river in the world except theIt has another extraordinary feature Unlike any other major river system, the outflow of the Congo remains steady all year round Other rivers, even mighty ones like the Nile and thehave dry and wet seasons when the flow dips and rises, but the Congo River is relentless Its catchment straddles the Equator, meaning that all year round at least part of the river system is experiencing a wet season, so at its mouth the flow is both prodigious and permanent hide spoiler This is one depressing book He devotes some time to discussing the business of slavery practiced by the Europeans west coast of the Congo contrasted with the Arabs in the east of the country view spoiler The focus shifted to the other side of the continent, to the island of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean, which lay just a few kilometres off the coast of East Africa, but which was claimed by Arabs Originally from Oman, at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, Arab sailors had been probing down the east coast of Africa at about the same time the Portuguese had been probing down the west Like the Portuguese, these Arab outsiders settled on slaves as the most valuable commodity offered by the African territories, so the Arabs had started to capture and trade slaves, before shipping them back to Oman and other Arab city states in the Gulf But there was one big difference with the Portuguese slavers the Arabs actually went on the slaving expeditions themselves On their safe island fortress of Zanzibar, they would assemble armed expeditions before crossing to the African mainland and heading inland It tookthan a century, but as they emptied the coastal plains of potential slaves, they probed deeper and deeper, setting up a network of footpaths and trading stations that eventually reached halfway across the continenthide spoiler He is of two minds while traveling through the country He meets hard working, honest and trustworthy individuals while decrying the cruel, corrupt and criminal society he is moving through While traveling with a Malaysian UN soldier operating a barge along the river, a discussion ensues about why such a rich country has fallen completely apart He offers the standard Western excuses view spoilerthat the Congolese had suffered under colonialism and, when independence came, the Congo was pulled apart by forces beyond its control, as the Cold War preoccupation of the West allowed Mobutu, under American patronage, to run the country into the ground That is rubbish, Ali said During our trip I never saw him so animated Malaysia was colonised for centuries too, most recently by the British, a colonial rule that was cruel and racist We got independence at roughly the same time as the Congo in the early 1960 s, and we were even drawn into a Cold War conflict for year after year as communist insurgents fought for control of Malaysia But somehow Malaysia got through it and the Congo did not Today, Malaysia is part of the rest of the world People go on holiday in Malaysia The world s business community does business in Malaysia We even have a Grand Prix every year in Malaysia The same is not true of the Congo HOW can you explain the difference Ali was almost shouting by the end of this outburst His months in the Congo, exposed to all of its decay and waste, had clearly got to him And he had distilled the quintessential problem of Africa that generations of academics, intellectuals and observers have danced around since the colonial powers withdrew Why are Africans so bad at running Africahide spoiler The author does comment on the impact of colonialism and has the opinion that, while the Belgians were cruel and exploitive, the country may not have faired better under any other colonial empire Blame goes all around for the state of affairs view spoiler I can think of no conceptabused in modern Africa than sovereignty It is used by dictators and undemocratic regimes to fend off criticism of their rule and to conceal their own maladministration and corrupt pilfering They cloak themselves in it to dismiss the right of any outsider to hold them to account The greatest shame arising from Stanley s Congo journey was how it started this pattern of sovereignty stripping, a process whereby the vast majority of Africans in the Congo and elsewhere have ended up not just without any say in the running of their country, but abused and exploited by their African leaders While outsiders led by Stanley can be blamed for creating this situation, the people of Africa must share responsibility for showing themselves unable to change it The Malaysian naval officer on my river boat was right to ask why former European colonies in Asia have been able to develop since independence, while those in Africa have regressed The cruelty and greed of African dictators is mostly to blame, but it is also true that the peoples of Africa have not been capable of working together to rein in the excesses of dictators People power in Africa has a wretched recordhide spoiler This is a dark, depressing book and you and he wonder why he even attempted it I did not find him a sympathetic person but he did write honestly about his trip and his state of mind I found the Democratic