This is a story of a son who tries to understand his father and who  has to come to terms with the legacy of his father.

The father is Ken Saro-Wiwa (1941 – 1995). He was a Nigerian civil servant, bussinessman, writer and activist for his Ogoni people who live in the Niger Delta, polluted by oilspills. He was executed by the Nigerian government of dictator Abacha  by hanging and his remains were put in a nameless gave.

The son is Ken Wiwa (1968) who was born in Lagos, but who was educated in the United Kingdom as his father wanted the best education for all of his children. He worked in journalism, moved to Canada and later went back to Nigeria to serve several presidents as a special adviser. Now he is selfemployed.

In this book the younger Ken searches for his relationship with his father, a father who was a busy man and who was a kind of father to all the Ogoni people. What was his public face and what was his private face? How did his position in society and the activities he undertook effect his fatherhood in the familycircle.

In an honest account Ken junior shows the difficulties he encountered with an absent father, with his own expectations of having to receive or deny the legacy of his father. He talks with children of other famous people who left a legacy: Zindzi Mandela, Nathi Biko and with Aung San Suu Kyi who all three had a famous father. Did they continue the legacy, and how did it effect them?

He also searches the relationship with his immediate relatives, especially his mother. What was his role when his father was murdered by the government? Was he able to take up the leadership in the family. Ken could have taken some more time to relate this in depth, but at the same time this could be a troublesome road, as most of these relatives are still alive. 

Ken Wiwa – In the shadow of a saint – 2000

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor in the shadow of a saint


Long, long time ago I read Segou, volume 1 and volume 2. An impressive historical novel, written by Maryse Conde, the writer who was born in Guadeloupe. This a country at a fair distance from the African continent, where she has resided for many years. Now this book is fiction on a fictitious state in Africa. 

In this book we meet Zek, who has studied in Paris where he met his wife Marie-Hélène. She hails from the West Indies. The couple decides to move to the ancestral ground of Zek. They move into an old colonial house, while Zek takes up his job at a local bank. M-H does not feel at home. Her thoughts linger on the places she left and the people she left in the West Indies. And she thinks about Madou, the younger brother of Zek who has risen in the ranks of the new political elite of the country, run by the dictator Toumany. She sits at home, with no purpose and no strength to find her place. 

One day Zek brings the news that Madou will come back home to celebrate an important Natiuonal Day in the life of this young country. This younger brother is now a minister with ambitions, and with feelings of love for M-H. 

Through all these complicated relations we find a political angle as we meet people who look for an another way of running the country. We see how personal plans are being thwarted by the political world. 

At times this book is a bit too stereotyped and the issues have been written in many books already. 

Maryse Conde – Une Saison à Rihata – 1981

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor maryse conde une saison a rihata

P.S. The English language translation that I have read is a secondhand copy. The first reader wrote his comment about this book on one of the first pages:
“Not too bad – but with little interest – a book to pass on. 
MB 2007. (Anyway better by far than all the other books by Africans that I have read. Perhaps the style loses a lot in translation! who knows!)”


In the writer Sony Labou Tansi (1947 – 1995) the two worlds of both sides of the river Congo come together. He was born in the Belgian Congo and he died in Congo-Brazzaville. He was of a mixed parentage, a child spanning two banks of one river.

In this novel we find a man named Nitu Dadou, who starts his career in Kinshasa but who ends up among the shadowns of the country on the other side of the river.  When the story starts our Dadou is the principal of a Teachers College, one only for girls. He tries to be a man of rectitude, who wants to adhere to strict norms, eventhough the girls that float by his office and who enter at times do not make life easy. 

His sense of rectitude brings him into trouble with the high and mighty. His wife and children get killed and he ends up in prison, after about four years he gets the opportunity to break out. A female friend of his, Yealdara, helps him to cross the river to seek safety and a new lease of life. People at the other bank help him for they know Yealdara. One day the men in uniform reach the village at the banks of the river and Dadou is taken, together with other people. Even on this side of the border to be a man of rectitude is not easy.  His whereabouts are not known to the people near the river. They keep on fishing and they stay silent in order to survive. 

One day this elusive lady Yealdara, turns up at the other side. She is in search of Dadou. The villagers have no infomation on him and think he has been killed by the men in uniform. But she does not take no for an answer for she is in love with Dadou. During her fishselling trips to the big town she searches for het great love. In the end she even joins the underground movement, heavily persecuted by the government. 

