Locked down at home recently I read two of the great histories of the assault on Africa in the later 19th century by the European imperial powers. I also had the pleasure of seeing the publication of my new novel about today's assault on Africa by the empire that took over for the Europeans as guardian of western interests after independence in the 1960's. That would be our very own United States, which dominates today through a continent-wide deployment of CIA and AFRICOM forces.
The two great histories are The Scramble for Africa by British historian Thomas Pakenham (Random House, 1991) and King Leopold's Ghost by American journalist Adam Hochschild (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1998). Pakenham lays out the imperialists' cynical use of humanitarianism and exceptionalism as they convinced their citizens that imperial rule would help Africans benefit from "Commerce, Christianity, and Civilization" and the suppression of the "Arab slave trade." Hochschild focuses in on just one of the horrific results, slavery of another sort -- brutally forced labor for rubber and ivory -- in the "Free State of the Congo," which killed millions of Africans and destroyed the functioning states of Central Africa. The results of the popular mania to "do good" for benighted Africans are still felt in the Congo's chaos today.
My new novel, Arms Deals, brings the humanitarian and exceptionalist fraud of empire in Africa up to date. It takes place in Niger, the poorest of all African countries, where the Trump administration trades advanced weaponry for drone bases and military cooperation -- as indeed, in real life, in Niger and many other North African countries, it has continued this policy of the Bush II and Obama administrations.
Proponents of the arms deal promote it in Washington as a way to protect Africans, particularly women, from Islamist terrorism, just as they would have sold it in the Cold War as liberation from Soviet communism or in the Bush I and Clinton "rogue states" era as a way to track the movement of weapons of mass destruction....or "stability" or checking Chinese influence or whatever is the most marketable imperial excuse of the day.
The subtitle of the novel, A Mar'Shae McGurk Thriller about "Shopping to Get Yours," reveals my idea of reaching readers of crime fiction who may not focus much on foreign policy. They may never have considered that we are not, in fact, the good guys the imperialist establishment expends so much effort to convince us we are. This is the second in my series of anti-imperialist novels hiding inside crime thrillers.
My hero in both novels is unlikely FBI agent Mar’Shae McGurk, a high school dropout from “east of the river” in the District of Columbia who was redeemed in the military police. In the first thriller, The Weathermen on Trial, a tweet by President Trump starts her on a "cold case" mission to track down political terrorists from the 1970's. They provide their critique of U.S. imperialism during the trial that takes place.
In Arms Deals McGurk takes on two cases: corruption in a U.S. arms sale to the impoverished West African country of Niger and the murder of her young cousin in D.C.’s Simple City neighborhood. Both cases turn on using violence to get what you want – “shopping to get yours,” in African-American street dialect. As Mar’Shae, known as “Black” by her family and friends, pushes hard on both cases they become dangerously intertwined.
So stay safe, and take advantage of this downtime by reading these tomes!
All the best, Caleb