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The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy (Book Review)

The Crossing, the second book in Cormac McCarthy’s the Border trilogy, continues the trend of self-reflection in the aftermath of grief. All 3 books may be depressing in some instances, but this also gives them room to engage in lots of soul-searching reflection on the meaning of life.

In All the Pretty Horses we followed a young love struck protagonist into Mexico and marvelled as he made wrong decision after wrong decision as he allowed his boyish impulses guide him. For most our years of teenage rebellion pass with nothing more serious than the occasional telling off by an adult, but for John Grady his adventures lead him from prison to a stint as an outlaw trying to outrun the Mexican authorities. He is made to pay for every wrong turn instigated by his obstreperousness.

In the Crossing, however, we have a new cowboy in the shape of Billy Parham. Parham is as different from Grady as oil is from water. Both are cowboys, a dying breed in their times (around the Second World War), but where Grady only thinks with his heart and passions Parham on the contrary seems to be the level headed one, a characteristic perplexingly lost to him at the early stage of the novel when he makes a decision to go into Mexico.

Let’s backtrack for a moment and start from the beginning of the story: Billy is with his younger brother Boyd, who is more like Grady in that he is headstrong and capricious, when they meet a mysterious Indian on their way home – a humble homestead where their dad keeps horses. In a scene reminiscent of the opening of Great Expectations, the Indian asks for some food but then starts to dig for information on the family, do they have dogs out at night at their home etc. Billy is dubious but polite to the man and promises to bring him something to eat.

Meanwhile, the livestock starts to suffer when a pregnant wolf starts hunting them. Billy and his father set out to hunt the wolf with traps, but the wolf, smart as it is, evades all their attempts to catch her. Soon enough Billy goes out by himself in the middle of winter to try and eventually nabs her only to then feel pity for the animal.
It’s at this stage that he doesn’t think with his head, as I suggested earlier. Inexplicably, Billy decides to return the wolf to her home country and starts off on his journey to Mexico, crossing the border and continuing on toward the distant snow-capped mountains.
On his journey he meets with a country devastated by war where he as a white man is immediately conspicuous and is by turns both marvelled at and despised, especially by those who’ve taken up arms. On the other hand he will find with the ordinary citizenry, who’ve often found themselves displaced by all the fighting – he’ll find kindness and people who share what little food and shelter they have happily.

It’s this contrast of kindness and wickedness through his journey that makes for such a riveting story. Billy is still a teenager but has for all intents and purposes he’s adopted his captured wolf and is strongly attached to it and is highly motivated to return her to the wilderness.

He makes for a striking figure, this cowboy on a horse and leading a wolf by a rope, and then he meets with some armed men who want to buy the wolf off him. Billy refuses. By and by the wolf is stolen and Billy, still feeling a strong sense of responsibility toward the animal goes out in search for it and finds her being used roughly to entertain the locals in dogfights. The scene is brutal and Billy is helpless in the face of such callousness.

Finally he returns to America and finds his home desolate. Knowing a great tragedy has occurred he goes out in search for answers. Boyd is staying with some neighbours and he finds out that they were robbed and both his parents were killed, most likely by the Indian he and Boyd met with at the start.

Both orphans now decide to go after their father’s stolen horses. They cross the border, now Billy’s second time, and consequently come upon their horses and manage to take them back after a gunfight. Then as they start heading for home they come upon a beautiful young girl who is obviously in trouble.

Boyd convinces Billy to rescue her and together all 3 continue on. But while Boyd, recalcitrant and difficult to reason with, is enamoured by the girl, who is a revolutionary in the war, Billy is left to watch helplessly as his brother falls in love with her despite his warnings against it. Boyd is then shot through the chest by pursuing gunmen, leaving Billy to carry his dying brother on his horse in an attempt to get away.

He comes upon labourers in a truck, and when it seems his pursuers will not let up with their quest to capture he and Boyd, Billy hands over his brother to the men and rides in a different direction to lead off the gunmen.

After he shakes off their pursuers Billy comes upon a cabin where he meets a blind man and his wife. They talk about the nature of misfortune. The wife tells the story of her husband and how he came to be blinded by a vicious attack while in custody as a Prisoner of War. She goes on to say he wandered in his new darkness and came to a town where he met her, recently enduring her own misfortune and grieving for her father and brothers who were executed along with all the men in her village in a war where so many of the locals have lost so much.

