Blood River

by

A bit of a random one that I picked as part of a 3 for 2 deal.

Africa, once known as the Dark Continent, is still a bit of a mystery to outsiders — at least that’s how it seems to me. I’ve visited some of the north African countries, although not recently, and know people who have been to South Africa, but none who have ventured anywhere else.

Most of my knowledge stems from aid videos and news reports, which are hardly a true reflection.

Although more than ten years old, this book is a boots-on-the-ground look at the Congo, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to give it its full title. A country that is the 11th largest in the world and the 16th most populous (the UK is 78th and 22nd respectively). Butcher follows H.M. Stanley’s navigation of the Congo river

Less an inspirational trek through the jungle and more a series of sprints from one safe(-ish) haven to the next, relying heavily on generous local expertise, it provides a background to explore and examine the country’s history.

I still find the divergent point that started in the 1950s perplexing. It was a time when much of the world was at a similar level of development — many African and South American states were on a par with any of their Western counterparts. Yet while North America and Europe continued forward, many of these parts of the world stagnated or even regressed.

That is highlighted in this book — Butcher was able to see the ruins of previous infrastructure that has been left to rot. Buildings and whole towns have fallen into decay. Roads and railways have been reabsorbed by the jungle.

It also served to reinforce some of the ideas raised in books like The Bottom Billion and Why Nations Fail. It’s hard to listen to the stories of normal people who simply want reliable law and order so they can start to build something long term rather than be ready to flee into the bush at a moment’s notice. It’s also quite insightful as to how aid and the UN work.

It’s a fascinating look behind the headlines into what was happening in an African state. Albeit a look that is brief and narrow, with a journey that, while no doubt hard and perilous, felt like a cheat.

The audiobook is read by the author, who does a good job.

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This was an copy of the book

Reviewed: 15th November 2019