The book depicts a war-ravaged country, with peacekeepers grappling with their own socio-economic conditions, while trying to put an end to senseless ethnic clearing and fratricidal conflicts. It at the same time talks of the escapades of an army NCO bewitched by two beautiful girls.
Hell airways passed. It was moving very slowly surrounded by soldiers in camouflage battle fatigue and some civilians in kaftans. Suddenly, it pulled in front of the city’s central mosque, which is the second, and only other mosque in this mighty semi-metropolitan city of a population of more than a million.
Barka had sighted the black burial van, which bore the name Hell airways because it was always transporting dead soldiers to there last abode. They had either been killed in battles or had contracted such diseases as malaria or a variety of water and air-borne diseases They were held in disaffection by the population of Pappalassa who believed that by the time the Yulpong civil war was over and the World Peace Keeping Union imposed troops were withdrawn, there would be no more space left in the graveyards to bury their own dead. Although some of the citizens of Pappalassa wanted to see all the peacekeepers dead, they didn’t want their bodies buried in the formers graveyard.
Barka wondered why the van was this time not covered with the troops’ flag, which usually adorned it on the occasion of military funerals. He enquired and soon found out that this time around, it was not a soldier but a civilian. He was still dubious about the reason for transporting him in that vehicle and also about the presence of the accompanying men in combat fatigue. He was yet to know that the corpse borne on the Airways was that of his own brother Eliman all he knew, so far, was that he had been missing for some three days and that his new companion Mapenda, had reported the matter to the police and that the search for his whereabouts was on.
Strangely enough, an unusual feeling of a dark presentiment inhibited Barka from joining the funeral party in spite of his strong conviction that accompanying deceased Muslim brethren to their last abode is a highly recommended act in Islam. Yes, he concluded that the dead person was a Muslim because men in kaftans were in the cortege that followed the corpse.
After murmuring to himself, “Let him join his fellow wicked souls in hell”, Barka, who was about forty and very energetic left the window and went back to his room to prepare for the business of the day. He emptied his briefcase on the floor of his bedroom after making sure the middle door was locked with a key and bolted. He counted Dollars, Pounds, Shillings, Pongs and CFA Francs. These different currencies were then put in separate polythene bags and bound with rubber bands before being stuffed back into the black leather briefcase. He then sprinkled some concussions on the surface lightly before locking up the case. This African juju was meant to attract more customers as the belief goes. He soon left for The No Man’s Square to join other speculators in changing foreign currency at black market rate.
Hundreds of speculators from many countries in the sub-region converge on Pappalassa, and especially on this particular square where they made a lot of profit in “trickles”. This square is always full of soldiers changing American Dollars or other currency into local Yulpong Pongs, which had had a free fall in value, and was therefore exchanged at an ever-fluctuating rate.
The day before, this horrible day, there was an unusually greater presence of soldiers. Strangely enough, even the military police and the intelligence unit personnel were present. Their attitude was more sombre than that of the normal rowdy and lousy “good-rate-seeker”. As Barka approached, people started pointing at him and whispering something he could not perceive but which confused him so he started asking for his brother in order to enquire from him. His uneasy feeling, bordering on premonition, did not make him guess for one moment that, just about four hundred metres in front of him, at the military field hospital, his brother had been receiving intensive care from military doctors for Gun shot wounds.
Barka and Eliman were born and brought up in the small northwestern village of Rereko in the Republic of Tousse. They were very happy as children in a family of twelve where they were the only boys. Their father was a farmer and their mother was a market woman. Both of their parents were prosperous in what they did although they were not wealthy.
By it’s geographical position Tousse enjoyed climatic conditions that were favourable to agriculture. In those days, farm produce was abundant and different crops were grown at different times of the year depending on the seasons. Life was quite easy for everyone. Little wonder why citizens of this country hardly travelled beyond their borders except when they had to go to Europe on business trips, shopping or for medical treatment, or for further studies for the young school leavers. The people lived like the many Europeans in the capital city, Manaka which was at the same time the seat of government and the centre for business.