She then goes on to tell of meeting a priest at the cemetery where she’s come to pay her respects and this priest discusses the unfairness of life. Just like the author of Ecclesiastes he reflects on how the wicked seemingly prosper in their wickedness, and, contrary to what is expected, also live long lives, while others die young. The priest advises her to keep her dead family in her memory for in her heart is where they should reside.

Her blind husband then speaks, and says that he believes the priest doesn’t see the whole picture and therefore his judgement is incomplete. He advises that life instead, rather than have you hold on to misfortune, actually demands you start over again. “For the world to survive it must be replenished daily. This man will be required to begin again whether he wishes to or not.”
In his third crossing over the border Billy, now fully rested from his ordeal in Mexico, goes back to look for his brother. He finds that Boyd recovered from his gunshot wound but then went on to join the revolutionary, the girl they’d rescued before, and was consequently shot dead.

Billy goes for his brother’s remains but again finds it impossible in a country much different from what he has been used to, for the locals have adopted Boyd, who they see as a freedom fighter, as their own and won’t allow his bones to be removed. In other words he now belongs to the people.

Billy, refusing to leave Boyd alone to rest in a foreign land, steals the bones from the graveyard, but is then tracked by locals who stab his horse in the chest. Here he meets kindness again in the form of a local healer who nurses the horse back to some semblance of health.
Billy returns to the United States, broken and destitute with no family and no money to speak of. It’s a different place from where he’s just come from. Now he needs money for basics where as in Mexico he was welcomed into any home, no matter how poor, to share what little they had to offer. But it’s also much safer from violent men and revolutionaries, and even as he reflects on his misfortune, probably considering the words of the blind man, whether to carry the dead in his heart or start over as life demands, he sees a dog, beat up, and not unlike the wolf that started his adventures not so long ago.

Billy shoos the dog away and is mean to it. He’s apparently changed – he will not help this poor creature like he did the wolf and be drawn into something he’ll have no control over. But change is hard and certainly in this situation not called for. He realises he’s wrong and goes out to look for the wounded dog to make amends. Upon not finding it he finally breaks down and weeps.


The Story of African Independence – Tunisia and Morocco

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We dealt with Algeria in our last look at the Maghreb. Now we’ll look at Tunisia and Morocco – the 2 other countries in the region –  before rejoining Algeria’s tumultuous independence story in our conclusion.

Both Tunisia and Morocco were run as protectorates and were not as important to the French government who would always consider Algeria a part of France.

Muhammad VIII al-Amin, The Bey of Tunisia
Muhammad VIII al-Amin, The Bey of Tunisia

Under International treaty the French still kept the Bey of Tunisia and the Sultan of Morocco. Technically the French had resident generals (and not governors general) who were supposed to be attached to the courts of these leaders at their pleasure. In reality though the French ruled and these leaders were more of figureheads.

The Sultan of Morocco came into power when he was 17 and the French assumed he would be easy to control. But contrary to their expectations he was actually a devoted follower of Islam and incurred the wrath of the colonists when he voiced support for the nationalists. Furthermore, he would refuse to sign French decrees, which then put the government in deadlock, because his signature was still needed before anything could be done.

Sultan of Morocco, TIME cover April 1957
Sultan of Morocco, Mohammed V, TIME cover April 1957

The French then stirred dissension among his rivals and encouraged them to protest the Sultan. Under pretext of all the upheaval caused the Sultan was exiled and his uncle put in his place. But this only granted him cult-status among his people and united everyone against the pieds noirs.

Meanwhile in Tunisia, the Bey was a very eccentric figure, and rather than get involved with politics and the nationalists’ call for independence he would spend time with his clocks and with alchemy sets in his lab. A revolution of ideas was thus never going to come from him. Instead it came from a powerful middle class movement led by Habib Bourguiba, a lawyer who trained in Paris and who was married to a Frenchwoman.

Bourguiba and JFK
Bourguiba and JFK

So struggle in both Tunisia and Morocco was on 2 fronts – the nationalists wanted independence, but the white pieds noirs wanted representation in government, which their Algerian counterparts enjoyed. The numbers of the colons were also growing, though in no way as large as in Algeria.

By the 50’s internal struggle from militant nationalists prompted the French to cut their losses in favour of concentrating efforts to keep Algeria at all costs.

Morocco and Tunisia were granted independence in March 1956 and the Sultan reinstated and formally recognised as His Majesty Mohammed V.