The life and the end of Dadou show that it is near impossible for a man of rectitude to life in circumstances of corruption, bare muscles, coercion and violence and deceit. It does not matter on which side of the river you are.

Sony Labou Tansi – L’anté-peuple – 1983

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor l'anté-peuple


I just finished a brilliant book, written by the American investigative journalist Andrew Rice.

In this book I found three lines of investigation that all come together:
* the story of Duncan Laki who searches for his father Eliphaz Laki who disappeared during the reign of president Idi Amin. He was a chief in Ankole. After his disappearance silence took his place.
* the story of Uganda (starting with the Brit Speke😦 ) to put the search by Duncan into a proper context. Rice traces the different groups, the influence of colonialism, the way to hold sway among many oppositions.  
* the search for an answer to the question of forgiveness and rememberance and confession. What do communities and countries want to remember about their past? What is the role of justice in it all? Can there be forgiveness when there is no confession of guilt?

All these lines come together in a fascinating story, built upon research and many interviews with the people concerned (except Laki senior and Idi Amin), but Rice had contact with Obote and with Museveni, who took a personal interest in the case and who was present at the reburial of Eliphaz Laki.

We follow the lives of Eliphaz Laki, the rise to power by Yoweri Museveni, the lives of three people who were brought to court for the death of Eliphaz, one of them being Gowon, a close associate of Idi Amin, and also from the West Nile area.

We see the outcome of the courtcase and the shaping of a post-Amin judicial system. We see the changes of Museveni, from a communist/socialist fighter to a man who prefers the liberal capitalism. We see the fragility of a nation that smiles but cannot forget (a saying of the Banyankole, to which Duncan and his father and Museveni belong). We meet people who want to embrace Idi Amin once again. We see Duncan Laki in his search for his father, while close relatives prefer to let the dead be dead. Every answer could lead to complications.

Near the end of the book we see the difficulty Museveni has with a legal opposition in his country, Bisegye is a victim of this attitude. He has been fighting with Museveni during the rebellious days and now he tries to run for president, just like Museveni.  Now recently a second edition of  Museveni’s “Sowing the Mustard Seed” has been published. The name of Besigye, who was present in the first edition, has been wiped out of the second edition. This reeks of oldfashioned communist rewriting of history.

On page 248 I came across the name of the American Roy Innes (1934). I did not recognize the name and did not get much information on him in the book (notwithstanding the many and extensive notes). In the book it is mentioned that in 1973 Innes was in Mbarara, in the company of Idi Amin. 
At the time of this visit, Roy was the National Chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). He was elected in 1968. Under his leadcership CORE supported the presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972. 
This trip to Uganda was not the first trip in Africa for Innes. Two years earlier he and other delegates of CORE visited seven countries in Africa and had met with peple like Kenyatta (Kenya), Nyerere (Tanzania) and Tolbert (Liberia). And on that very same tour the CORE group also went to Uganda and met with Idi Amin, who was awarded a membership for life of CORE. I do not know if this included a medal, that could be pinned on the uniform of the president. Strange bedfellows: an American Black Nationalist Movement and Idi Amin.

A well researched and documented book. Warning: you might want to read it in one go!

Andrew Rice – The teeth may smile but the heart does not forget. Murder and memory in Uganda – 2009

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor the teeth may smile



This book by the late South African writer has been washed up upon the shores of my plot and reached a place at my shelves, far away from the raging sea and the turbulence of identity.

Matthee relates the story of Moses Swart who was found as a very young boy at the bay when a ship sunk at the southernmost coast of South Africa. People took care of him and of all the things that arrived with the little boy, a little over a hundred years ago.  

We meet Moses in his later years when he works at the estate of Lord and Lady De Saumarez. They belong to the upperclass of the British establishment, but they have decided to wash up upon the shores of South Africa after an eventful life, passing through two world wars. They look for peace and tranquility at the estate they bought and are renovating. 

Moses was destined to be a shepherd, just like his adoptive father, but he does not have the connection with sheep and he is happy to get a job at the nearby estate of Lor4d and Lady. He becomes a kind of confidant of the Lord, he feels at home in the mighty house and in the expansive gardens.

