In this stunning memoir, veteran Washington Post correspondent Lynne Duke takes readers on a wrenching but riveting journey through Africa during the pivotal 1990s and brilliantly illuminates a continent where hope and humanity thrive amid unimaginable depredation and horrors.
For four years as her newspaper's Johannesburg bureau chief, Lynne Duke cut a rare figure as a black American woman foreign correspondent as she raced from story to story in numerous countries of central and southern Africa. From the battle zones of Congo-Zaire to the quest for truth and reconciliation in South Africa; from the teeming displaced person's camps of Angola and the killing field of the Rwanda genocide to the calming Indian Ocean shores of Mozambique. She interviewed heads of state, captains of industry, activists, tribal leaders, medicine men and women, mercenaries, rebels, refugees, and ordinary, hardworking people. And it is they, the ordinary people of Africa, who fueled the hope and affection that drove Duke's reporting. The nobility of the ordinary African struggles, so often absent from accounts of the continent, is at the heart of Duke's searing story.
MANDELA, MOBUTU, AND ME is a richly detailed, clear-eyed account of the hard realities Duke discovered, including the devastation wrought by ruthless, rapacious dictators like Mobutu Sese Seko and his successor, Laurent Kabila, in the Congo, and appalling indifference of Europeans and Americans to the legacy of their own exploitation of the continent and its people. But Duke also records with admiration the visionary leadership and personal style of Nelson Mandela in south Africa as he led his country's inspiring transition from apartheid in the twilight of his incredible life.
Whether it was touring underground gold and copper mines, learning to carry water on her head, filing stories by flashlight or dodging gunmen, Duke's tour of Africa reveals not only the spirit and travails of an amazing but troubled continent -- it also explores the heart and fearlessness of a dedicated journalist.
As the Washington Post's Johannesburg bureau chief from 1995 to 1999, Duke covered some of the bloodier postcolonial wars of southern Africa as well as one of the most constructive struggles: the shaping of a postapartheid government. Her interviews with Mandela and Mobutu "bookend" even more eye-opening conversations with common folk: township women struggling for clean water, AIDS nurses battling superstitious villagers and even a quiet old Zulu man impressed to meet his "first foreign black folk." A consummate journalist, Duke gives readers concise but thorough background briefings on a country's relevant history before cutting to the chase: who's taken control now, why, and what that means for the balance of power. Except for some passing comments, it's not until the end that Duke explores her own complex relationship with the Africa she so clearly loves. As an African-American, she feels connected with the struggles she's reporting, while aware that being black does not make her Angolan, Ugandan or even African. She admires the positive-Mandela's commitment to peace, Tutu's spiritual force-but is equally willing to condemn the negative-Mbeki's blind eye to the AIDS epidemic, Kabila's opportunism, Hutu genocide squads, etc. As a frontline reporter, Duke never forgets "when the elephants fight, the grass suffers": political struggles on top often mean death and destruction for the ordinary working people down below. She deftly combines solid information and personal perspective to produce a powerful, readable chronicle. Agent, Faith Childs. (Jan. 21) Forecast: This informative book will speak to readers seeking to bring themselves up to speed on the recent history of southern Africa. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 12, 2005
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Excerpt from Mandela, Mobutu, and Me by Lynne Duke
Finding My Way
Kinshasa, Congo-Zaire, August 1998
I hated it when the lights went out. I still had a dispatch to write, for Washington was awaiting my daily file. But there I sat, foiled again, fumbling for my flashlight and candles as the whole of
Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, was reduced to the darkness of a village. It was August 1998, in the midst of yet another Congo war, and those damned rebels had done it again. They'd seized the country's main hydroelectric plant and taunted Kinshasa, and me, with another nightly blackout.
I fumed to myself as I lit a candle and welcomed the eerie glow it cast over my room. I lodged up on the fourteenth floor of the Hotel Intercontinental, and down below, as far as the eye could see across the sprawling metropolis, cooking fires and candlelight speckled the darkness like stars fallen to the ground. My people, African people, were suffering again. And my people, African people, were the cause. This was getting pathetic.
I pored through my notepads, jam-packed with days of scribbled shorthand, and raced against time as I wrote. I could only hope my laptop battery would outlast the night's power outage; only hope I'd make it through another Washington deadline. Night after night, my dispatches grew more ominous. The rebel juggernaut pressed closer to the capital. Food shortages deepened. Ethnic cleansing swept through the streets. Massacres unfolded all around the country. President Laurent Kabila's regime girded for a fight that his splintered army could not win. The United States, France, Belgium, and Britain evacuated their nationals but had no intention of rescuing Kinshasa itself. So African leaders stepped into the void, assembling a response of their own to the bloodbath that many feared would consume the city's 5 million people.
That was my fear too. The days ahead would be dangerous. I didn't know how I'd make it through. I had a fever and needed sleep. I needed a hot bath in clean water that wouldn't plant strange bacteria on my skin. Sick with the bends from the hotel's lovely display of a faintly rancid buffet, I craved fresh food. And what I wouldn't give for a doctor to do something about the infected boil on my face. It bulged from my cheek like a third eye. It assaulted my vanity each time I looked in the mirror, and disgusted my colleagues as they watched the boil grow.
Strangely, it reminded me of my mother back in Los Angeles. If she could see me now, I laughed to myself. Mom thought mine such a glamorous profession and regaled friends and relatives with tales of my travels. But I am certain she never imagined that a foreign correspondent for the famed Washington Post could look as worn and diseased as I'd become--on the road, in Africa, at war.
There was no way out. The borders were closed. And even if I could have gone, I'd have opted to stay. I had a job to do, a mission to fulfill. A certain degree of misguided heroism kept me going, as if Congo needed me to be there to write its latest chapter. It was a delusion, I know. But I'd placed myself fully inside Africa's unfolding story.
Change and upheaval roared through Central and Southern Africa in the 1990s, and that was my territory. Some of it was inspiring. After decades of white-minority rule called apartheid, South Africa had turned to democracy under President Nelson Mandela in 1994--a change that freed southern Africa as a whole and opened the prospect of South African-led peace and development. But farther north, the Central African region reeled from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that left some 800,000 people slaughtered. Rwanda's blood spilled throughout the region and was the spark that ignited two wars next door, in Congo.