If you thought the age of the explorers finished with Stanley and Livingstone, think again. In Radio Congo Ben Rawlence sets off on an adventure that equals theirs in its scale and danger. As someone who can find a trip to the corner shop a little nerve wracking on occasions, I found Ben’s sang froid and savoire faire amazing.
Ben Rawlence is a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, which gives the impression of someone holed up in a dusty library. Apparently, research at HRW isn’t quite like that, and in this travelogue Rawlence sets out to explore those isolated regions of the Congo which have been devastated by war, and remain cut off from the West. Areas from which little news emerges, and where the rule of law barely applies. Rawlence is warned frequently not to bother, told of the dangers, but with a sense of boundless optimism and energy sets off down Lake Tanganyika, and then across the jungle to Manono, the site of a tin mine abandoned by the multinationals, where decaying machinery and defunct colonial policemen form the backdrop to scenes of poverty and chaos.
Rawlence describes his journey, step by step, in some detail, and we meet a range of interesting characters. He does not judge or moralise, but shows us both the natural beauty and the vast range of characters and types struggling, in most cases, for survival in this war torn part of Africa. Rawlence is a knowledgeable guide, well informed about the history of Africa, and this book has whetted my appetite to find out more about that continent’s past.
The message seems clear, though implicit: it’s about the generosity of spirit that can make one man travel such vast and uncomfortable distances to research the needs of the disadvantaged, and about the compassion and support he is offered by these very people. Human Rights Watch.