Off Topic: Blood River - A journey through the Congo (updated)

I just read a book called

Blood River

, a true tale of a recent trip by a


journalist across the Congo. A rare trip these days, particularly for a white man and particularly on foot.

What he highlights with his journey is a sickening situation in a country that had, and continues to have, massive potential.

I felt compelled to write to the author the following note:



What a spectacularly brave, possibly dangerously stupid (!) and fascinating project you undertook. The first journey of hopefully many more if any sort of order is to be restored in the Congo, although I am sure we won't be reading about you personally making it again for a while.

I am British but married to a South African. On a recent trip to see my wife's family, someone made an interesting comment. He said that although I had been to SA many times, Botswana once or twice and a resort in Kenya, that I had never really seen 'Africa'.

I have thought about this a lot since I heard it, and reading Blood River cemented my agreement of the statement.

It is true that SA faces its own set of challenges but none as extreme as countries such as Congo and many others in Africa.

As you are fully aware, true understanding of what 'Africa' means is lacking in the west - just calling it 'Africa' highlights this problem. Referring to an entire continent to describe localised issues is a dangerous generalisation that I see far too often in our press.

Books like Blood River are needed in order to open our eyes to the true situation and help us to develop a better understanding of the solutions required.

Sadly you are right that money is not the answer to 'Africa's' problems, but it is one of the only tools the west understands. This mis-match will continue to feed the pain of countries struggling within the African continent. Recent campaigns have focused on relieving the debt burden that weighs on the shoulders of these nations, but that will only allow more money to flow into the private off-shore bank accounts of the few.

Efforts such as the

International Criminal Court

should be made more public and supported globally, then perhaps a society where an election means something and individuals are judged for their crimes can develop, which opens the door to progress and repair.

'Africa' is in a mess.

For me, I will no doubt continue to visit South Africa but the real Africa will remain as distant as it always has. And I would question if the real 'Africa' is a place I would want to see now anyway.

A sad thought.


Response from the author...



Thanks for wading down my ruddy river and for putting finger to keyboard.

I own a home in Johannesburg and agree with you totally about the

disconnect between South Africa and the rest of the continent. There was a time when you could take a train from Joburg, through Bulawayo and all the way to the Congolese city of Elisabethville (today’s Lubumbashi).

What a journey that would have made? And what a pity that today it is impossible. I was recently parking my car in Cape Town (Hout Bay to be precise) and the car guard who spoke to me did so with a French accent.

It turned out he had come all the way from Lubumbashi to make his home in a slum on the Cape Flats – and his journey involved illegally jumping four borders.

I hope you continue to enjoy your trips to SA. It is a special place.

But it is the exception, not the rule and, for me, the Congo is really the quintessence of Africa – with all its great potential…and its constitutional disappointment.

If your travels bring you to Jerusalem do look me up on [..].

Best wishes

Tim Butcher

Middle East Correspondent

The Daily Telegraph

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