Reading Through Africa: Blood River by Tim Butcher

I’m focusing my Reading Through Africa project on south central Africa because of the mission trip that some members of my church are planning for this summer to Zambia. They will be working at Kazembe Orphanage in July, God willing, and I am trying to help them to prepare for that journey.

However, my reading has distributed itself around and about Zambia for the most part because I’m finding very little fiction or nonfiction actually set in Zambia itself. I have a list of a few titles that someone very kindly suggested to me, but so far I haven’t found too many of them available at the library. Anyway, the following book takes place in the Democratic Republic of Congo which borders Zambia, and it has given me a feel for the political situation, the culture, the peoples, and the rhythms of the entire region of south central Africa, although of course, conditions in one country cannot be generalized and made applicable to all nations in the region. Kazembe Orphanage is located just across the river from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart by Tim Butcher. Mr. Butcher set out in 2004 to retrace the footsteps of the famous British explorer Henry Morton Stanley across the Democratic Republic of the Congo from east to west, from the eastern border town of Kalemie on the shore of Lake Tanganyika to the Congo River and downriver to the Atlantic coast. Stanley was the first outsider to map the Congo River as he traveled its length in 1874-1877, almost losing his life in the process. Tim Butcher hears repeatedly while planning his own journey that the trip is “impossible” and at the least “very dangerous.” In spite of war, terrorism, widespread corruption and lack of governmental authority, Mr. Butcher makes his way across the DRC by motorbike, steamer, and dugout canoe, and as he travels he recalls the history of the places he travels through and reports on the present-day conditions. In almost every case, the state of the towns and the people in the DRC is pitiable and far more perilous and poverty-stricken than it was back in the mid-twentieth century before and immediately after the country gained its independence from Belgium (1960). From Wikipedia:

The Second Congo War, beginning in 1998, devastated the country, involved seven foreign armies and is sometimes referred to as the “African World War”. Despite the signing of peace accords in 2003, fighting continues in the east of the country. In eastern Congo, the prevalence of rape and other sexual violence is described as the worst in the world. The war is the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II, killing 5.4 million people.
Although citizens of the DRC are among the poorest in the world, having the second lowest nominal GDP per capita, the Democratic Republic of Congo is widely considered to be the richest country in the world regarding natural resources; with untapped deposits of raw minerals estimated to be worth in excess of US$24 trillion.

The contrast between the wealth of natural resources in the country and the poverty of the people is astounding and heart-breaking as Mr. Butcher travels through one wrecked, crumbling, and lawless town after another. He concludes that the greatest need in the DRC is not money or even education, but simple stability and even justice and the rule of law. Without a framework and infrastructure of honest government the people cannot be safe enough to begin to improve their lives or to educate their children to something better. Blood River gives consequently a tragic picture of prospects for the future in the DRC, as Mr. Butcher sees little or nothing that would lead him to hope that the DRC will change or become a more law-abiding and decent place to live. Indeed, according to Wikipedia again, “In 2009 people in the Congo may still be dying at a rate of an estimated 45,000 per month, and estimates of the number who have died from the long conflict range from 900,000 to 5,400,000. The death toll is due to widespread disease and famine; reports indicate that almost half of the individuals who have died are children under the age of 5. This death rate has prevailed since efforts at rebuilding the nation began in 2004.”

Hope for The Democratic Republic of the Congo and its people:
Among Congo’s hardened rebels: 500+ baptisms (Baptist Press)
Frontline Fellowship: From Communist Chaos to Christ in the Congo.
Congo Initiative. To train and develop strong, indigenous Christian leaders to transform their communities and their nation of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Heal Africa

1 thought on “Reading Through Africa: Blood River by Tim Butcher

  1. I finally remembered something I wanted to suggest for your project. A couple of years ago, I discovered an amazing Polish traveler/explorer/journalist who traveled the entire continent of Africa from north to south and *back again* alone, during a 5-year period in the 1930’s.

    His book is not translated into English, but we have it, and it includes some of his remarkable photographs (he was a photographer, too). If you google further, you might be able to find some of them. There is also a lovely children’s book about him, Afryka Kazika (Kazik’s Africa), but also only in Polish. He’s one of the most interesting characters I’ve encountered, but very little known, even here in Poland, until a memorial was erected, a roving exhibition of his photographs (we had it here in Krakow for a while), and these books came out a few years ago. His life would be a great subject for a film.

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