Blood River

I just finished Blood River, a book about a journey across the Congo by Tim Butcher. It is probably the third or fourth “I’m a bored foreign correspondent in 2002/2004/2006 and I want to explore the Congo” book that I’ve read, and it’s definitely the best so far. I like to make a practice of reading about the Congo when I visit Kinshasa, and not just because it makes me feel like an adventurer of sorts. In this case, it was particularly interesting because the book had a great deal to say about the many problems of Congolese development. One particularly interesting and relevant passage near the conclusion reads as follows:

The challenge for the future must be to restore some sense of sovereignty and control to all in Africa, not just the elite… This will need a fundamental change of attitude, not just from donors and foreign companies accepting a greater degree of transparency in their dealings with Africa, but also from the leaders and people of Africa, who must admit both how much they need help and that they are willing to compromise.

In this passage and throughout the book, Butcher dances around some of the issues central to CLI’s mission. However, it seems that he is unable to think outside of the long- held development structure (3rd world failed states and 1st world aid groups). Buzzwords like “sovereignty,” “transparency,” and “compromise” are great, but they are vague. The problem, which Butcher alludes to but does not quite explicitly state, is leadership. Shouldn’t the solution then be to build capacity for leadership? It’s much simpler than ensuring free and fair elections and preventing American companies from selling conflict minerals. Those are good steps, but trying to build a Congolese state around a Western superstructure is very much a square peg – round hole problem. Why not create the capacity and then let the Congolese build their own country?

I guess we’ll find out if that works starting tomorrow.


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