Tim Butcher was for a while the Daily Telegraph’s man in Africa. In 2002, he chose a lull in the conflict that has riven the Democratic Republic of Congo since the fall of Mobutu in 1994 to follow the route of H M Stanley’s epic journey between October 1876 and September 1877 from the western shore of Lake Tanganyika to the mouth of the Congo River. Stanley thus charted the greater part of the course of that mighty river, then unknown.
Butcher’s was a plucky intention, since the Congo (which we had to call Zaire under Mobutu) has been notoriously chaotic and virtually lawless for decades across most of its territory, equal in size to Western Europe. He was ‘driven’ to make the trip by an obsession partly stoked by his mother, who, before he was born, had travelled by train across the country in its latter days as a Belgian colony. He describes setting forth:
The eastern sky was slowly growing more pale, but I turned to face west. Out there between me and the Atlantic Ocean lay a primeval riot of jungle, river, plain and mountain stretching for thousands of kilometres. For years I had stared at maps dominated by the Congo River, a