For Algeria the country was to endure 6 more years of civil war, as the French would be ever reluctant to abandon all their investment in the country.

The pieds noirs in Algeria pressured the French government into increasing the troops in Algeria to 500,000. Also, in a breach of international law, they captured Ben Bella.

Ben Bella had been getting support from Mohammed V but was also open to negotiations. He was supposed to get a ride back to Cairo in the Sultan’s private plane but in the end had to take a commercial plane because there was no space in the Sultan’s jet. The French got wind of this and forced his plane down and arrested him. He would spend 5 years without trial in French jails.

The Sultan was infuriated and this pushed both he and Bourguiba of Tunisia more towards helping and arming the FLN.

In 1957 the FLN changed its focus of rural warfare to an urban war in the city of Algiers. Many died in assassinations and bombings and the pied noirs then retaliated in kind killing many Muslims.

Acknowledging the deteriorating state of affairs in his country the governor-general, Robert Lacoste, effectively handed over power to the military.

Now under the command of one General Jacques Massu, a veteran combat officer, new regiments of paratroops were moved in from France, and Algeria effectively became a police state.

General Massu
General Massu

Muslim areas were cordoned off with barbed wire and subjected to searchlights, and became more like a prisoner of war camp – the kind reminiscent during Nazi Germany’s occupation of France.

In his letter of resignation the Algiers police secretary-general, Paul Teitgen, condemned the torture used by the military, comparing it to the methods he’d suffered as a prisoner of the Gestapo during World War 2.

The gégène became a favoured method of torture with the military and referred to generators that delivered electric shocks to prisoners. Another much used method of torture was mock drowning. It is estimated that more than 3,000 Muslims went missing during that time.

International outcry on the situation grew steadily but the French now had yet another reason to remain in Algeria: oil, and by 1958 the first exports started to head for France.

Meanwhile the FLN effectively had been driven out of Algeria and made their new base in Bourguiba’s Tunisia. But the military set up a system of barrages – electrified wire fences, minefields, and radar that covered the border and made infiltration impossible. The FLN duly reported loses of over 6,000 men to the barrages.

While the military may have been successful in Algeria in mainland France there was so much suspicion, which led in the end to the fall of Guy Mollet’s government in May 1957. France went without a government for 22 days. In October and November there was again no government for 35 days.

As the politicians struggled to get their act together a leading candidate for leadership, Pierre Pflimlin, announced that if elected he would open up talks with the FLN.

In Algeria General Raoul Salan, the commander-in-chief in Algeria heard of this and was quick to criticize and threaten that the army wouldn’t stand for it. The army was at this stage getting more and more disenfranchised by the French politicians and were still angry about humiliating defeats in Indo-China and the Suez Canal backtrack from international pressure. They were determined then that Algeria remain a part of France.

General Raoul Salan
General Raoul Salan

The FLN then announced it had captured 3 French soldiers and would execute them in retaliation for executed FLN officers.

Outraged the pieds noirs, led by students, staged riots and took over the government offices in Algiers and demanded the military take over. Appearing in the balcony, Salan and Massu agreed to form a committee of public safety with pieds noirs representatives.

Finally forced into action by all the riots Pflimlin was voted into office and imposed a blockade of Algeria

In Algiers, the new Committee of Public Safety now demanded a return to power of the legendary wartime leader of the Free French, General Charles de Gaulle.

By 1 June, after 2 weeks of coup plots and tense negotiations, de Gaulle became French Minister. By 4 June he’d visited Algeria where he told the pieds noirs, “I have understood you!”

Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill
Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill

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The Story of African Independence – French Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia

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Our story on African independence continues with a look at the French colonies that make up the Maghreb: Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco. You can see previous articles on Ghana and Egypt.

The Maghreb

France ruled Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia as part of their Maghreb, the Arabic name for North-West Africa and which means Land of the Setting Sun. But while Algerian territories (déparetments) were seen as a part of France, so that the northern territories of Algeria – Algiers, Constantine, and Oran – had equal standing with any city in mainland France, Tunisia and Morocco were instead governed as protectorates and were obliged by signed International treaties to actually act on behalf of indigenous rulers. So while the French Caucasian population of Tunisia and Morocco were just as vociferous as their Algerian counterparts they could not by law hold any real political power as the Algerian colons or, as they were also known, pieds noirs.

Inhabitants of the Maghreb are Maghrebis and are also known as Moors
Inhabitants of the Maghreb are Maghrebis and are also known as Moors

While France was proud of its Algerian colony and considered it a part of France the truth was that after 120 years of French occupation it was only a third of the population – the white pieds noirs class – who held all the power. They had a total grip on politics, agriculture, and employment and relegated the Muslim underclass, who made up a majority of the country, to extreme poverty. Of 864 senior administrative posts in the country only 8 were held by Muslims.

After World War 2 and during a grueling war in Indo-China with Vietnam the French government was unstable and prone to constant change between warring factions. No one wanted to risk alienating the support of the powerful Algerian colons and so little was done to bring political reform to Algeria. The polls were rigged constantly and for those seats that Muslims were allowed to win the colons made sure that the winners were always sympathetic to their causes.


The gulf between local indigenes and the pieds noirs was very large with the locals living in tin-can shantytowns called bidonvilles. The colons considered the local populace to be an inferior race and were extremely concerned at the way they grew in numbers with souring birth rates so that the population had nearly doubled in 50 years. There was mass unemployment and even those Algerians who could make it to France herself found that there were very little opportunities, and there they were mostly employed as unskilled labour.

A bidonville. Image from
A bidonville. Image from

With no economic and political power available to them the ground soon became ripe for political revolution:

Ahmed Ben Bella was a 29-year-old former warrant officer in the French army, and had received various awards for bravery in WW 2. He became a founding member of the militarist FLN (Front de Libération Nationale), and was dedicated to armed struggle.

Ahmed Ben Bella. Image from the Telegraph
Ahmed Ben Bella. Image from the Telegraph

In 1949 he would target the post office in a raid that would net his organisation up to 3 million Francs. But security within the FLN was lax and very soon the secret police infiltrated and tore them apart.

Ben Bella himself was captured and sentenced to 8 years in prison, but in 1952 he escaped by sawing off the prison bars on his window with a file that had been smuggled in a loaf of bread. He then escaped to Cairo under the protection of Nasser of Egypt.

Now free, he led the reorganization of the FLN. They formed a committee of 9 leaders, known as chefs historiques – 6 of these leaders were based in Algeria and 3, including Ben Bella, were based in Cairo.

Despite all the rhetoric coming out of Cairo radio about Nasser being a force for Arab struggle Nasser did very little before the war in arming the Algerians. They thus found themselves very ill-equipped in 1954 on All Saints day when they organised several raids on important government structures.

The raids were badly planned and very little damage was done, leaving the authorities to conclude the separate events were unrelated and not part of one big terrorist plot.

However, France’s reply was swift – troops were deployed from France and very soon the Muslim population was subjected to recriminations with Muslims being arrested indiscriminately.

French soldiers in Algeria during the civil war. Image from
French soldiers in Algeria during the civil war. Image from

Within a few weeks the FLN network had been broken up and many fled to a last stronghold in the mountains. With winter coming things soon cooled down and the colons went back to business as usual.

In the spring of 1955 the FLN renewed its offensive against the Algerian government, attacking what it called soft targets: Muslim collaborators. Hundreds were killed, tortured or mutilated, and again the French government sent in reinforcements so that the numbers of French soldiers swelled to 100,000, double their size at the start of the rebellion. The raids on Muslim areas became even more brutal.

In response the FLN announced a new rule of engagement – prior to the brutal recriminations in the bidonvilles (called ratissages) the FLN had opted not to hurt the white pieds noirs, electing instead to attack structures: buildings, installations, infrastructure – but now they would also attack the white populace.

Violence was now being carried out against whites: they were snatched from their motorcycles and slashed to death; in another incident grenades were thrown into a pieds noirs café; and in another FLN groups went from house to house killing everyone including women and children.

The pieds noirs themselves formed their own vigilante groups and went out killing Muslims. Official reports said over a thousand were killed by these groups though FLN figures give an even larger number: 12,000.

The middle ground was fast shrinking and even former moderates like Ferhat Abbas, known for advocating for peace and even married to a Frenchwoman, soon cast their lot with the FLN, believing that the French government was not listening to the plight of the average Algerian.

Ratissage is an exceptionally violent raid. Literally means to rake over
Ratissage is an exceptionally violent raid. Literally means to rake over

The unrest in Algeria forced the French to rethink their policy in the rest of the Maghreb – that is Tunisia and Morocco. Next time we’ll take a look at both countries and consider their fights for independence.