Republic of Congo even less sympathetic 3 Stars Note Tim Butcher is officially a diamond geezer He s just joined Goodreads and read my review below and still sent me a thank you message today Rereading the below review, I think some authors could have taken umbrage because, well, it s actually quite cheeky The word pompous is used Some fun is poked Given some of the frankly unsavoury, if not downright ugly, author reviewer encounters there have been on this site, I therefore salute Tim A BOOK WHICH DESERVES TWO REVIEWS FIRST, THE Note Tim Butcher is officially a diamond geezer He s just joined Goodreads and read my review below and still sent me a thank you message today Rereading the below review, I think some authors could have taken umbrage because, well, it s actually quite cheeky The word pompous is used Some fun is poked Given some of the frankly unsavoury, if not downright ugly, author reviewer encounters there have been on this site, I therefore salute Tim A BOOK WHICH DESERVES TWO REVIEWS FIRST, THE CHURLISHLY CYNICAL My Congo journey deserved its own category ordeal travel p216I hereby announce my ordeal reading challenge I will read the complete works of Gertrude Stein, Samuel Beckett and Georges Perec in reverse alphabetical order whilst listening to Karlheinz Stockhausen s Helicopter Symphony, John Cage s Atlas Elipticalis and Trout Mask Replica which will be played continually on a giant loop tape All the time, ladies and gentlemen, I will be suspended suspended I say and gradually lowered into a tank containing 127 tarantula spiders and a life sized model of Richard Nixon Surely corporate sponsors will be falling over themselves in a bid to offer me large amounts of sponsorship cash to fund my bizarre self indulgent fantasy Chat show host What was it like PB Well, my torso was firmly anchored to the ceiling by this ingenious contraption specially made by the brilliant engineers at Unilever ka ching Therefore I wasn t too concerned I would fall into the tank of tarantulas manufactured by Pilkingtons Glass blah blah blab blab Yes, I will be admired far and wide for my feat I will explain that it was a challenge I had to take on, it came from deep within me, I had been wrestling for many years with the twin problems of how to bring 20th century avant garde literature to a wider audience and also how to get on the chat show circuit and here I am being asked to explain Oulipo to a daytime TV audience I feel I may say mission accomplished SECOND REVIEW TAKING TIM BUTCHER AT HIS WORDAs Tim Butcher grinds his way across the Congo by 100cc motorbike, dugout canoe and barge, he is filled with a rising sense of despair the normal laws of development are inverted here in the Congo The forest, not the town, offers the safest sanctuary and it is grandfathers who have beenexposed to modernity than their grandchildren I can think of nowhere else on the planet where the same can be true p141Verond Ali Matongo I am the mayor of Kasongo, appointed by the transitional government in Kinshasa But I have no contact with them because we have no phone, and I can pay no civil servants because I have no money and there is no bank or post office where money could be received and we have no civil servants because all the schools and hospitals and everything do not work I would say I am just waiting Waiting for things to get back to normal Tim Butcher And when was the last time things were normal VAM The 1950s From what I hear, that is when this town was last normal p 162 Some of the best coffee in the world used to be grown neat Kisangani but now the finest hotel in the city served only imported Nescafe p256This is the whole of the truth Tim has to tell us about the Congo third largest country in Africa in size, fourth in population It s going backwards Everything in the whole country schools, roads, hospitals, trains, rivers, everything, was not just slightly but hugely better fifty years ago Like previous white men in the Congo, Tim couldn t get anywhere without Africans doing all the heavy lifting Sometimes these helpers get paid, other times they re just being kind He steps from one situation to another like Harold Lloyd or Popeye stepping from one skyscraper girder to another He finds some guys with pirogues canoes at the riverside, picks out the likeliest looking group, hires them on the spot to take him way way down the river where he has to get to a priest s house in a particular town the only safe place in order to go from there to the UN compound the next day where he can cadge a ride to the next town When they get to the town Malike said he knew the way to the priest s house and I was banking on him being right I bet you were, Tim There s a recurrent strangeness to these travellers tales in the middle of a disaster zone you can easily find the kindness of strangers I remember a famous BBC war correspondent being interviewed and the question was how the hell do you get around inside a war zone and he said I just walk out of my hotel and ask the first few people I see what s going on and how do I get there and they re always very kind and helpful well, you have to take their word for it But somebody must be doing all those bad things time and again during my journey