Archive for civil war

Are You a Fellow MV Isonzo Refugee?

Posted in africa, Biafra, Civil War, nigeria, West Africa with tags , , , , , , on 10/04/2013 by Kenneth C. Ryeland
The evacuation ship: MV ISONZO

The evacuation ship: MV ISONZO

On a hot, sultry afternoon in July 1967, a small Italian freighter eased itself away from the quay at Port Harcourt in Eastern Nigeria, or Biafra as it had become by then. On board were 800 or so expatriates who were being evacuated from Biafra to the comparative safety of Lagos in Federal Nigeria. The ship, the MV Isonzo, was the only way out of the rebel enclave as Federal Nigerian troops closed in on the township for the final assault. There were many nationalities on board including British, American, Dutch, Israeli, Japanese and Italian, all of whom had previously worked in Enugu, the regional capital, or Port Harcourt the region’s major sea port. An account of my adventures in Biafra is detailed in my memoir entitled The Up-Country Man, which is featured on this page. It’s the story of a young British engineer, (me), straight out from England, who was posted to Enugu just as the Nigerian civil war began and the book relates some of the problems and difficulties encountered by a white man living in an enclave of determined indigenous people. Roadblocks, marauding Biafran soldiers, food shortages and the secret police caused many problems for the small contingent of Europeans remaining in Enugu, not to mention the trauma of the final evacuation itself. Since the evacuation, I have only managed to make contact with one or two people who were aboard the Isonzo, or resident in Port Harcourt at the time and I would like to make contact with others if possible. Were you on that small Italian freighter? Do you know anyone who was on that ship? If so, perhaps you would be kind enough to make contact using the comments facility or by means of my e-mail address (top right hand column).

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

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 2018. 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 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 The Up-Country Man “A Fascinating Insight”

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on 26/01/2011 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

UCMcover16x24

My interest in the war in Nigeria was piqued some time ago when I read Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. Being a child of the 70s it was something I knew virtually nothing about. Therefore when I came across this book I thought it would be really interesting to read a first-hand account. The author Kenneth Ryeland moved to Nigeria as a young man in 1967, working as an engineer. His company had played down reports of previous unrest and Ryeland planned to move his young family to the country to join him after the completion of his probation period.

The book intially details the culture shock experienced by the author and another young colleague upon their arrival, having to adjust to a new geography and culture. Ryeland is moved to a posting in Enugu amid rumours that secession will occur, and when it does he finds himself living in the new state of Biafra. The “police action” seriously disrupts life for the Europeans as well as for the rest of it’s new citizens.

I found the book fascinating. I really liked the use of Pidgin English in the book as I felt it illustrated one of the most obvious difficulties the author must have faced on arriving in Nigeria and lent real flavour to the book. The story of Adam and Eve in Pidgin at the start really helped my understanding, so while I couldn’t translate it I certainly got the gist. The story was so descriptive of the places and people, but without being unnecessarily wordy.

I can imagine some people might be uncomfortable with some of the portrayals of the white man as master and the locals as servants but it is illustrating how things really were at the time, is basically a historical account of events and it would be wrong to sanitise the book to appease people.

This book contained enough description of Nigeria and it’s people to satisfy me as a travel book, enough about factual historical events to make me feel like I was learning something by reading it, and enough emotion and anecdotes for it to be a thoroughly enjoyable read.

***** (5 Stars)

Tracy Cook

Review of The Up-Country Man “I Thoroughly Recommend this Book!”

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on 23/11/2010 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

UCMcover16x24I have to admit to a natural bias towards this book. I was a young man in Nigeria during the time the book is set and it brought back so many memories for me.

Ryeland captures the uncertainty of the build up to the Nigerian Civil War with mastery. His observations are incredibly detailed and perfectly illustrate the society to which I belonged as a child: the ex-patriot community. He truthfully depicts the lives of the Europeans resident in that young independent country and their attempts to try to help it get on its feet (while enjoying a life style we’d never have had “back home”). He observes how we remained outside of the mainstream African culture which fascinated, repelled and puzzled us in equal measure.

