Archive for africa

Review of The Mine “A Real Page-Turner”

Posted in africa, Civil War, General, nepotism, Reviews, Tribalism, West Africa with tags , , , , on 05/04/2013 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

themineThe author has a real problem at the beginning of this book and that is getting the reader to appreciate the complicated historical, social and political background that is vital to the story he is about to tell. However, once this phase of the novel is over, the story grips the reader and Ryeland’s real skills come to the fore.

The strengths of the book come from the author’s effortless command of the complex series of plots and sub-plots underpinning and driving the story. It is admirable how Ryeland balances so many balls in the air at the same time, keeping the reader keen to find out how the trick will work out in the end as the juggler finishes his final act with a flourish.

At the same time as the author is entertaining us with a multi-faceted thriller, we are being shown insights into the world of post-colonial Africa. If some of the scenes of utter corruption seem far-fetched to readers who have never experienced it, I can assure them that from my own experience of living in West Africa at the time, the picture Ryeland draws up of betrayal, sleaze, bribery and the general cheapness of human life is an accurate portrait of the times and is probably still reliable today, if news reports from the area are anything to go by. Ryeland’s Nibana may be imaginary, but the Nigeria on which it is based (and whose history it shadows so closely) really was the fraud-ridden, chaotic, divided nation of this book.

The book can be depressing at times, since with the exception of the three main heroes, everyone else in the novel is on the make or else pursuing their own political ambitions. Honest, decent men in Africa of the calibre of Bello do appear to be sadly thin on the ground. However, this trio of good men certainly arouse our approval and by this means the author ensures that the reader cares what happens to them as well as focusing our sympathies on their plight as the novel develops.

I would guess that some people might find some of the minor characters in the book to be rather two-dimensional. However, I would come to the author’s defence by noting that the kind of pompous and insensitive “cartoon” attitudes shown by the High Commissioner (for example) are in fact accurate portrayals of the public personas that those characters exhibited to the world at the time. The bar at the Ikoyi Club, in Lagos, where expatriates met to socialise, was full of such apparent “caricatures” when I frequented it as a child.

Having said all that, “The Mine” is a real page-turner. The reader will surely be anxious to find out how the various plot strands come together and who will survive the violent times in which the characters find themselves: times in which power seeking military bullies and corrupt officials covering their asses are only too willing to utilize people and then cast them aside.

Like Ryeland’s other books set in West Africa, “The Mine” is also a valuable document that records (from a largely European perspective) the reality of Africa at a vital time in its development. Historical records of the time might give readers a dry account of the facts and figures of the conflict that resulted from the first serious attempt to redraw the map of post-colonial Africa, but Ryeland’s novel gives us an insight into what it was actually like to be there among all the turmoil and chaos.

**** (4 stars)

Berni Armstrong

The Story Behind the Story of The Last Bature

Posted in General, Tribalism, West Africa with tags , , , , on 19/02/2013 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

LastBatureReaders will have gathered that I spent some time in West Africa, particularly Nigeria, during the sixties, where I worked, initially as a service manager and later a branch manager, for a British company (BEWAC) dealing in Land-Rovers, Leyland trucks and buses and Massey Ferguson agricultural products. My position gave me access to all sorts of people and not least the senior officers of the police, who used Land-Rovers extensively throughout the region. The Last Bature is a policeman’s tale, but let me first explain the word “Bature” (pronounced Batuuree). It is a Hausa word and Hausa is the Lingua Franca of the northern sector of many of the countries along the West African coast and is therefore spoken widely in Northern Nigeria. It means white man, European or senior government officer. All three terms being mutually interchangeable and thus any Caucasian male official in the north of Nigeria was addressed and referred to as “Bature”. I was known as Moto Bature (Moto meaning of course Motor) and my bank manager friend was called Kudi Bature (Kudi meaning Money). Therefore, the title of the book indicates that the holder was the last white policeman in the territory. The main protagonist in my book is Senior District Police Officer, Mike Stevens who tries to avert a major catastrophe while the country, Nibana, a fictitious ex-British colony, lurches into yet another coup, which eventually leads to civil war. The character of Mike Stevens is based on a police officer that I actually knew well, and our hero in the book exhibits exactly the same attributes as the real officer. He is honest, treats everyone equally and trucks no nonsense from anyone, African or European. Indeed the first chapter of the book details a scene at the Club (A virtual oasis for Europeans in a country with a climate and culture so very different from our own) which I actually witnessed and clearly illustrates the integrity of the senior police officer I was pleased to call my friend. Like my character in the book, he was the last bature in the force and when he finally retired, it was a very sad day for the territory and for the police force too. When he left the country to return to England, the small airport building was packed with expatriates of all nationalities, together with many senior African police officers, to see him off in the traditional manner. Though he has now sadly passed away, I will never forgot my old police pal and so I used him as my hero in The Last Bature as a sign of respect and gratitude for him having been such a loyal friend.

