Lieve Joris

The Leopard’s Dance

A harrowing portrait of a threatened land

A century has passed since Joseph Conrad wrote his Heart of Darkness, yet the Congo is still as hard to fathom as ever. All the problems of post-colonial Africa seem to rage there in exaggerated form. Ten years after her highly praised Back to the Congo, Lieve Joris was brave enough to return during a particularly precarious moment in Congolese history.

When she arrived in the capital of the Congo in 1997, Kabila’s army of children had just entered Kinshasa after a seven months’ march. Everyone was holding their breath to see what was going to happen to a nation that President Mobutu had systematically robbed of its wealth and then left to its own devices. While politicians were engaged in a desperate power struggle, the inhabitants of Kinshasa had to face trigger-happy soldiers from the east. In this uprooted town Lieve Joris went in search of old friends.

One month after Mobutu had left, she flew to Gbadolite, his luxury paradise in the jungle, now sacked by his followers. In a rusty U.N. refugee boat, she went up-river to collect Hutu fugitives who, after months of traipsing through the jungle, had ended up in a deserted mission post. Then she made for the east, to the country’s border with Uganda and Ruanda, where the rebellion against Mobutu had started and where tempers were still anything but calm.

Lieve Joris followed the grim show trial in which the new president Kabila tried to get rid of his opponents. She was so intrigued by Kabila’s thirst for power that she decided to visit Manono, his birthplace, where she had a nasty encounter with the new rulers. On her travels she became aware of the ravages the Mobutu years had wrought. The state coffers were completely bare, divisions and tribalism were rife. But gradually she again fell under the spell of the Congolese people and their irrepressible will to live.

When Kabila tried to get rid of the allies who had helped him to power, a new uprising broke out in the east and Kinshasa became a beleaguered city. Foreigners fled en masse, but Lieve Joris decided to stay. The Leopard’s Dance shows what lies behind the television reels about one of Africa’s largest nations; hers is a harrowing portrait of a threatened land, but at the same time an act of homage to a people who have mastered the art of survival like no other nation in Africa.

On Back to the Congo:

Back to the Congo is a beautiful, lyrical and very personal account of a journey, deftly capturing the fleeting moment of an atmosphere or a mood, and those spontaneous sympathies and antipathies that are the stuff of all human encounters. For years we have been without a major book about Africa. Lieve Joris’s book fills this painful, rather disgraceful void.

Ryszard Kapuściński

Travel writing doesn’t get much better than this.

New York Times Book Review

Few recent books have so authentically captured the mood of post-colonial Africa.

Times Literary Supplement


Lieve Joris

Lieve Joris (b. 1953), who was born in Belgium and lives in Amsterdam, is one of Europe’s leading non-fiction writers. She has written an award-winning book on Hungary, De melancholieke revolutie (The Melancholy Revolution, 1990), and has published widely acclaimed reports of her journeys in the…

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Dans van de luipaard (2001). Non-fiction, 448 pages.



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