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The Story of African Independence – Egypt

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Obese and the arrogant nominal ruler of Egypt, King Farouk had all the trappings of wealth and then some with sprawling palaces, yachts, and a huge pornographic art collection.

King Farouk of Egypt, 1948
King Farouk of Egypt, 1948. Image from


Playing poker in his palace on the night an alleged coup was supposed to take place, he brushed the speculation off calling the plotters a “bunch of pimps.” By morning he’d started recriminations in the army and chosen a new prime minister and his brother-in-law as new minister of war tasked with overseeing the capture of the plotters.

The opposition,  the Society of Free Officers Dhobat el-Ahrar, was led by 34-year-old Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser. Nasser was handsome, taciturn, and a natural strategist. The Free Officers, though, chose as their nominal head and the face of their organisation, General Mohammed Neguib, a 54-year-old respected war veteran.

Nasser on cover of TIME magazine
Nasser on cover of TIME magazine

The real purpose of the Free Officers was to get rid of the British and their imperial forces. At the time there were only 3 recognised independent states in Africa – Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Africa. The British had allowed Farouk’s dynasty to continue and Nasser saw this as an affront to true Egyptian nationalism. For the first time since Persian conquest 2,500 years ago Egyptians would rule Egypt. Farouk was himself part of the latest dynasty to find itself in power, started by his great-great-grandfather Mohammed Ali 140 years earlier.

Farouk’s army generals decided to set up a meeting to plan the capture of this new threat to the king – Cairo at the time was always full of plotting and assassination and Farouk had removed himself from here and spent a lot of time in his palaces in other parts of the country so that he was far removed from the kind of danger he was in.

When the Free Officers got wind of the meeting Nasser decided to capture them all in one place. At the time there were just about 100 officers in the society.

On the day of the scheduled attack Nasser drove around in his civvies and at one point was even stopped by traffic police, and at another he was nearly shot by his own men who mistook him for someone else.

When they did attack the government building where the army generals had gathered there was only token resistance before the generals all gave up.

Next Nasser and his men got control of the telegraph office, the radio station, and several police stations and government buildings. They also set up roadblocks in case the British tried to step in to help Farouk.

Now they had the king all that was left to do was determine what to do with him. Nasser had sometime earlier been involved in another plot where their target was to be assassinated – this would leave a bitter experience for him, and he would later say that he had nightmares of screaming children and crying women.

It was with relief then when the intended victim actually survived. With Farouk Nasser argued for the king’s life. He wrote to his co-conspirators: Their objective, he said, was to wrest control from a corrupt government and give justice back to the people. Killing Farouk then would clearly be unjust without a trial, and if they were to set up a trial the whole thing would distract them from setting up a new government.

So Farouk’s life was ultimately spared, and he hastily packed some trunks filled with money and gold and departed for Europe.

King Farouk of Egypt
King Farouk of Egypt

At the start the Free Officers really had no great plans for the country. They were all from the military and inexperienced at ruling. They’d all wanted to get rid of British occupation and their figurehead Farouk and they’d achieved this. They now started a comprehensive land reform that would redistribute land from the rich who owned over half of the nation’s cultivatable land.

6 months afterward though and the Free Officers found that they had to consolidate their power. They duly got rid of all opposition, from student and trade unions to communists and organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood. Thousands were arrested and Nasser more and more would rely on the services of his ruthless secret police. In 1954, after inner conflict in the Free Officers who had now changed their name to the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), Nasser emerged as the sole leader, ousting the distinguished Neguib. He thus set up himself to become president, giving himself massive powers.

General Neguib
General Neguib. Image from

At this stage Nasser began to see himself as an Arab leader, and took seriously opposing the influence of the West in the Arab world. He would do this by first seeking independence for Sudan and then pushing for a British withdrawal from Egypt’s Canal Zone.

For starters Egypt had always seen Sudan as a part of their country – Mohammed Ali (Farouk’s great-great-grandfather) had conquered them in 1819 and its capital, Khartoum, which stood at the confluence of the Blue and White Nile, had originally been an Egyptian army outpost. Technically they were supposed to rule Sudan alongside the British, but in practise only the British ruled.

Nasser and the Free Officers would always want to unite the White and Blue sides of the Nile together, and he fought for their independence from colonial rule, believing privately that when the time came the Sudanese would chose to unite with the Egyptians into one country. He even proclaimed himself “King of Sudan” in propaganda.

