In Roray MacLeans review of ‘Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart’, he captures the essence of Tim Butcher’s extraordinary journey through the Democratic Republic of Congo in the footsteps of Stanley and Livingston.
Writing in his review, MacLean states that “the DRC is a nation wracked by decades of war. Acute poverty makes lawlessness, rape and murder routine. On his journey, Butcher is moved time and time again by the desperate willingness of people to cling to the old vestiges of order as an anchor against modern anarchy. In Kibombo he meets a stationmaster who diligently turns up for work every morning even though no train has reached the town in six years. In Kisangani traders wait for the tourist boats which will never arrive. On the banks of the Congo a fisherman asks him to smuggle his four-year-old son out of the country so as “to save him from a life of disease, hunger and misery”.
And this is the paradox; despite 130 years of worldwide social, economic and technological advances, there is little difference between the Congo seen by Stanley and by Butcher. Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene may have visited the country. Bogart and Hepburn may have come here to film The African Queen. Concorde may have flown in for the president’s pleasure. But today the riverboats rot on the mudbanks. The roads have been eaten away by jungle. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is once again “the most daunting, backward country on earth”.
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