FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

On the Fringes in Djibouti and Soweto

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.

December 18, 2018
Charles Pierson
Where No Corn Has Grown Before: Better Living Through Climate Change?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Waters of American Democracy
Patrick Cockburn
Will Anger in Washington Over the Murder of Khashoggi End the War in Yemen?
George Ochenski
Trump is on the Ropes, But the Pillage of Natural Resources Continues
Farzana Versey
Tribals, Missionaries and Hindutva
Robert Hunziker
Is COP24 One More Big Bust?
David Macaray
The Truth About Nursing Homes
Nino Pagliccia
Have the Russian Military Aircrafts in Venezuela Breached the Door to “America’s Backyard”?
Paul Edwards
Make America Grate Again
David Rosnick
The Impact of OPEC on Climate Change
Binoy Kampmark
The Kosovo Blunder: Moving Towards a Standing Army
Andrew Stewart
Shine a Light for Immigration Rights in Providence
December 17, 2018
Susan Abulhawa
Marc Lamont Hill’s Detractors are the True Anti-Semites
Jake Palmer
Viktor Orban, Trump and the Populist Battle Over Public Space
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Fights Proposal to Keep It From Looting Medicare
David Rosen
December 17th: International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
Binoy Kampmark
The Case that Dare Not Speak Its Name: the Conviction of Cardinal Pell
Dave Lindorff
Making Trump and Other Climate Criminals Pay
Bill Martin
Seeing Yellow
Julian Vigo
The World Google Controls and Surveillance Capitalism
ANIS SHIVANI
What is Neoliberalism?
James Haught
Evangelicals Vote, “Nones” Falter
Vacy Vlanza
The Australian Prime Minister’s Rapture for Jerusalem
Martin Billheimer
Late Year’s Hits for the Hanging Sock
Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail