Africa: From the Congo to Capitol Hill: A Coming-of-Age Memoir by Stephen R. Weissman

A remarkable memoir of an American’s intimate engagement with the Congo, one throwing new light upon America’s political challenges today.

“I was fascinated both by his life-altering experience in the Congo and by his first-hand picture of what happens behind closed doors on Capitol Hill.” –   Adam Hochschild, best selling author of King Leopold’s Ghost and American Midnight

This book is a revealing account of two episodes in America’s Cold War-era foreign relations. A young American professor is caught up in a racially fraught crisis at an American White missionary-led university in the Congo and is publicly fired. Several years later, he becomes a key staff aide for a congressional committee battling to distance the U.S. government from the Congo dictator’s human rights and corruption abuses. His interconnected experiences in these two fascinating places provide first hand insights into some of today’s burning issues: the dynamics of racial conflict, the paranoia and narcissism of authoritarian regimes and the hidden dysfunctions of the U.S. Congress (including corrupting relationships with narrow-based domestic and foreign lobbyists), State Department (truth-shading and short-term thinking) and pundit press.

Simultaneously, this is a tale of the author’s tortuous personal growth and political maturation. He comes to understand how elements of his own personality have hindered his perception of hard-to-read political realities. The author’s focus on individual agency in challenging environments resonates strongly today as increasing numbers of Americans study and work in authoritarian countries and strive to maintain democratic institutions at home.

Refreshingly candid, self-critical, well-documented and, in the end, hopeful, this is the rare memoir that opens new windows onto both America’s foreign policies and its internal political disorders.

“It’s a valuable read for anyone interested not only in the making of U.S. policy in Africa, but of U.S. foreign policy more broadly.”  – former Senator Russell Feingold, President American Constitution Society

“Steve’s memoir, which reads with the smoothness of a Graham Greene novelprovides useful policy insights for analysts, activists and academics working on tough African issues. – Johnnie Carson, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs

“This magnificent book, in which the author is so honest in showing his own strengths and weaknesses…” – Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, Professor of African and Global Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Stephen R. Weissman is a U.S. foreign policy and campaign finance analyst/advocate and co-founder and member of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Working Group. He previously served as Staff Director of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa, senior governance adviser on Africa for USAID and Program Officer at the Ford Foundation. He has a BA from Cornell University and PhD from the University of Chicago. His previous books include A Culture of Deference: Congress’s Failure of Leadership in Foreign Policy and American Foreign Policy in the Congo 1960-1964.

From the AllAfrica archive:
New Evidence Shows U.S. Role in Congo’s Decision to Send Patrice Lumumba to His Death (2010)

U.S. Role in Lumumba Murder Revealed (2002)