Arthur Kobina Kennedy

The title of this just-published book sounds academic. But don’t be misled. It is fiction: a novel about how West Africa became a transit zone for the international drug trade, how the region’s politicians and security agencies got lured into the business protecting the intricate web of the drug barons, and how in the end these leaders were outmanoeuvred and got Africa humiliated in the amoral game of big power international diplomacy.

It is a tale of the fragility, indeed the vulnerability, of the sovereignty of African countries. It is a story that exposes how unreliable African security and political institutions could be; it is a story of how easy it is for anyone carrying wads of dollars to buy off and use West African politicians and security bosses. For, “most people in government (are) more loyal to cash than country”.

Dr. Kennedy, a physician and politician with a prolific and questioning pen, has put in fictional form a graphic and scary picture of the world of the drug cartels, how they could take over governments and make them instruments of their interests, and the near-hopelessness of international programmes to stop the dastardly business.

The book takes you around three continents to Matamoros, a fictional city in Mexico where the Santa Anna family of a prominent cartel is based; to Seguria, a  West African country squeezed between Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire; to the White House and 10 Downing Street in Washington, D.C. and London where the US President and British Prime Minister and their intelligence chiefs plan how to fight the drug menace; to New York at the UN Security Council; to the Hague at the International Criminal Court; and to the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa.

In Mexico, the Santa Anna family, seeking new ways of dodging the heat from US anti-drug campaigns in Latin America, plots and succeeds in setting up an operational base in the Republic of Seguria, with warehouses in other West African outposts for transporting drugs from South America to Europe. This is achieved with the help of Seguria’s police chief recruited through a former girlfriend, now living in the Bronx, who had got involved with the Santa Anna family’s network in the US.

Meanwhile, Britain and the US identify as the most dangerous common enemy, the twin devils of drugs and terrorism. The two powers get the UN Security Council to adopt a policy that empowers the ICC to indict, arrest and prosecute anyone, including presidents, ministers or citizens from any country suspected of dealing in the drug trade. Many African countries sign on to the new resolution, with the president of Seguria leading the campaign against the drug menace as a personal mission.

The crux of the matter comes when elite British and US security squads, acting to enforce the Security Council resolution, enter secretly by sea at night, a West African country and abduct the president and send him to the ICC with a dossier on his collusion with the drug cartels.

For about 48 hours the country is without a president. Overnight the president, who had gone to spend the night in his girlfriend’s house the night before, finds himself in a prison cell in Europe, far away from his palace or state house. The outrage that this provokes among Africans and the political leaders is without measure. An emergency AU summit to deal with the issue, however, succeeds in exposing the continent’s subordination and helplessness.

The whole affair damns, and reminds Africans of the double standards with which the big powers have often treated African states in matters of critical international relations. But the operation to abduct the president, carried out with detailed intelligence fed by elements in the head of state’s own security, and his indictment endorsed even by his own vice president, provide a chilling parody of the character of the independent African state.

The author brings out these political lessons in very well structured narrative and dialogue among the characters. The dialogue flows smoothly. But while the characters are well crafted, there is a weakness, generally, in their psychological profiles. That is, there is little subtlety in the portrait of the characters’ personalities.

Moreover, the resemblance between many characters and real and known persons is too plain. Sometimes this is easily given away by the spelling of names or by references to historical incidents. But all these weaknesses – and this is the author’s first novel — are compensated for by very interesting historical information giving spice to the narrative.

The strongest parts of the novel include the excursions into the organizational structures and workings of these criminal businesses. The professionalism with which these gangsters collect intelligence and analyze political, social and economic developments as data necessary for their operations is remarkable. There is even a trace of a sense of morality when the patriarch of the Santa Anna family proposes that pushing drugs through West Africa must not end up creating junkies (drug addicts) among the population.

This is a novel with a mission to raise alarm about the dangers the drug trade poses to West African societies. And it couldn’t have been put better than what the CIA director told his British intelligence collaborator:

“If the cartels can take over West Africa, the combination of drugs, oil, weak governments, drug dealers and poverty will create a veritable tinder box that will make Bosnia, Palestine and other such places look relatively tame.”

Publishers: Outskirts Press, Denver, 2012

Reviewed by Kwame Karikari

By Arthur Kobina Kennedy

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