with Benoit and Odimba I was struck by just how much tougher andresilient than me they were p 148 Kisangani I found it to be chaotically administered by inept, corrupt local politicians p255p309 10This division of people into those Tim met all good, strong, resourceful and those causing all the problems very bad people was not altogether helpful in figuring anything out Eventually Tim has to bite the bullet and ask the big question He approaches it like this He s on a UN barge with Captain Ali who is from Malaysia.Captain Ali I don t know what it is about these Congolese people, or Africa in general, but look at this wasted opportunity In Malaysia people make millions from palm oil It is one of the most valuable commodities in the world right now and the plants from which it comes grow all over the Congo But the Congo people They don t want to make money for themselves They just wait to take money from others he had distilled the quintessential problem of Africa that generations of academics, intellectuals and observers have danced around since the colonial powers withdrew Why are Africans so bad at running Africa Tim dismisses the stock answers neo colonialism, foreign meddling, rapacious multinational companies as so much liberal huffing and puffing Yes, they are elements, but they are by no means the whole story But he gives no answer of his own He has no idea It s such a dangerous question to ask there are, after all, a thousand racists out there who think they know the answer.Apart from the hundreds of miles of the Congo where there is no single element of modern technology to be found, the towns which were thriving once and have been rusting and crumbling for 40 years, the forests which are empty of animal cries because the local villagers have eaten them all, Tim stumbles often literally on perfect examples of things profoundly not working At one point he realises he s on the Ubundu Kisangani road Before the trip, back in London, he d been told by the British Government s Department for International Development that this road had already been developed and upgraded following the 2002 peace treaty British taxpayers money had been spent on it Tim finds no such thing of course The once four lane highway is now a single track footpath Nothing has been done The money had vanished, who knows where Moreover, the British government department officials never come along to check, so they are still blithely telling anyone who asks that the Ubundu Kisangi road has been upgraded and is now suitable for cars and heavy goods vehicles In the end Tim says in six harrowing weeks of travel I felt I had touched the heart of Africa and found it broken He does himself no favours with this uncharacteristically pompous sentence, but still, I admire all who excavate difficult truths from such hard won experience as this I have to admit, grudgingly, that Tim Butcher has earned his chat show appearances.Tom Myanwaya What makes you do this sort of thing I would not travel anywhere in this country except by plane I don t think I can standthan a few months and I will leave as soon as I can There are some jobs in the aid world which you have to do to get on p156 I read this book on the airplane during my epic 42 hour flight from Papua New Guinea to South Carolina It kept my attention despite my incredible fatigue and anxiety But I had mixed feelings about it At first, it annoyed the hell out of me He kept going on and on about his fear and how scary the Congo is The Congo is scary However, the people in the Congo are amongst some of the most amazingly friendly, hospital, and cheerful helpful people in Africa While he gradually did give some shout I read this book on the airplane during my epic 42 hour flight from Papua New Guinea to South Carolina It kept my attention despite my incredible fatigue and anxiety But I had mixed feelings about it At first, it annoyed the hell out of me He kept going on and on about his fear and how scary the Congo is The Congo is scary However, the people in the Congo are amongst some of the most amazingly friendly, hospital, and cheerful helpful people in Africa While he gradually did give some shoutouts to all the Congolese who dragged his white ass through the DRC not unlike Stanley, his hero , it wore on me And it annoyed me because it kept pushing the DRC back into the heart of darkness trope that so many love to use But then again, I m not really surprised at his fear at the same time the DRC is one of the most frustratingly difficult environments to work in The portraits of the wiped out aid workers, the cynical UN employees, and the priests and nuns who keep the place functioning, reminded me of the people i met while I was there I didn t go to all the places he went I was in Kissangani, Bunia in Ituri scene of one of the worst massacres that drove UN soldiers mad , Bukavu, and Goma And while I wasn t on the back of a motorbike, I did travel through hostile land in an unarmed convoy and take a treacherous boat ride that lost one boat to a storm to deliver things to some internally displaced people there It wasn t all roaring around in UN helicopters The part that moved me the most was his conversation with the Malaysian UN boat captain It summarized to