FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

On the Fringes in Djibouti and Soweto

by CHARLES R. LARSON

In Passage of Tears, twenty-nine-year-old Djibril (or “Djib” in the shortened version), returns to Djibouti, the country of his birth, for the first time in many years.  He’s been living in Canada but has agreed to return to Djibouti for a research intelligence company in order to feel out “the temperature on the ground, making sure the country is secure, the situation stable and the terrorists under control,” a rather unlikely situation just about anywhere in the Horn of Africa.  Presumably, because of his past, he’s the right man for the job, though clearly there are risks involved—not only the ones he can foresee.  His report, once it is finished, will help a Western corporation determine whether Djibouti’s uranium is a promising investment.  As he identifies himself, “I have no desire to attract attention.  I earned my spurs in a specific sector of the world of international business.  I am part of that new elite with no permanent ties, at home everywhere, and foreign everywhere.”

Djib is a little like Changez in Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, returning home to Pakistan, after becoming disillusioned with the United States; or Malik, the journalist, in Nuruddin Farah’s recent novel, Crossbones, also making a pilgrimage to his homeland: Somalia.  Both of these novels and Passage of Tears are concerned with Islamic fundamentalism in troubled countries.  All three present tense situations for the prodigal son and/or Westerners who venture into such trouble spots in the world today, which is only to say that their immediacy is chillingly close to what we read in our newspapers, watch on TV or in movies, as exaggerated and distorted as those situations may be.  Thus, it isn’t long before Djib is being watched—his every move, in fact.

Waberi’s forté is his daringly innovative way of narrating his story.  First, there are the sections where Djib relates his own adventures, not only the difficulty he has collecting the information he’s been sent to acquire but also flashbacks to his life in Canada and the Canadian woman with whom he lives.  He phones her every evening.  Then there are passages related by a mysterious figure from a prison cell, who somehow knows about Djib’s every move, both inside and outside of his hotel room.  Thirdly, that second narrator (obviously an intellectual) interweaves into his own observations the events in Walter Benjamin’s last days, when Benjamin was being pursued by the Gestapo during World War II—real life events that culminate with the German intellectual’s suicide after he realized that he could not escape the Nazis.  Are these three narratives convincing?  Disturbingly so, as Djib begins to realize that he is a marked man, pursued by fanatics, and that he’s no longer regarded by his people as Djibouti, but Western.

Hamid, Farah, and Waberi all attack Capitalism and its virulent overseas form: corporatism.  But, unlike Changez in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, who comes to question his job at Underwood Samson (US), raiding companies and skimming off their assets, Djib does not question his work that is only designed to benefit Western corporations as non-Western companies are being destroyed.  Djib glibly remarks, “I have been trained to disorganize these states and weaken them still more, so as to benefit multinational companies and their stockholders.  It is lucrative work but it has its dangers.”  Somewhat later, he also observes, “As business never stops, neither do armed conflicts.  There are always new markets to explore, new partners to consult, new logos to design, new directions to take and new masters to advise.  I am a link in that chain of transnational command.  A foot soldier of the shadows.”

The story slowly twists on family dynamics, on scars from childhood wounds, rivalries and jealousies, and religious fundamentalism.  Waberi conjures up Djibouti’s barrenness, its poverty, and political factions—wrapped around the American Combined Joint Task Force for the Horn of Africa, Camp Lemonier: “a fortified base, protected by a double surrounding wall bristling with watchtowers, infrared cameras and concrete barriers, as well as several rows of barbed wire.”  And the country itself?  “Due to its geographical position and stability, my little country has charmed the high strategists of the Pentagon and the Businessmen of the Persian Gulf, Dubai first and foremost.”

Waberi is a gifted writer and the translation by David and Nicole Ball serves him well.  His chilling narrative of America’s repeated blunders in international intervention is enough to make one quake.

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C. 


 

More articles by:

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

Weekend Edition
November 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Thank an Anti-War Veteran
Andrew Levine
What’s Wrong With Bible Thumpers Nowadays?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The CIA’s House of Horrors: the Abominable Dr. Gottlieb
Wendy Wolfson – Ken Levy
Why We Need to Take Animal Cruelty Much More Seriously
Mike Whitney
Brennan and Clapper: Elder Statesmen or Serial Fabricators?
David Rosen
Of Sex Abusers and Sex Offenders
Ryan LaMothe
A Christian Nation?
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Finger on the Button: Why No President Should Have the Authority to Launch Nuclear Weapons
W. T. Whitney
A Bizarre US Pretext for Military Intrusion in South America
Deepak Tripathi
Sex, Lies and Incompetence: Britain’s Ruling Establishment in Crisis 
Howard Lisnoff
Who You’re Likely to Meet (and Not Meet) on a College Campus Today
Roy Morrison
Trump’s Excellent Asian Adventure
John W. Whitehead
Financial Tyranny
Ted Rall
How Society Makes Victimhood a No-Win Proposition
Jim Goodman
Stop Pretending the Estate Tax has Anything to do With Family Farmers
Thomas Klikauer
The Populism of Germany’s New Nazis
Murray Dobbin
Is Trudeau Ready for a Middle East war?
Jeiddy Martínez Armas
Firearm Democracy
Jill Richardson
Washington’s War on Poor Grad Students
Ralph Nader
The Rule of Power Over the Rule of Law
Justin O'Hagan
Capitalism Equals Peace?
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: From the Red Sea to Nairobi
Geoff Dutton
The Company We Sadly Keep
Evan Jones
The Censorship of Jacques Sapir, French Dissident
Linn Washington Jr.
Meek Moment Triggers Demands for Justice Reform
Gerry Brown
TPP, Indo Pacific, QUAD: What’s Next to Contain China’s Rise?
Robert Fisk
The Exile of Saad Hariri
Romana Rubeo - Ramzy Baroud
Anti-BDS Laws and Pro-Israeli Parliament: Zionist Hasbara is Winning in Italy
Robert J. Burrowes
Why are Police in the USA so Terrified?
Chuck Collins
Stop Talking About ‘Winners and Losers’ From Corporate Tax Cuts
Ron Jacobs
Private Property Does Not Equal Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Mass Shootings, Male Toxicity and their Roots in Agriculture
Binoy Kampmark
The Fordist Academic
Frank Scott
Weapons of Mass Distraction Get More Destructive
Missy Comley Beattie
Big Dick Diplomacy
Michael Doliner
Democracy, Real Life Acting and the Movies
Dan Bacher
Jerry Brown tells indigenous protesters in Bonn, ‘Let’s put you in the ground’
Winslow Myers
The Madness of Deterrence
Cesar Chelala
A Kiss is Not a Kiss: Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children
Jimmy Centeno
Garcia Meets Guayasamin: A De-Colonial Experience
Stephen Martin
When Boot Becomes Bot: Surplus Population and The Human Face.
Martin Billheimer
Homer’s Iliad, la primera nota roja
Louis Proyect
Once There Were Strong Men
Charles R. Larson
Review: Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones
David Yearsley
Academics Take Flight
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail