Friday, 20 July 2012

Cruising for a bruising? Out of the crucible and into the fire...

Now, I'm a man of many principles. I don't stick to a lot of them, but I do have them neatly stored away, stacked on my shelves of morality, with my jar of pickled eggs.
You'll see the pickles are flanked by two groups of books. On the right are my signed-by-the-author copies of books, some self-published and others mainstream. I'm passionate about reading & writing and a big supporter of anyone who wants to get their story out there. On the left is some of my Africa collection.

As an Englishman, living here in Ireland, I'm reminded with decreasing frequency about the eight hundred years of oppression visited by my country upon the island of Ireland. In speeches, at leaving parties and randomly in the streets of Kilkenny I will stand and shout 'Yes! I take full responsibility for all that. On behalf of whomever I apologise to whoever about it all. And in compensation I offer this token of [insert beverage, bite of my sandwich, discounted copy of my books].' However, the British imperial rule of Ireland was oppression lite compared to that perpetrated by Western Europe upon Africa over the past centuries. Martin Meredith's The State of Africa is a great account of pre and post-colonial rule in Africa, but suffice to say I'm not proud of how things went on and neither should you be if you're a European. If you're an American then you know the whole other Africa story but that's not for today.

I lived in Zurich, Switzerland for seven years and saw first hand the enormous wealth coming out of African countries that are at war, enduring famine and generally making a cock of the whole running-a-country business. Limousines, robes of many colours, unimaginable wealth decanted from sub-Saharan African countries rich in natural resources but poor in ethics. I'm not a real socialist but a firm believer in absolute power corrupts absolutely.

There's something about Africa that drives a continuous cycle of altruism, nepotism, corruption, despotism, coups and idealism, with very few exceptions. And what does the western world do about it? Unless oil or other key natural resources are under threat, we assuage our consciences by sending gap year students in SUVs to deliver vitamin enhanced porridge wet feeds to villages that really need electricity, water and slightly less despotic governments. Or we go and build bungalows in slum townships that are a direct result of local government policy. We apply a sticking plaster of conscience to the gaping wounds of the country we likely all originated from. Well, that's my excuse for not giving to charity. In a cosy world where my apoplectic fits of rage are mostly directed at people hanging the toilet paper in the incorrect manner, I know how fickle my principles are.

But there's a far worse area of neglect in Africa that has to be owned up to. When I was working for an international engineering company we had factories all over the world. The three factories in South Africa had an HIV prevalence of over 45% among the workforce. These were trained mechanical and electrical manufacturing employees, normal people, not underprivileged or in remote villages. The rate of HIV in African countries is huge. What is the western world doing about it and how much of the huge profits in the pharmaceutical industry are invested in solving the problem? Let's just park that where our conscience can't see it, behind the pickled eggs.

To distract your thoughts from these difficult subjects I'd like to throw religion on the table. Christianity was tempered in the fire of the crusades and its sharp edge brought down on the heads of innocents once the West had learnt how to travel in numbers to distant shores inhabited by 'heathens'. Islam and Christianity fought tooth and nail over symbolic goals throughout the last two millennia (ok, I'm not a historian, but you get my drift). It's still going on, with George W's claims that he acted in God's will, Iran talking about being the Gatekeeper of Armageddon, and latter-day crusades wrapped up in rhetoric of all kinds of complexions. There's a strong evangelical Christian movement and great interest in the Rapture, as evidenced by Tim Lahaye's Left Behind series of books which have sold tens of millions. Hal Lindsey's earlier predictions identified the European Union as the 'seven-headed beast with ten horns' cited in the Book of Revelation.

These three worrying aspects of humanity are the setting for The Crucible. When I first started bouncing around early chapters of the book I had some interesting reader feedback:

'The idea of an insanely evangelicized America is ludicrous.'

'AIDS isn't a conspiracy.'

'Love, sex, murder, romance; James Bond meets Tom Clancy.'

I've used the background described in this post as the setting for an action adventure novel. Take a look, see what you think and let me know. Am I cruising for a bruising from our evangelical brethren? Is Iran going to level a fatwah and I'll have to take refuge at the bottom of Bono's garden like Salman Rushdie did? I think the aspirations of Europe are far more worrying. But it's just fiction. Or is it?

Southern Cameroon, West Africa 1936
A virus mutated and crossed the barrier from primate to human. In less than a century it had claimed the lives of twenty-five million people. Africa, a land of natural beauty and riches, ripe for plunder, full of dark menace.

Read more of The Crucible ...

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  1. There's always a space at the bottom of my garden, just please don't disturb the pygmies that live there. Their spears are pointy. ;)

    1. Thanks Wendy bird! It sounds like Peter Pan and Neverland ;-]

  2. But it's the sheep you really have to watch out for...