New Political Thriller Out Now!

Posted in africa, Synopses, Tribalism, nepotism, West Africa with tags , , , , , , , on 07/03/2012 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

My new political thriller, entitled The Mine, (110,000 words) is now available in Kindle and paperback formats from Amazon UK, Amazon US and in all e-book formats from Smashwords. It’s also available as a paperback from Lulu .
Like all my other books it’s set in West Africa during the turbulent sixties and could be described as the sequel to The Last Bature, though it’s not necessary to have read the previous book to appreciate the new one. I do hope you find the new book to be just as absorbing and exciting as all the others. Here’s the back cover blurb to give you an idea of the story.

 

The Mine is a political thriller set in Nibana, an imaginary West African state, some years after gaining independence from the British in 1962. With the Eastern Region about to secede and Nibana heading for civil war, the head of state invites an archaeology professor and his team to investigate some ruins in the Northern Region. The professor’s astonishing finds initiate a chain of extraordinary events that lead to abduction. A police investigation ensues, but becomes complicated when an Eastern Bloc country is commissioned to print currency for the secessionists, and an MI6 agent, working with the police, must hinder the secession by sabotaging the currency.  An abandoned mine becomes the focal point when the agent, police and archaeologists are incarcerated there and discover its secret. Murder, breathtaking corruption, river pirates and rogue army officers; Ken Ryeland manipulates these ingredients in his usual consummate way to provide an exciting political thriller.

Get Your Free E-Book at Smashwords

Posted in General with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 02/07/2011 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

I’m gjuju-meniving away one of my novellas, Juju-Men, (in all e-book formats) until 16 April 2017. Simply go to Smashwords to receive your 100% discount quoting coupon number GQ58Q. Enjoy the read and please leave a comment if you have time.

I shall be issuing other coupons. Look out for them.

Juju-Men  This is a single ‘taster’ story from the Tribal Gathering compendium.

A lowly houseboy persuades Ade Soyoyi and Bande Abaleko to deliver a package to the local Freemasons’ Lodge, but this minor indiscretion leads to death, destruction and chaos in the Western Region of Nibana.

 

Review of The Last Bature “A James Bond Style Thriller”

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 22/06/2011 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

LastBature

Kenneth Ryeland will not be straitjacketed into a single genre or style. His first book “The Up- Country Man” is an autobiography that read like a thriller. His second “Tribal Gathering” is a series of varied short stories outlining life in postcolonial West Africa which echoed the work of authors such as Orwell, Graham Greene, Chinua Achebi or Cyprian Ekwensi…. and Ryeland can certainly stand his own in the company of the above-mentioned.

In his full-length novel “The Last Bature” Ryeland starts us off in familiar Graham Greene territory. His police Inspector, Mike Stevens, is a very believable “last white man standing” in a force that has been rapidly Africanised after independence. Like Obi Okonkwo in “No Longer Ease” or Greene’s Scobie in “The Heart of the Matter” Mike Stevens is a decent man in a world dominated by corruption. But unlike the pair just mentioned, Stevens never falls into the trap of allowing himself to be open to bribery.

As the story develops, we are drawn into the intrigue that Stevens is investigating. The heart of the story is almost prophetic as it turns on the shady involvement of Asian powers in Africa. This was indeed happening in West Africa at the time the book is set, but such presence has since become massive, indeed it has almost converted Africa into the backdrop for a covert Cold War between Asian and Western interests today.

Along the way, we meet some fascinating minor characters such as Stevens’ sidekick Bello or the slimy Major Etuk. Ryeland is good on minor characters and at his strongest in depicting events that carry the story along, as well as accompanying reflections in dialogue, or the little sketches which perfectly illustrate Stevens’ life as a policeman, or the conditions the locals have to put up with. The author is at his weakest, however, when the dialogue is merely explanatory with characters filling in plot details and political background in unlikely conversations (such as that involving the Soviet Ambassador).

There is a powerful sub-thread running through the book about plans for a coup d’etat and counter coups as tribal tensions among the army lead to powerful elements from each tribe planning to take over the government. The power crazy cynicism of such characters is perfectly evoked by Brigadier Nissi Offiong, a well-crafted super villain, who is willing to carry out annihilation of the capital city and the millions living there if it means he can take power from his brother, the current head of state.