 As another reviewer has mentioned, this is not a book for the PC brigade. Ryeland is no racist, but his portrayal of the sense of superiority that was instilled in the Europeans working and living out in the ex-colony is bound to offend some. I would advise people likely to be offended by that to simply appreciate those aspects for what they are, invaluable first-hand accounts of a particular moment in history, whose protagonists are now slowly disappearing off the world stage.

 The book reads like a thriller. I found it difficult to stop myself starting another chapter as I finished each one… even when common sense said it was time for sleep. You really get drawn into this first person narrative and rapidly become keen to find out what happens to him, his friends and acquaintances as the political situation deteriorates.

 As for his use of Pidgin English, I recognise that for some this might present a problem to the uninitiated, but if you persevere, it will become easier to understand and it is yet another element by which Ryeland allows you to put yourself into his predicament. As a fluent pidgin speaker myself, I found those dialogues really added to the atmosphere and to the authentic tone of the book.

 If anyone is seeking to understand what it was like for a European to live in post-colonial Africa, under the threat of coup d’etats and civil wars, this book will offer you the chance to experience that life in great detail.

 It has even given me a desire to finish my long abandoned novel about my own experiences in Nigeria as a child. I thoroughly recommend this book!

***** (5 stars)

Berni Armstrong

Tribal Gathering: Synopsis

Posted in Synopses with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on 08/02/2009 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

Tribal Gathering is a collection of stories set in Nibana during the 1960s, an imaginary, newly independent ex-British colony, situated on the West African coast. Against the backdrop of a nation embroiled in tribalism, nepotism and corruption, the rapidly failing infrastructure, three military coups and a bloody civil war simply add to the chaos as the main African and European characters try to live out their lives against all the odds. From the dry heat and desolation of the Northern Desert to the suffocating humidity of the oil-rich swamplands of the Enube Delta, the stories tell of the humour and tragedy of life and the frailty of human nature. Betrayal, revenge, ignorance and stupidity are intermingled with witchcraft, African Deities and Freemasonry, in a detailed and consummate way to provide interesting and compulsive reading.

HOT METAL: During a visit to the ancient town of Ifun, Peter Stafford and John Hughes encounter a mysterious African boy in the forest and the repercussions reach out to Peter Stafford’s family far away in England.

JUJU-MEN: By persuading Ade Soyoyi and Bande Abaleko to deliver a package, this minor indiscretion by an African houseboy working for the master of the local Freemason’s lodge leads to multiple deaths and chaos in the Western Region.

THE PRICE OF TIN: John Trevelyan and Umoru Ibrahim go tin prospecting in the remote Northern Desert. They desperately need to find new deposits, but all they find is an untimely demise, brought about by one of nature’s smallest of creatures.

THE VISIT: Two ungrateful, hard-to-please senior executives from the UK visit Arthur Meadows, the branch manager at Kuna, and receive an unusual punishment from the Emir of the region for their boorish and inconsiderate behaviour.

BOOM TOWN: Charlie Robinson is employed to open a new branch of the company in the oil-rich Enube Delta. Although he encounters many difficulties, the business succeeds until the region is plunged into civil war. Sabotage finally renders all he has worked for lost, but out of the destruction and chaos comes the opportunity for riches and a new life.

COMRADES: Sule Mohammed is persuaded to join the Nibanan People’s Freedom Party, an illegal organisation that, he is assured, will rid the country of the corrupt military junta and the white man. Only when it is too late does he realise that a colleague, who simply wanted his job, had duped and betrayed him.

TIEF-MAN: Encountering hard times after leaving home, young Idewu Kosae turns to crime only to meet his maker at the hands of his best friend.

SMOKESCREENS: Ade Awole attends a course of instruction at a tobacco factory in the UK and meets Jane Middleton, the young English woman assigned to conduct the course. Eventually they agree to marry and she travels to West Africa, but they both have their own agendas and not all is what it seems for either one.