Britain could not argue with this rising tide of resentment in both Egypt and Sudan whose nationalism parties were pushing more and more for self-determination. In the end, to try to still have some influence in the region, Britain agreed to give Sudan independence.

Sudanese independence, thus, wasn’t based on the country’s readiness for self-determination but on the interests of 2 rival powers. Both sides had neglected to see the warning signs already showing themselves when you considered the difference between the Northern and Southern parts of the country.

Sudan. Image from

The northern part of Sudan, dry and hot, comprised a homogeneous Arab-speaking populace while the southern part of the country, with much fertile land, was made up of disparate black tribes with different languages and different traditional religions. There was also a Christian minority in the south who had been educated in mission schools. The south of Sudan was therefore very underdeveloped and unready for independence.

Sudanese pyramids
Sudanese pyramids. Courtesy the BBC. Like her Egyptian neighbour Sudan also has her pyramids

Further more, historically the north had always been contemptuous of the south and referred to southerners by the disparaging abid, which means slaves, as in the past northern slave traders would capture slaves from the south for their use. So while the north may have welcomed self-determination the south was anxious as to just how much power they would get from the deal, sensing they would be overrun quickly by the more sophisticated northern part of the country.

Village in South Sudan
The much more underdeveloped than her Northern counterpart, Southern Sudan

The second thing Nasser and the RCC wanted was for Britain to pull out of the Canal Zone. For Britain this was one of the most important parts of their empire with the Zone being a hub for Middle East, Europe and African trade. A previous 1936 treaty should have limited the number of men in the British garrison to 10,000 men, but there were more like 80,000 on ground. This was due to the fact that resentment for the British in that region (Egyptians saw it as an affront to their sovereignty) was always high and large numbers of troops were needed on ground to protect the administrative workers actually needed to run the base. You thus had the ridiculous scenario where 50,000 troops were needed to protect 30,000 men on the base.

Egyptian Canal Zone
Suez Canal. Image from

By the early 50’s Britain’s continued presence in the Canal Zone became untenable as politicians in White Hall debated the wisdom in remaining in so hostile a region, especially as they wanted to exact more of an influence in Middle Eastern politics and Nasser’s anti-Western rhetoric in the region was doing more damage than any good from remaining in the Canal Zone would do.

The British thus secured an exit from the Canal Zone by 18 June 1956, withdrawing all troops and leaving only a few technicians and administrators to run the place and manage British ordnance for 7 years after, and with a clause in the treaty that would leave the door open for Britain to come back in case of trouble in the region involving the Soviet Union or some other “outside power”.

Nasser’s star in the Middle East only rose after he’d successfully got the Imperialists out and a sort of personality cult soon developed around him with radio stations continually singing his praise in the region. This was a far cry from the failure he’d felt during the Arab-Israeli war, a loss he’d blamed on Farouk’s failing to adequately equip the Egyptian army.

At this point Nasser saw himself and Egypt as fighting for the region’s development and soon had plans for building a dam, which would be one of the biggest engineering projects in the world. He turned early on to the Americans and British for support, and at first the Americans had agreed though Britain had refused from the outset. But his continued anti-Western rhetoric wasn’t winning him any friends in Washington, and matters were made even more complex when a British advisor to the Jordanian royal family, Sir John Glubb, was fired.

The British Prime Minister at the time, Anthony Eden, blamed King Hussein’s sudden dismissal of Glubb on Nasser’s influence and this put further strain on British-Egypt relations. It is even said that Eden at this point was strongly considering his assassination.

When America withdrew its support for his High Dam project, and when in response to anti-British sentiment in the region Britain cut its military support for Egypt’s army, relations became even more strained. Then Israel attacked 3 Egyptian army posts in the Gaza Strip in 1955, blowing up their army headquarters there. Nasser saw this as part of a Western plot and when he would get no military assistance from the west he took to getting whatever support he could to reequip the ill-equipped Egyptian army. He got help from the Soviets, which sent shock waves around Western governments.

Port Said
Port Said at the Suez Canal opening from the Mediterranean. Image from wikipedia

Another event would nearly lead the West to war and it was when Nasser announced plans to nationalize the Suez Canal Company an Egyptian registered private company with both British and French shareholders who had run the company since completion of the canal in 1866.