At some point in the novel the writer starts to leave behind Graham Greene territory and opt for a more sensationalist “Hollywood” line. Ryeland handles this very well, but personally I find it hard to maintain my willing suspension of disbelief when characters are involved in incidents, which, in reality, they would surely have turned over to the relevant authorities. Ryeland does his best to justify Mike Stevens being involved at every stage of the denouement of the book, but as the story takes on the characteristics of an action movie, I found myself visualising the central protagonist as Claude Van Damme, rather than as a kind of tragic-heroic Peter Postlethwaite figure. This I felt was to the detriment of the book, but perhaps fans of Dan Brown and Hollywood action movies would disagree with me.

That said, the resulting thriller is a real page-turner that has you wanting to read just another few pages to see what happens next and the climax is generally satisfying. Though there is a final chapter postscript to the story which attempts to cram in too much information about what happened next to our protagonist and the country he had dedicated most of his life to serving.

Altogether, Ryeland has written another good book about life in post-colonial Africa, with the added attraction of a James Bond style thriller plot.

**** (4 stars)

Berni Armstrong

Review of Tribal Gathering “Fine Examples of the Storyteller’s Art”

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 03/03/2011 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

“Tribal Gathering” is a collection of eight short stories set in the fictitious Republic of Nibana in the 1960s. Readers familiar with West Africa, however, should have little difficulty identifying many of the fictionalised places mentioned. The stories draw upon the author’s extensive experience of living and working in West Africa and are fine examples of the storyteller’s art. The author takes the reader into the heart of the changing West Africa of the time, creating a vivid picture of human shortcomings against a background of tribalism, corruption, rebellion and civil unrest. Recurrent themes include the clash of European and African cultures and the continuing impact of ancient religions and old ways upon everyday lives.

***** (5 stars)
Dr Peter McCree

Review of Tribal Gathering “To Understand Sub-Saharan Africa Read This”

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on 25/02/2011 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

The world of “Dash” or be dashed.

These eight stories perfectly recreate a lost world: the early post-colonial era in West Africa. They present both a faithful portrait of expatriate society and a brave attempt to get under the skin of local West African cultures.

The stories from a European perspective amply illustrate the fascination/aversion, and above all, frustration that the European managers felt towards local traditions; while the stories from a native perspective attempt to get inside a civilization that appears to both repel and captivate the author.

Many of the stories draw on the incomprehensibility of both parts of the equation. The Europeans cannot understand why the local culture is as it is and the locals find it difficult to come to terms with European demands which are totally alien to their society. However, the worldview presented in “Tribal Gathering” is not (and excuse the pun) just black-and-white. In the story “The Visit” we clearly see how the visiting director from Europe neither knows, nor desires to know anything about the country in which his company has invested; contrasting greatly with the superior knowledge of the local British manager, who has lived in the country long enough to know how things work there. The story “Tief Man” attempts to give us an insight into how the grinding poverty of much of West Africa leads otherwise honest citizens into a life of crime that their better off counterparts find incomprehensible.

There are stories dealing with the strange and powerful world of local “juju” beliefs, or the pantheon of local gods; and a story which explains how sudden death can be met at almost any crossroads on the continent.

In many of the stories, the motor that drives the story is self-deception, deliberate lies or incomprehension, most notably in the moving final story in the collection “Smoke Screens”.

Most of the stories work perfectly well within the vignette style of the best short stories. There is one exception however, and that is the centrepiece of the work: “Boom Town”. The canvas of this longer story is vast, perhaps too huge for all of the themes it covers. Through the story of its protagonist, the author attempts to give us an insight into the corrupting influence of the bribery and semi-legal theft that is behind almost every transaction, at every level, of West African society. In such a climate, nobody is immune from, and nobody is free of, the shadow of “dash”. Without actually stating it, the author implies an agreement with those who would dissolve the artificially created countries that the imperialists created and redraw the map along tribal lines. That would appear to be the only possible answer to what the Europeans living there described as “the tribal problem”.

Anyone wishing to understand why Sub-Saharan Africa is in the sorry mess it is today would be advised to read this latter story above all others. Indeed, if I have one criticism of the book it is that this story reads like a truncated novel. I felt there were enough themes in this one tale to have expanded the story to novel length.

However, this criticism aside, I can think of no other book I have read, with the possible exception of David Pownall’s more comic “African Horse” that so accurately recreates the postcolonial scene in Africa. In many ways, these stories have helped me to understand the world which, as a child living in West Africa in this period, I did not have the maturity to fully understand.

***** (5 stars)
Berni Armstrong