Feature Article of Monday, 21 May 2012
Columnist: Ohene, Elizabeth A.
By Elizabeth A. Ohene
This book has an identity problem. The author, the NPP politician and medical doctor, Arthur Kennedy states in the introduction that the book is “a work of fiction”. Five lines later he restates that “this book is fiction.” The author states that the book is an attempt to sound the alarm about the impact of drug abuse on Africa in general and on west Africa in particular, and therein lies the problem about the book.
The title of the book, THE DRUG INVASION OF WEST AFRICA, is straightforward enough and can hardly be called “fiction” and I suspect librarians would know exactly where to place it in a library and it would not be among fictional works.
The first thing to note therefore in trying to understand the book is that it seeks to be a campaigning book about the menace of drugs and Arthur Kennedy has done a lot of research on drug trafficking and abuse throughout the ages and he states that while the book is a work of fiction, it is based on a lot of historical truths.
It is easy to see why Mr. Kennedy is so keen to cloak his work with fiction. His last book, CHASING THE ELEPHANT INTO THE BUSH, which was an account of the 2008 elections in Ghana from his vantage position as the NPP Campaign Director of Communications caused such an uproar, he probably wanted to protect himself from charges of disloyalty again.
But he is equally keen to make his point about the drug menace and to display the amount of research he has made on the subject and that is where, I am afraid his skills as a novelist fail him completely.
The main story, the decision of Mexican drug barons moving to west Africa as a transit point is supposed to be based in the fictional Republic of Seguria, which is situated between Ghana to the east and Ivory Coast to the west. If you are trying to find similarities between The Republic of Seguriaand Ghana, there are lots. “A rudimentary railway line built to transport cocoa to the coast by one of the country’s pre-independece governors had long since ceased to function”, we are talking about Seguria. The man who got independence for this fictional republic and became its first president was “The Anointed One”, Kofi YundoboKruman, it has also had a former President Djato and a former president Diwoku and when the story opens the president of the republic is a president Nta Mayo. A reader will have a lot of fun working out the historical and current equivalents of the characters in the story.
There will doubtless be a lot of excitement when people discover that as part of the storyline there is a presidential candidate who had been accused of dealing in drugs by his opponents and had lost an election. The excitement will mount even more when it turns out that the republic of Seguria has been chosen by the Santa Anna Mexican drug family as the new place for their operations. The amount of research Mr. Kennedy put into the writing of the book is evident when he is dealing with the Mexican part of the storyline; the characters come alive and the conversation sounds convincing and even the geographical settings are interesting. And indeed throughout the book, the scenes that are outside the republic of Seguria and west Africa as a whole are more vivid and more realistic. Hardly anybody in the Santa Anna drug family comes across as someone to be despised, not even when they send a team of female assassins to Cape Dedamia, the Seguria capital to kill a man that had dared to steal a consignment of their drugs. Where there are drugs, there will be law enforcement officials and this story has its share of policemen and other officials that are trying to always be a step ahead of the drugs dealers. There is the Seguria Chief of Police KoloBunteyWaawa, a promisingly colourful man who unfortunately fades away inexplicably.
The same however cannot be said about Sir Lance Boyd, the man who “quite a few people considered the real-life James Bond”. He had been awarded a Victoria Cross for bravery in Afghanistan and been knighted on the recommendations of departing prime minister Tony Blair. His interest in the drug war had developed from his devotion to terrorism. “He was worried that sooner or later, just as there would be a nexus between drugs and terror, there would be one between drugs and politics, forming an explosive and evil triangle.”
Somehow you just knew that with such a man being introduced to this particular war, the rest of us could sleep safely. But what kept Sir Lance awake at night, we are told, was the gap between rhetoric and action and this was why he was an ardent fan of former US President George W. Bush, who in Sir Lance’s opinion, was a man of action and he admired men on action. The author also is an obvious fan of former President George W. Bush, and laments that he has not been given enough credit for his work in establishing the Global fund for HIV/AIDS. Sir Lance (and Arthur Kennedy) agreed with the younger President Bush that “gathering threats must be confronted before they become imminent”, this is quoted four different times in the book. Sir Lance teams up with an American counterpart and friend, Colonel Ken Wiecker, a man with similar qualifications and between the two of them, the British and American governments are fully signed up to fight the drug menace in west Africa and by extension, on the streets of western capitals.
Those who would be wanting to see if this book is in fact a roman a clef, would be interested to know that the presidential candidate who is accused of dealing in drugs by his opponents and lost an election, wins the next election. Whilst the story moves from Cape Dedamia to London, to Washington DC, to Mexico, to Barcelona and Abuja and African Union summits in Addis Ababa, one thing is clear, Mr. Kennedy is as he says, as a family physician, trying to sound the alarm about the effects of drugs on individuals as well as on society.
Mr. Kennedy obviously wants to go as far as he can to make his book as controversial and titillating by aligning the names of the characters and places as closely to real life as he can possibly dare without libeling anybody and he succeeds in this. But the determination to mix fact with fiction which leads to the recounting of various true drugs stories in west Africa means that what would have been a great denouement, simply fizzles out.
In the end, we don’t have a novel and the title betrays the main aim of the author as wanting to write a serious work that draws attention to the drug problem in west Africa. But I have no doubt enough people will want to know what happens to President Quanda of Seguria and thus keep this book in the headlines for a while.