me the frustration that all of us humanitarian and development workers have with the Congo its got everything you would need to be a great country Its got natural resources, natural beauty, charming and beautiful people, and smart wily people Yet somehow, it seems to get worse and worse It burns out the do gooders and limps along Why is that So I guess in the end, I enjoyed the book and felt it did, in some small way contribute to my understanding of the country in its rich history, if nothing else The author reads the audio version of this book The book is very good and definitely worth reading but choose the paper format Tim Butcher is an English born broadcaster, journalist and author of travel books with a slant toward adventure He narrates quickly, very quickly The rapid speed diminishes the listening experience It is not pleasant to listen to a book read this fast I am giving the audiobook performance one star This is my way of letting it be known that I do not want audiobooks The author reads the audio version of this book The book is very good and definitely worth reading but choose the paper format Tim Butcher is an English born broadcaster, journalist and author of travel books with a slant toward adventure He narrates quickly, very quickly The rapid speed diminishes the listening experience It is not pleasant to listen to a book read this fast I am giving the audiobook performance one star This is my way of letting it be known that I do not want audiobooks to be read quickly Further, the audiobook version should have been accompanied by a PDF file with maps and photos Now, to theinteresting topic, the book Tim Butcher writes of his journey from Lake Tanganyika at the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo westward to the mouth of the Congo River on the Atlantic He traveled alone, set off in August 2004, carried only a knapsack and camera, a pocketknife and 2000 in his right and left boot His journey took 44 days His plan was to follow the route taken by Henry Morton Stanley Yep, that Stanley, the Stanley that found David Livingston in 1871 Both Butcher and Stanley were employees of the London based paper the Daily Telegraph In addition, Butcher s mother had resided in towns along the river back in the 1950s she had spoken of her memories with delight He sets out to compare the Congo of times passed, of the 1950s and 1870s, and the Congo of today The passage of years has not brought the prosperity one assumes the progression of time will bring From the 1950s, conditions have gone backwards The Democratic Republic of the Congo is not merely underdeveloped, it is, using Butcher s own words, underdeveloping The book draws an alarmingly vivid picture of the violence, anarchy and lawlessness that existed in 2004, and still today.The steps of Butcher s journey are followed in chronological order from start to finish Relevant tangential information is interspersed throughout A large amount of historical, geopolitical, sociological, geographical, meteorological and natural historical facts supplement the text Mention is made of authors who have set their stories in the Congo River Basin All of this I like very much The variety stimulates interest There is however repetition some topics are returned to multiple times.The history of places passed through is fascinating Kalemi formerly Albertville , the Arab slave trade center Kasongo, Kisangani formerly Stanleyville and Kinshasa formerly L opoldville are examples It is important to note that in 1885, eight years after Stanley s exploratory travels along the Congo River, King Leopold II of Belgium claimed the Congo Free State as a private possession Rather than making it a colony, he declared it to be his own, making its natural resources his too Leopold s and Belgium s plundering of the land s resources, the atrocities committed, the transfer of possession to the Belgian state, independence granted in 1960, the mercenary armies of the following decade, Mobutu s dictatorial reign lasting over thirty years, the rebel uprisings and wars of the late 1990s and the succession of Congolese presidents from Lumumba to Mobutu to Laurent Kabila to Joseph Kabila are covered Readers are given the opportunity to observe corrupt dealings both in the past and in the present, during Butcher s journey, as well as those individuals who proved themselves to be trustworthy and helpful Without their support, Butcher s journey could never have been successfully completed.The author speaks of the dire need for the implementation of a functioning judicial system The country has great natural resources copper, diamonds, gold, cobalt, timber and tin but profits have lined the pockets of those wielding power rather than back to the Congolese nation, its infrastructure and its people He proposes no concrete solutions on how to bring about change Nor does he sufficiently point out the failure of the Belgian government to provide an adequate amount of money and time to train the Congolese people in the art of self government, i.e before independence I always give two ratings to an auddioook the first for the book s written content and the second for its narration The book s content I have given four stars but its narration only one