Saturday, January 24, 2015

Blood River: the terrifying journey through the world's most dangerous country

"There were setbacks in my research, like the day I received an email from an African explorer who had canoed the headwaters of the Congo decades ago. I approached him to help me with crossing similar territory, but the title of his email told me exactly what he thought of my plan. All it said was 'Death Wish'."

Encouraging words indeed.

At the turn of the new Millennium, journalist Tim Butcher became obsessed with the idea of traveling the length of the great Congo River, retracing the 3,000 km journey made by follow journalist Henry Morton Stanley of 'Dr. Livingston, I presume?' fame.

Prior to this journey, Butcher had been an accomplished war correspondent for The Daily Telegraph and the newspaper's African Bureau Chief and so did not come to this project naively. The book is a captivating read and brings an extraordinary part of the world into sharp focus.

A central theme is the decay of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) into chaos and misery following it's independence. The pace of this downward spiral is almost unprecedented and even someone as experienced in Africa and the Middle East as Butcher is shocked by a reality that would not go a miss in Sci-Fi movie.
I was travelling through a country with more past than future, a place where the hands of the clock spin not forwards, but backwards.
The original title was the less melodramatic 'Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart', reflecting the author's sense of profound sadness at the decay of this immense and once sophisticated country.

The awfulness of the current Ebola hemorrhagic fever outbreak in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea has brought some attention to the continued plight of tropical Africa. Last year also saw an outbreak of ebola infections in the DRC but this involved a different virus strain from that ravaging West Africa. The good news was that effective healthcare measures were in place and managed to stop the outbreak quite quickly.

After reading Blood River one can't help wonder what future horror will bring the DRC back into the headlines.
Title: Blood River: The Terrifying Journey Through The World's Most Dangerous Country.
Author: Tim Butcher
Publisher: Grove Press
Publication Date: 2008
Dimensions: 272 pages, maps, line drawings and a few photographs, 5 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
ISBN-13: 978-0-8021-4433-1
Retail Price: $US 16.00

No comments: