Archive for nibana

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

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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

First Extract From The Last Bature

Posted in Extracts with tags , , , , , on 25/09/2009 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

Author’s Bungalow – Jos, Nigeria, 1969

Chapter XXI: Homeward Bound

[…]Mike Stevens and the others on the police launch watched in silence as the Israeli submarine slowly slipped below the waves leaving a trail of turbulence, bubbles and foam for dozens of yards. When the disturbance on the surface of the sea had subsided, it was as though the submarine had never been there.
“Well, sir, what do we do now?” said Bello, breaking the silence that had enveloped everyone on the launch.
“We go home, Bello, that’s what we do,” said Mike, resignedly.
“Am I imagining things or did Chief Superintendent Bouari steal that device from us, sir?” queried Bello.
“Yes, he did Bello. I can’t condone what he did, but at least it’s gone to a nation with some sense of morality, whose people understand the meaning of suffering and oppression. This, I hope, means they will use the technology to prevent war rather than encourage it. Perhaps Israel’s acquisition of nuclear weapons will stop the surrounding Arab nations from constantly attacking them. Who knows, it may actually lead to peace in the Middle East. Wouldn’t that be something, Bello?” replied Mike Stevens, hoping Bello would understand his stance on the matter.
“Yes sir, that would be a wonderful thing, but I do not think it will happen,” said Bello, quietly.
Mike realised that Bello, a Muslim, found it difficult to see the Israeli point of view and so he changed the subject entirely.
“OK, let’s make straight for the coast, turn left and follow it along until we reach Laguna. We must return this launch and explain what has happened,” said Mike, addressing everyone.
Mike worked out a course and the constable, now quite a proficient helmsman, volunteered to steer the launch.
Within twenty minutes, they could see a thin black line on the northern horizon, indicating that the coast of Nibana was about two and a half miles away.
Only when a klaxon sounded did the occupants of the launch realise there was a US guided missile frigate closing on them from behind. Five minutes later a loud whooping sound drew their eyes to the left side of the launch where a Royal Navy destroyer was running alongside at a distance of about two hundred yards.
“What the hell is going on here? I should have detailed someone to watch the damn radar screen,” said Mike, more to himself than to anyone else. “Bello, we had better stop and see what these chaps want. Though I suspect they are looking for the device.”
Bello instructed the constable to close the throttles and they waited for the frigate and the destroyer to stop and send crewmen in outboard-powered inflatables.
The American inflatable arrived first with an officer and four armed marines. Minutes later, the Royal Navy inflatable turned up with an officer and two armed sailors.
“I am Lieutenant Ford from the USS England and I demand to search this launch, stand aside while we board.”
“I am Lieutenant Jackson from HMS Cavalier; we would like to question you regarding a certain device. May we come aboard?”
The inflatables had approached the launch from either side and were now lying alongside bobbing on the waves with the two officers trying to assert themselves, but in very different ways.
“Now just hold on a moment, sailor-boys. This is a Nibana police launch and I am SDPO Mike Stevens, a senior Nibana police officer. We are heading back to Laguna in the course of our duty and, if I am not mistaken, we are now well within Nibanan territorial waters. You have no right to board or question us without my express permission. Now then, how do you want to play this one, gentlemen? Sensibly or strictly by the book?” said Mike, smiling at the two lieutenants in turn as he waved his warrant card at them.
The two naval officers looked at each other across the width of the launch and shrugged before nodding their heads in agreement.
“Welcome aboard, Lieutenants, how can I help you?” said Mike, smiling again.
After scrambling aboard the police launch, the naval officers told Mike they had already intercepted the Kruger, albeit individually, and found nothing. However, when Captain De Jager told each of them the device had been stolen by some ‘pirates’ in a large launch, adding that the pirates had also kidnapped the bulk of his African crew, the Americans and the British, consulting on their ship’s radios, decided to join forces in an attempt to search out the miscreants.
Mike began to explain what had actually happened aboard the Kruger, asking the naval officers whether the crewmen from the freighter looked and behaved as though they had been the victims of a kidnapping. When the two officers conceded there had been no kidnap attempt, Mike went on to explain that Bouari had hijacked the weapon and boarded an Israeli submarine. As soon as they heard this piece of news, the naval officers became very agitated, demanding to know when and where this had occurred, and which direction the submarine had taken.
Mike gave them his best estimate of the time that had elapsed since Bouari took off and showed them the rendezvous position Bouari had marked on the chart, but he could not enlighten them regarding the direction the submarine had taken.

“It just submerged. It could have gone anywhere once it was under the water, but don’t you chaps have submarine detection devices on your ships?” said Mike, expecting a positive reply.
Both naval officers nodded, but confirmed that making contact could be difficult in a large area of ocean such as the Bight of Laguna.
“We could grid-search this area for weeks and never detect the sub, so I must get back to my ship and report to my captain,” said the American.

“I would put my money on the Israelis taking the short way home via Gibraltar,” began the Royal Navy officer. “They could go the long way around the Cape and then through the Suez Canal, of course. The canal has no lock gates and is forty-six feet deep, so an ex-British ‘S’ class sub, which is what the Israelis have, in theory, could pass through submerged, but it would be very difficult for them with all the surface traffic. Furthermore, the Egyptians manage the canal and so the Israelis would have no chance of getting through legitimately or by stealth in my view. The only thing I can do is report back to my captain and he may ask the Admiralty what they want us to do.”
“Sorry I can’t be more helpful, gentlemen,” said Mike, apologetically.
“That’s fine, sir, but I have one last request. Do you mind if we search the launch? We have to be sure, you understand,” said the American.
The Royal Navy officer nodded agreement with his American counterpart and Mike, realising they had their duties to perform, relented and said, “OK, but don’t break anything, it’s not my launch.”
When they came upon the gun-locker, the British officer asked Mike for the key to the padlock. Mike informed him that Bouari had taken it, and the officer indicated it would be necessary to force the lock. Mike shrugged his shoulders and the British officer called to one of his sailors in the inflatable. Seconds later the sailor produced a bayonet and handed it to the officer.
Five minutes later, with the lock duly prised open and the locker emptied of its contents, the naval officers thanked Mike and his colleagues, made absolutely no comment regarding the array of Sten guns, rifles and revolvers lying on the deck, saluted smartly and re-boarded their inflatables. Within minutes, the naval visitors had reached their respective ships and the police launch resumed its journey to Laguna.
It took quite a while to find the creek that would lead them to the first secretary’s house where they had originally collected the launch some twelve hours ago. It was beginning to get dark and Mike was relieved when he recognised the landing stage and, as they came closer, the outline of the large, white bungalow where the first secretary lived. Having to locate the landing stage in the pitch black of night would have required the use of one of the several spot lamps attached to the top of the cabin. Naturally, Mike would have been reluctant to do this because of the curfew, still in force until sun-up in twelve hours’ time.
The nightwatchman helped to secure the launch and Mike went up to the house to speak with the first secretary, whilst the rest of the group waited patiently on the landing stage.
The first secretary nearly had a seizure when Mike told him that Bouari had been a Mossad agent all along and had hijacked the device for Israel before making his getaway in an Israeli submarine.
The demoralised man simply sat at his kitchen table staring out of the window at the shadowy outline of the launch, now moored securely at the jetty, wondering what the high commissioner would have to say when he broke the news to him in the morning.

Second Extract From The Last Bature

Posted in Extracts with tags , , , , , , , on 20/09/2009 by Kenneth C. Ryeland
 

 

