Sunday, 12 June 2011

Blood River

This is one of the books included on Millie's list of recommended reads and I was slightly apprehensive about reading it as it is classed as travel writing and I don't think I have ever read anything in this genre before as it has never really grabbed my attention ............. BUT I am so glad that I decided to try it as I thoroughly enjoyed it (so much that I have to admit that I read it twice, in succession, before writing this!) and learnt so much about the history of this country!

Butcher, a Daily Telegraph corrsepondent became (ever so slightly!) obsessed with the Congo River after he was posted to Africa and he, soon, developed a desire to follow the route of H.M.Stanley's famous expedition (taken during the 1870s) which, funded by the Daily Telegraphy, altered the course of African history for ever. This book provides a detailed account of Butchers experience as he tried to follow in  the footsteps of Stanley. On his journey, Butcher meets some incredible people who have, equally, incredible stories to tell of the days when the DR of Congo was under Belgium colonial rule, of the wars that have spilled over into the country and the problems faced after independance was granted in 1960. Whilst under colonial rule the Congo had well maintained and frequently used railway networks, riverboat services and around 111,971km of roads. The cities were alive with numerous shops and restaurants whilst industry was also looking good. Since independance was gained war has torn this country to shreds and left behind poverty, disease, civil unrest, disintergrated infrastructure, deteriorated buildings and under 1000km of road.

It is only once you have read the book, I feel that you can fully apprecaited the meaning of the subtitle ' A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart'. Butcher uncovered a country that was not so different to the one Stanley witnessed. Butcher frequently uses phrases like "I was travelling through a country with more past than future, a place where the hands of the clock spin not forwards, but backwards" to describe the fact that this is a nation that is not underdeveloped but underdeveloping. A country where the older generations have had more exposure to the modern world than the younger generations for whom the site of Butcher on a motorbike, the main mode of transport used due to the terrain and scarity of fuel, was the first vehicle they had ever seen in the remote locations many chose to reside. The Congo seems to be a truly broken nation, whose scars run deep into the past and, unfortunately, look likely to be ever present in the  near future.

This is a really really good book and has many links to Geography. It frequently refers back to the Rwandian Genocide and the problems that this caused in the Congo itself. Development is the crucial theme that runs throughout and the impacts that colonialism have had on it. I would definetly recommend that anyone who does Geography or has an interest in, not only Geography but, African history reads this as it is written in such a way that allows it to be remarkably informative and  it grips your attention from beginning to end. The only problem is that, despite the constant references throughout to the forever present dangers that exist in the modern day Congo, I quite fancy visiting some of the places mentioned for myself and witness not only the problems being experienced, but also the efforts of those trying to heal the wounds inflicted by the Congo's messy past - but for now, for safety reasons, I think I might stick to reading about it in books!!!

One thing that both this book and the two films I watched, that were based in India, have made me think about is the impact that colonialism has on sustainable development; something I think I will investigate further before writing a post on it.......

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