This move was a response to Nasser not getting support for his High Dam from the west. The canal was also the world’s most important waterway with 12,000 ships from 45 countries and the main route for British oil at the time, carrying more than 20 million tons of oil a year for Britain. Nasser intended that revenue from the canal would go straight to his High Dam project, but Eden had finally had enough. He was eager for war, and so was Guy Mollet, the PM of France.

But Washington did not agree with Eden and Mollet, thinking that the only reason for going to war would be if traffic on the canal slowed down due to its nationalization. But traffic and business had actually increased since the company’s nationalization.

With British support the Israelis then staged an attack, crossing the Sinai and intending to take the canal. Britain and France then issued an ultimatum under pretext to separate the combatants – Egypt was supposed to remove its troops west of the canal. But Nasser did not meet the ultimatum and instead sunk some ships to block the canal.

When the Americans learned of the whole conspiracy they were livid and insisted on Britain’s full withdrawal. Saudi Arabia stopped trading oil, and even the Soviets threatened a missile strike. Nasser was vindicated and the whole incident only added to Nasser’s status and power in the Middle East. At one fell swoop, after the canal incident of 1956, he would reduce foreign influence in Egyptian commercial, academic and social life, sequestering all foreign banks and companies and passing laws that required all companies operating in the area to be Egyptian registered with majority Egyptian ownership and management.

For Britain the Suez Canal crisis effectively ended their imperial stranglehold in the Middle East as both their power and influence became undermined. But this would also be the case in the rest of Africa who now saw that independence from British rule was possible.

For the French though, they still considered their African colonies to be very much a part of French plans. Next time round we’ll look at French Africa. Till then hope you enjoyed this and if so please don’t forget to share on social media channels

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Also See

  • The State of Africa, Martin Meredith
  • The Story of African Independence – Ghana
  • The Story of African Independence – French Maghreb

Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy (Book Review)

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Outer Dark, a Cormac McCarthy Novel

The second novel in a distinguished career, Outer Dark was published in 1968 and is everything you’d expect from a Cormac McCarthy novel. The language used in the dialogue is rural and laidback – something I can appreciate being Igbo myself and from a pastoral part of the world with similar tastes in linguistic wit and poetry.

The scenes of the novel I also recognise: rustic, placid, somnolent fields at times, wild, untamed, eerie woodlands at others. There’s also that trademark violence that appears jauntily in scenes, seemingly at home in otherwise ordinary settings. This lends something of the unexpected to the story.

For me the pacing of the novel was faultless and the violence kept to a minimum, unlike in his other novel Blood Meridian where someone seems to die every other page or so.


Outer Dark by Cormac MacCarthy
Outer Dark by Cormac MacCarthy

Like Hemingway Mr McCarthy doesn’t waste words, no needless adjectives here. There’s economy albeit rich in complexity, the ease of the language of the American South sitting in stark contrast with his seductive prose.

McCarthy opts for showing his characters not through their thoughts or by describing their characteristics, but by their habits and their dialogue. Often with fiction a writer can find himself stuck on facial expressions having nothing left in a steadily depleting repertoire of phrases like “he smiled” or “she frowned” and so forth, but Mr McCarthy isn’t deficient in his understanding and use of gestures, something borne, no doubt, out of practised observation of his fellow man. Like Mr Guy Davenport said in his article in the New York Times (29 September 1968):

“…Mr. McCarthy waste a single word on his character’s thoughts. With total objectivity he describes what they do and records their speech. Such discipline comes not only from mastery over words but from an understanding wise enough and compassionate enough to dare tell so abysmally dark a story.”

From Tennessee, Georgia himself Mr McCarthy succeeds in capturing the allure of the Deep South in his style. Indeed there are few novelists who’ve managed to capture the contradictions of the land as successfully as he has, right down to the showing of wickedness living right next to religiosity.  As in one scene where the protagonist Culla Holme is wrongly accused of murder. A preacher appears as tensions rise in the mob, but he isn’t the source of succour one would expect from one of his profession, and instead he engages in an inane debate over the right way to dispose of Holme for his perceived crimes.

The theme of religion resonates throughout the entire novel. Guy Davenport again:

“Though it pays its homage to Faulkner’s rhetoric and imagery, it is not a Faulknerian novel. It is much leaner, closer in pace and spareness of line to the Gothic masters Gertrud Le Fort and her disciple Isak Dinesen, and lacks Faulkner’s sociological dimension. Mr. McCarthy is unashamedly an allegorist. His responsibility as a storyteller includes believing with his characters in the devil, or at least in the absolute destructiveness of evil.”