The Author: Bar Beach, 1967

The Author: Bar Beach, 1967

Chapter XVI: Dirty Tricks

[…]The British high commissioner sat at his desk in the High Commission building in Laguna waiting for the first secretary commercial to come to his office. When, at last, the man appeared, the high commissioner stood up and said, “Where the hell is your bloody agent, Charles? He should have been in contact by now.”
The first secretary commercial looked at his shoes before mumbling something quite incomprehensible to the high commissioner.
“What did you say?” cried the high commissioner, sorely irritated by whole situation.
“I’m sorry, sir, but I’ve heard nothing from Mohammed Bouari since we decided he should recruit that white policeman from the north to assist him to recover the weapon,” replied the first secretary.
“When did you say these damn Yubas are going to launch their coup? Tonight? You do realise that our plan could backfire on us if the Yubas are successful in their attempt to take over Nibana. That dining room steward you so carefully nurtured, and who now has possession of the device, is a Yuba. What are you going to do, Charles, if he decides to hand it over to the Yuba military after the coup? Worse still, what if he gives it to the French or actually hands it back to the Russians and the North Koreans? We’ll never get our hands on the technology then, Charles. That’s assuming we need the technology. I’ve yet to hear from those damn fools in London,” said the high commissioner, despondently.
“Well, sir, I could send more agents out there, but I don’t want them tripping over each other. I’m confident that Bouari and Stevens, that’s the white policeman, sir, will come through for us,” said the first secretary, in a hopeful tone.
“Can we really trust that Bouari fellow, Charles? After all, he is a Lebanese national and he’s a Muslim too. How long have you known him?” queried the high commissioner.
“Sir, I can vouch for him. He has served us loyally for a long time. I have no reason to think he would double-cross us now, sir.”
“Very well, Charles. I shall leave it with you, but God help you if this goes sour.”
With that, the high commissioner dismissed his first secretary commercial with a slight wave of the hand.

* * *

Nissi Offiong paced his office in utter frustration and continually cursed Major Etuk for not getting in touch, as specifically instructed, just as soon as he’d completed his mission to plant the nuclear device at the Western Police College in Ndabi.
Despite being in a foul temper, Nissi suddenly had a brilliant idea and reached for the handset of the red telephone on his desk. Thirty minutes later, he called for his ADC and barked a string of orders at the frightened man.
Later that evening, Lieutenant Memeka stood to attention in the governor’s private sitting room, having rushed to Ugune from the mine on receiving the urgent summons from the governor’s ADC.
“Lieutenant, I understand you work closely with Major Etuk, not so?” began the governor in a relaxed, casual tone.
“Yes, sir, I work very closely with the major, but I have not seen him for a day or two. Is he here in Ugune, sir?” replied the lieutenant, nervously.
“Do not question me, Lieutenant, or you will be severely punished. You are here to answer my questions. Do you understand? Now listen carefully. When was the last time you saw the major? Think before you answer, Lieutenant,” said the governor in a menacing tone.
The lieutenant began to panic as he tried to remember when he had last seen the major.
“Sorry, sir, but I think I last saw him two days ago when I drove him from the mine to see you here in Ugune, sir. When he had finished here, I drove him back to the rest house in Yula where he dismissed me and I have not seen him since, sir.”
Memeka noticed the suspicious look on the governor’s face and he decided to add more to his story in a desperate attempt at appeasement.
“I think he spoke to one of the Koreans at the rest house, sir, because I saw the two men leave in the Land-Rover half an hour later, sir.”
The governor continued to stare menacingly at the lieutenant and Memeka became frightened again and added yet further information to his report in the hope that it would somehow please the governor.
“Sir, I think they may have gone to the mine, sir, because I watched them leave and I noticed that they took the mine track. I could see the headlights heading in that direction for quite a while, sir. I have not seen the major or the scientist since then, sir. I swear on the life of my mother, sir,” pleaded the lieutenant.
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” said the governor, smiling. “I want you to find the major for me, but first you must swear allegiance to me personally. Do you understand?”
The lieutenant longed to be somewhere else, but smiled back at the governor saying, “Yes, sir, of course, sir. I am a loyal officer, sir. I will swear to you my absolute allegiance and obedience, sir.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant, you are very wise. Now then, when you eventually find Major Etuk, you will kill him and retrieve the property that he has stolen from me,” said the governor as he motioned for Memeka to sit down.
The governor’s previous telephone enquiries had led him to believe that Etuk was in Laguna rather than Ndabi, where he should have been. The red telephone connected directly to his close friend, the commander of the Arakan Barracks in Laguna, and he’d confirmed that Etuk had dropped off an army Land-Rover there, changed into civilian clothes and proceeded on foot to a taxi rank, struggling with a large suitcase. Suspicious of Etuk’s strange behaviour, the commander had had him followed. When the commander’s ADC, the man detailed to follow Etuk, confirmed that the major had checked into a cheap township hotel, the commander naturally assumed the major was there to meet with a girlfriend. At that point, he called off the tail and thought no more of it until the military governor had made specific enquiries.
The governor told Memeka the name of the hotel in Laguna where he could expect to find the major. He then reiterated that Memeka should kill the officer immediately, retrieve a large suitcase, contact him and await orders. The governor emphasised that Memeka should not open the suitcase under any circumstances; suggesting forcefully that the penalty for doing so would be extreme. However, not wishing to frighten his new man completely out of his wits, the governor went on to confirm that Memeka’s reward for success would be immunity from prosecution, promotion to captain and a lifetime appointment to the governor’s personal staff at Government House in Ugune.
Lieutenant Memeka smiled and said, “Yes, sir, I understand perfectly. I will leave for Laguna right away.”

* * *

The military attaché at the Soviet Embassy paced the floor of his office smoking one cigarette after another, thinking anxiously about the North Korean nuclear weapon. He didn’t hear the gentle knock on his door the first time, but when it was repeated a little louder some seconds later, he called for his security advisor to enter.
“Comrade, you persuaded me that your plan would work, but now we have lost contact with that steward from the British High Commission whom you nurtured and moulded for many months. Just what is going on, Comrade, are you in control of your operative or not?” growled the attaché.
“Yes, Comrade Military Attaché, I am in full control. Please do not concern yourself over this stupid steward. He has simply misunderstood my very clear and concise instructions, Comrade Military Attaché. My best agent is about to make contact with him this evening, Comrade,” replied the security advisor, nervously.
The military attaché looked at his security advisor for a moment and then said very quietly, “Very well, Comrade, but if you fail us on this, you can look forward to no less than thirty years in a corrective labour camp.”
Since Stalin’s death in 1953, senior Soviet political and military figures no longer used the common and well-understood term for the harsh system of political prisoner re-education in the Soviet Union: The Gulag.

* * *

The French military attaché stood looking out of his office window in the French Embassy on Laguna Island, almost across the street from the British High Commission and the Soviet Embassy.
“Do you think this offer is genuine or is it just a joke?” said the French ambassador as he paced the office nervously.
“Well, sir, if it is genuine we shall have the micro-nuclear technology that no other Western power possesses. If it is a joke, as you put it, well, no one will know that some Nibanan took us for fools. I can assure you of that, sir. My agent is well aware of his orders,” said the military attaché, without turning away from the window to face his ambassador.
“Very well, Pierre. Continue with your plan and deploy your agent, but do not tell me any more details about this steward from the British High Commission. I want to be able to look the British high commissioner in the eye at diplomatic parties and deny everything without feeling guilty. Just be sure to report that you have been successful when we meet for breakfast in the morning,” said the ambassador as he opened the military attaché’s door and quickly departed[…]

The Last Bature: Synopsis

Posted in Synopses with tags , , , , , , , , , on 12/06/2009 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

The Last Bature is a policeman’s story set in Nibana, an imaginary West African state, shortly after gaining its independence from the British in 1962.
What begins as a straightforward investigation by the last British policeman in the Northern Region and an African police inspector, quickly turns to intrigue when the intelligence services of the superpowers vie with each other to secure a breakthrough in weapons technology. Combine this with the machinations of an irrational regional military governor hell-bent on overthrowing his brother, the head of state, and the basis for an exciting story emerges. With the cold war as a backdrop and a second coup imminent, the action moves quickly from the heat of the Omdu Hills, through the stench of the Laguna slums to the waters of the Bight of Laguna, giving the reader an insight into the grubby world of espionage and life in West Africa during the turbulent sixties.

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.