One day two men come poking around in the area, trying to find out more about the shipwrecks and any survivors. Moses keeps shtum. Are these men the answer to his past? But at the same time he does not want to know the answer to his questions and his ancestry.

So in a way this book is about identity, but also about class relations and the way people from different backgrounds interact with oneanother. 

The story continues in the present, but with many flashbacks to give more body to the past of Lord and Lady and their children.  Quite a few times I thought about the development of the story that the content ( in a strict way) is good, but the way it is handled the book never reaches that level. At its best it reaches bronze. 

Dalene Matthee – Die uitgespoeldes – 2005

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor die uitgespoelde dalene matthee


A woman awakes aboard a sailingvessel on a vast expanse of water.

Who is she?
Where is she?
What has happened in her recent past?

She start a journey (a physical one and a mental one) to find an answer to her pertinent questions. She is compltely at ease on the sailingvessel. She knows the vesssel. She start investigating the content of the boat. She finds papers and documents. Is she the one in the documents? Or is she somenone else?

When she arrives in a harbour she invents anh identity: she is a Lebanese painter. She has skills in painting and drawing, so it is not farfetched. She meets a sailorman, Loïc Lemoine, who warns her that two men are looking out for her and asking questions on the mariphone. Even the police is on the hunt.

She sails on and this man Loïc follows her at a great distance. From one harbour top the next, she is moving and reinventing herself.

Where are the men in her life ? The musician Jamil, who went to tour in his motherland Algeria. Jean Rolland, a Frenchman born in Algeria, who went back to his roots. 

It is a story about identity. Where does she belong with her Irish father, her Algerian mother and her French roots and upbringing?  Or does she belong to the sea, where she feels most at home? She tries to find answers when the winds are blowing to fill the sails.

At times this book by Malika Mokeddem (1949) is a confusing book. What is happening? Is there a storyline to be found or does the story justy amble on? At times the emotions of the characters change very abruptely. Still, I kept on reading trying to find out more about this sailorgirl and the people in her vincinity. And to find out her identity and her commitments.

The sole word that forms the title of this book means ‘I will continue’, but also ‘I am born’. Two ways in a way to define her search for identity.

Malika Mokeddem – N’zid – 2001

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor N'zid malika mokeddem


What a brilliant book about this raaiselkind (child of enigma). This Alexander (or Boetatjie, as the maid Miriam calls him) is the third child and first son of Dawid and Ingrid Dorfling, who live in a small town or village in South Africa. Dawid is the chef at the local Postoffice and Ingrid works at a local bankoffice. Both of them are very much part of the local community and the local church.

Their first two children are girls: Teresa and Zetta. Life is normal and accomplished. The third child is Alexander and the parents are filled with joy. But after the joy and the excitement things slowly change as they see the development (or the lack of development) of their son.

The book start nearly at the end, on a Friday. Ingrid is at the local buraaus of the police for she is suspected of having drowned her son. We trace her steps during that weekend that she is being interviewed (good cop and bad cop , mainly bad cop)  on what happened on that fateful day. She has to reveal all on her life, her marriage with Dawid, her attitude towards her daughters, her attitude towards Alexander, her position in the local community, her relationship towards the church and its pastor. All needs to be revealed, according the policeman, in order to get a complete picture and to be convinced that Ingrid is the one who drowned young Alexander, in the bathtub at home.

These interviews serve as a frame work to recount her life, her hopes, her love, her marriage to Dawid (who commits suicide), her maid Miriam, her struggle to understand Alexander, her search to find a diagnosis for his extraordinary behaviour, till the boy is diagnosed with autism, her search for an education, for help, for a life.

We also follow the interviews of Miriam, the maid, who has a special relationship with the boy. She is able to get some contact with him and he is able to learn something with her help. In a way she is the one who has a clever understanding of what the police is aiming at and she wants to protect Ingrid.

We also meet Gunter, a farmer who stays outside the local community, who also has a special relationship with Alexander. The boy obeys him, and rides a horse at his farm.

The search for the truth continues. Did Ingrid murder her son, to end a very, very difficult situation?

I will not say a word about the end of this intriguing novel.

At times this novel reminded me of the great novel by Marlene van Niekerk  ‘Agaat’, especially in the way Miriam relates to Alexander, as a token of the way people cross barriers and see one another and the possibilities of the others, a bridge across cultures and social barriers.

Annelie Botes- Raaiselkind – 2003