The standard way to live was set by the students at the teacher training college that was the highest institution of learning in the country. It was situated in the outskirts of this city. It was this same college that also catered for the training of agricultural assistants and state enrolled nurses.
Although there were many primary schools, there were only a few high schools which were frequented by the children of those who were lucky to have had basic education or had money and aspiration for their children to become politicians, doctors and lawyers. Children of traditional leaders, destined to become junior clerks in the Colonial Government’s local administrative set up were sent to special schools. Other children who by personal ambition or out of admiration for or by influence of those already attending school, wanted to be educated had to pick up what learning they could like chickens pecking for grains, a little at the night schools which were operated privately, some from books borrowed from friends and neighbours, and some others by dipping into the store of order by way of asking questions and arguing and discussing or merely listening to students philosophising in beer parlours, cafes and at “Grandes Places” where people played draughts, cards and enjoyed sipping brewed china green tea. In some extreme cases individuals bought newspapers they could not read and recorded speeches and information broadcast on radios which they could not comprehend and they took them to those who could read and hear and understand what was recorded for assistance to enable them know what was happening around them and contained in the written and recorded stuff.
One thing both the college and the high schools were famous for was the organisation of demonstrations and strikes with revindications that could hardly be met. The authorities were however, always tactful to make the students thrive on hopes that could hardly be met. Time and however proven that government was not able to solve anything more than the students’ rights to have rice and few other essential commodities. They ensured that those were available in abundance and at affordable prices. There had also been textbook solutions to their rights to education, health, and employment and, of course assembly, movement and speech. The legislators had provided entrenched clauses in the instruments but the exercise of the rights was restricted by technicalities in the procedural aspects.
It was a very high profile national debate that drastically reduced the frenzy to go on strikes for just anything this famous and historic debate nicknamed “dialogue and save the nation”, involved students, teachers, parents, lawyers, freelance human rights activists, trade unionists, officials of the government ministries of internal affairs, education and justice and also the religious leaders and members of the security forces. The debate intervened on the heels of a demonstration which saw unwarranted destruction of public and private property at an unprecedented scale and which was only halted by a vigorous action of the security forces resulting in deaths and serious injuries to hundreds of students and others. It had drawn in civil servants and private sector workers and nearly brought the economic activities machinery to a halt.
The most significant resolution taken at the end of the debate was that students or any other members of the community have the right to demonstrate but that they cannot flout instructions given by constituted authority simply and logically because “forse resta la loi”. The debate did not omit a parallel resolution governing the application of that force in such circumstances. The outcome was, happily the elaboration of a whole hoard of guidelines for future references.
Meanwhile, a state minister, some of the army and police senior officers, the principal of a high school and teachers know to have incited students into violence lost their jobs. On the side of the students, their president and secretary-general were dismissed and banned from attending all higher institution of learning in Tousse.
For the compensation of those who suffered losses, individuals and companies alike, a special commission was set to look into the extent of each individual case and to recommend what could be done. For each dead student, fifty thousand Pongs were given to the family whereas the injured received medical attention and various amounts of money. This seemingly big shake up however seemed too modest for the majority of the citizens of Tousse.
An important phenomenon, the dissatisfaction of the people with the outcome of findings of the commissions revealed, and which was not in evidence at the very early stage of his accession to power, was the real personality of their ruler. On this one very Memorable occasion, the President, a career soldier who had served in the imperial army, was ripped apart. The population had gone too far for him this time around, they were resolved and united in their demand for his personal intervention to bring to book all those found guilty of causing death and injury to persons, especially to students, and for damage to property and even of nuisance and disorderliness. They had demanded that no culprit be spared. There was no way he could dissimulate his wayward capricious nature, being so divided between opposing forces. All those who were very close to him knew him, not only to be a man of moods but also one eager for fame and military glory. He was known also to be morbidly terrified by what people felt about his pronouncement and actions. This pushed him to panic over rumours and to always pre-empt reactions. He had to choose, this time around, between his own megalomaniac cravings for military might and laurels on the one hand, and on the other that place in history as the prince of peace, in the region, for which, in his gentler moments, he had so often hankered.
It was his inability to find a ready made solution that led him to set the whole series of peoples’ commissions to probe the military officers, students leaders, members of opposing camps, religious leaders, trade unionists and civil and human rights activists thus exposing his true colours.
In his more belligerent moments, when he had threatened to go back to the uniform and lead his army against “anyone wanting to destabilise the country”. He would have ordered the security forces to crush the adamant lot in quest for more heads to roll but, alas, in utter despondency, before a determined population and under the watchful eyes of western observers, the vision of reconciliation, hence peace and stability seemed to him much fairer than the spectre of civil uprising.
On one adventurous occasion, when he was informed of the light presence of unidentified armed men in a thick forest close to the border with a neighbouring country. His Excellency adorned the uniform and carried the rank of a Lieutenant General. After sending advance troops to ensure the situation was under control he went on the national radio to announce that the country was under attack on all fronts and that he was personally, leading the national army to put down the attempted invasion by reactionary forces sent by imperialists to topple him.
There was a display of all the arsenal at his arm’s disposal. Women and children were strictly forbidden to go anywhere considered as part of the war zone. It took three days to vanquish the phantoms and declare a national victory against combined forces of imperialists and their puppets. This was followed by great festivities during which there was a lot of eating, drinking and dancing culminating in promotions and decorations for “outstanding performance”. It was at this point of celebrations that media, both foreign and local were invited. They were seriously warned to keep out of zones of military operations. In his usual vituperations, he denounced them as agents of imperialism who should always be kept away from where major decisions were taken. In this way they can neither negatively influence people’s good plans nor confuse their priorities by reporting ambiguities.
This was one of those rare occasions where his Excellency was seen clad in full ceremonial military uniform and decorated with ancestral war armour. He inspected a guard of honour on horseback. When the brass band played an ancient war song he couldn’t control himself. He jumped off his pony and rocked to the beat in a strange form of slow march.
It was also a very good opportunity to accuse and arrest enemies, reconcile with former allies and even make new friends. Individuals were falsely accused or conspiracies with the invaders and then released after being dragged before kangaroo courts, which found them guilty of high treason and sentenced them to death or life imprisonment. When their sentences were commuted or when they were pardoned after being bludgeoned with such heavy penalties, it was very easy to buy their support since they found themselves in situations where they were forced to recognise they owed gratitude.
These events have however also exposed the hypocrisy and insincerity of highly placed people in all social strata. Ministers, very senior security officers, religious pundits, political party militants and thugs who criticised the demonstrators and condemned their actions in public instigated them privately and even armed them and physically supported them whenever the melee was such that it allowed them to do so without being recognised. The prospect of having such “wolves in sheepskin” being appointed commissioners to probe suspects filled the citizenry with the apprehension that justice was going to be indicted in the process.
Behind close doors some of his subjects expressed support for the invasion forces and wished they had succeeded on overthrowing the government. A few people openly said that they were ready to join the attackers if the latter had entered the capital of their country.
His Excellency was however, to survive this as usual. He was in fact always referred to as the eternal survivor. Each time that people thought his end had come, the outcome of things had instead, always turned in his favour.
This time, he temporarily managed to mend fences with his people and also with the leaders of the neighbouring countries. This reconciliatory measure was blessed by prosperity. Rainfall increased. The economy boomed and confidence in his administration was renewed. Naturally, a wave of investors rushed in. Then followed returnees and even refugees from countries in the sub region where there was turmoil. But there was the contagion. Tousse was to have its own fair share of the turmoil in a different way and the returnees and refugees would wish they never went there at all.