Book Review - Blood River by Tim Butcher

Following his posting in 2000 to Africa with The Daily Telegraph, journalist Tim Butcher nurtures a growing obsession with retracing Henry Morton Stanley's exploration down the Congo River. Stanley's expedition in 1874 is well-known as one that has transformed African history as he journeyed down the Congo River from what at the time was believed to be its source at Lake Tanganyika to the Atlantic Ocean, some 3,000 kms distant.

Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart is Butcher's recounting of his own journey in 2004 and one which takes place during simmering hostilities from the preceding Second Congo War which occurred during 1998 to 2003. This almost unknown war involving nine African countries ultimately resulted in 5 million deaths and has been the deadliest war since World War 2, claiming three times as many lives as the Vietnam War.

Butcher travels 500 kms overland on roads that don't exist from Kaleme, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. through Katanga province before arriving at the Congo River. Once reaching Africa's second largest river, he then utilises a range of transport options, both on and off the river, as he attempts to follow in Stanley's footsteps.

Able to draw on more than 10 years as a war correspondent, coupled with a wealth of knowledge from his African posting, Butcher delivers a book wrapped around his own journey and experiences that is extremely rich in history and geopolitical knowledge. Providing great insights into both Congo's recent and more distant past, he largely avoids the pitfalls associated with "white guilt" too often encountered when reading about the history of Africa. In doing so, Butcher describes a country that although blessed with a never ending supply of resources has become an abject failure and one which is a sad indictment on all its leaders. 

Blood River is a tremendous read and amazing journey that engages as well as informs and is well recommended. 

4 stars out of 5

Credit: Banner photo by MONUSCO Photos