IT SOUNDS like a movie plot line: a rich and beautiful young Brit spends a year helping the poor, starving children of Africa and finds herself under attack by ruthless armed rebels.
While this is not a film, it is the central plot of a book: In Congo’s Shadow, Scottish actor Louise Linton’s memoir about her real-life gap year from hell in Zambia in the 1990s.
But according to Twitter, Linton’s death-defying account just doesn’t stack up.
A social media storm has erupted following the release of Linton’s book, with the hashtag #LintonLies spreading like wildfire as more and more people point out holes in her unbelievable story.
My step mother, just turned 60, is a “muzungu” who’s lived in Zambia from age 18 & has never heard of your rebels#LintonLies @LouiseLinton
FollowMuchemwa Sichone @WriteRevolt
The only thing missing from the @LouiseLinton story is Tarzan and Mowgli. #Zambia is calling her out! #LintonLies
In her memoir, Linton said she was an 18-year-old fresh from Edinburgh’s elite Fettes College when she went to Africa “with hopes of helping some of the world’s poorest people”.
However, she said, her gap year abroad become a living nightmare “when I inadvertently found myself caught up in the fringes of the Congolese War”.
But did she?
‘ARMED REBELS DESCENDED’
In an except from the book published on the UK’s Daily Telegraph last week, Linton said her time in Zambia was initially “idyllic” as she settled into life with local Bemba people.
She became particularly attached to a six-year-old orphan with HIV named Zimba.
But, she noted, there were many dangers to life in Africa.
“I witnessed random acts of violence, contracted malaria and had close encounters with lions, elephants, crocodiles and snakes,” Linton wrote.
The most dramatic part of Linton’s memoir is about how “the Hutu-Tutsi conflict in neighbouring Congo” escalated and spilt across Zambia’s border, bringing terrifying tales of murder and rape.
“Then one day, without warning, armed rebels descended on our bay,” Linton wrote.
“Taken by surprise, I spent a night huddled with others in an old straw hut, hoping not to be found as we listened to the engines of the rebel boats drawing near.
“The next morning, I was faced with a dreadful dilemma. Should I stay and care for Zimba, risking my life?”
She wondered what the rebels would do to “the skinny white muzungu with long angel hair”, if they found her.
She eventually escaped to safety.
Now a grown woman living in California, Linton reflected: “Even in this world where I’m supposed to belong, I still sometimes feel out of place.
“Whenever that happens, though, I try to remember a smiling gap-toothed child with HIV whose greatest joy was to sit on my lap and drink from a bottle of Coca-Cola,” she wrote.
‘MANY FACTUAL INACCURACIES’
One of the first details readers began to question was Linton’s mention of the Hutu and Tutsi conflict, which spawned the horrific 1994 genocide in Rwanda — quite some distance from Zambia.
“Many factual inaccuracies in this book. Hutu-Tutsi war in Congo or did you mean Rwanda, 1994? #LintonLies,” reader Muloongo Muchelemba tweeted as questions began to swirl following the book’s release.
Twitter user Mademoiselle Vu wrote: “Years in Zambia and I figure out we had a hutu-tutsi conflict. Who am I? Where do I belong? #LintonLies”.
FollowTendai Chiweshe @10dai_chiweshe
Me after reading that the Hutu-Tutsi genocide was in Zambia#LintonLies
Tutsi and Hutu militias were indeed operative in the Democratic Republic of Congoin the 1990s, particularly in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide.
Rebels did raid a village in Kaputa, in northernmost Zambia, according to a 1999 United Nations report.
But many people have pointed out there was no record of Congolese rebels invading villages in Zambia consistent with Linton’s account.
They have also questioned Linton’s knowledge of the country she purportedly spent so much time in, saying Zambia didn’t have monsoons nor “dense jungle canopy” as she described.
And with the hashtag #LintonLies, over the past week more and more people have pulled at threads in Linton’s richly woven tale.
FollowSithé Annette Ncube @_LadySith
Ugh. Do people still think we don’t have internet in Africa? In the ‘jungle’. That we’ll never read what they write about us.#LintonLies
FollowMulewa Shapi @Mulewa92
Travelling across Zambia today & I’m just here worried that I’ll be killed by rebel gunfire en route #LintonLies
Some users have shared the account of a man named Gerard Zytkow, who wrote on Facebook that he owned a fishing lodge near where Linton volunteered, and cast doubt on her claimed proximity to conflict.
FollowBrenda Spoor @SleeplessInSWL
The Truth about Louise Lintons time in Zambia from Gerard Zytkow 1 of 2. @Telegraph @LouiseLinton @wendholden
“Louise was not at Ndole. She was safely at Kasaba. Relatively far from all this. I know because I was there,” Zytkow wrote.
Other people criticised Linton’s book for its patronising, “white saviour” narrative, replete with old fashioned, colonialist stereotypes about “darkest Africa”.
FollowIdriss Ali Nassah @mynassah
Every time I’m in Edinburgh, I try not to think what the Scottish would do to a “dark African with kinky hair…”#LintonLies
FollowSisi Majok @modernemeid
#Whiteprivilege is having a book deal on experiences that cannot be verified. #LintonLies
Other users found Linton’s book an unending source of mocking and humour.
FollowLusé Fiasco @Skip_toMyLu
Taking care of Zimba, while dodging Rebels,& wildlife close calls in Africa’s darkest jungles of Zambia. #LintonLies
FollowAndrew Jackson @AJacksonDesign
Had to give the #LintonLies my personal touch
When you read @LouiseLinton article about your country#Zambia #LintonLies
Little Zimba, the orphaned child with HIV, has inspired a parody Twitter account that sets the record straight with the following disclaimer: “I did not have Coca Cola with that woman”.
Jesus take the wheel on #LintonLies . Bio line . Image with Coke bottle . Only person “Zimba” follows? Guess
FollowXhaka Zulu @MaceWimbu
Rebels blew up the main water pipe to the village in Northern Zambia . Locals think it’s a waterfall #LintonLies
Linton appears to have shut down her Twitter account in the wake of the controversy.
Earlier, she responded to criticism on Twitter, saying Zytkow was mistaken and she was “genuinely dismayed” to have offended people.
“I am genuinely dismayed and very sorry to see that I have offended people as this was the very opposite of my intent,” she wrote on Twitter.
“I wrote with the hope of conveying my deep humility, respect and appreciation for the people of Zambia as an 18-year-old in 1999.
“I wrote about the country’s incredible beauty and my immense gratitude for the experiences I had there.”