There’s no escaping that the protagonists are being judged for their sins. And while Culla has a hard time of it right from the start, his sister Rinthy seems to be treated more kindly by people until she meets the tinker, a spectral eldritch character who took her baby, and has to face her own transgressions. 

Plot Summary

Culla Holme of Jackson County in Appalachia has a baby boy with his sister Rinthy. Ashamed of his incest and afraid of how the world will judge him Culla takes the baby as soon as it’s born and steals away in the middle of the night while his sister recovers from childbirth and lays the child out in the woods. A mysterious tinker has been following him through the dark and takes up the child.

Rinthy wakes up and asks for her baby and doesn’t believe her brother when he informs her of the child’s death. Rinthy goes looking for the grave and digs it to find it empty. She then sets out on a journey to recover the babe after confronting her brother for his actions.

Her journey will lead her to many dangerous eerie places where she meets weird locals, but they all treat her well and offer her food and board, unlike her brother, who sets out on his own journey after her: Culla finds bad luck everywhere he goes. His arrested, and at one point threatened with a lynching. And through it all he’s stalked by 3 mysterious otherworldly men who in the end will pronounce a terrifying judgement on him for his sin and bring the story to its unsettling conclusion.

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Naruto Shippuden

Naruto Shippuden follows the adventures of the much loved manga character Naruto, and the Shippuden series sees his return, this time as a teenager. Naruto’s still impatient and irascible as always but has matured some. The series is darker than the original cartoon, especially with Sasuke having left the Leaf village to become a rogue ninja.

At the moment there are 16 seasons and a total of 368 episodes. Still airing in Japan at the time of this writing the 368th and final episode is expected to air in July.

Naruto Shippuden Characters
Naruto Shippuden Characters

The series continues two and a half years after the first Naruto series, the ending of which saw Sasuke Uchiha leave the Konohagakure village, also known as the Hidden Leaf Village, in order to be mentored by Lord Orochimaru, one of the lead antagonists of the Naruto universe, and enemy of the Leaf.

In Shippuden we catch up with Team Kakashi, a small group of 4 shadow ninja of which Naruto and Sasuke were once teammates.  The other 2 in Team Kakashi are Sakura, who has a mad crush on Sasuke, and it’s leader Kakashi Hatake (who is replaced temporarily by Captain Yamato after a grueling battle with a member of the Akatsuki terrorist organisation). Naruto is still obsessed with finding his best friend Sasuke and bringing him back to the Leaf while Sakura continues to have a crush on him despite hearing horrendous rumours of Sasuke’s activities under Orochimaru’s charge.

Sasuke with Naruto
Sasuke with Naruto

Team Kakashi are committed to rescuing Sasuke from Orochimaru and set out to find him – this time with a new team member named Sai who replaces Sasuke. Unknown to the team, however, Sai is on another mission, one that’s quite different from theirs, for while the team want to save their friend Sai has been sent to assassinate him.

Sai, a special-ops ninja is part of the secretive group known as the Foundation, and takes his orders from Danzo, a fundamentalist and extremist at heart who is at odds with the Leaf’s governance for their lax attitude towards Sasuke’s crimes.

Team Kakashi, led by Yamato, eventually locate Orochimaru’s hideout and confront Sasuke. Sai, originally intending to murder Sasuke on Danzo’s orders now has a change of heart after getting to know his comrades on Team Kakashi, even though this is after a series of altercations with both Naruto and Sakura.

It turns out that Sasuke’s been training hard under Orochimaru and is now on a whole different level from his friends. Naruto and Sakura barely escape with their lives, but still don’t give up on their friend though it’s now obvious to them that he’s changed and turned evil.

Sasuke, though, will not be distracted by love or fondness for his friends – all his training has all been for one purpose: to confront the man who killed all of his tribesmen, his own brother Itachi. Sasuke is blinded by the lust for revenge and this lust leads him to kill Orochimaru, his mentor, to gain even more power.

Lord Orochimaru, Sasuke's mentor
Lord Orochimaru, Sasuke’s mentor. Image from

orochimaru-in-akatsuki-6Meanwhile the Akatsuki are hunting tailed beasts – highly powerful weapons (and probably a metaphor for nuclear bombs) that the different nations in the Naruto universe use as a deterrent to war. Tailed beast take the form of monsters of immense power. They’re seen as natural disasters, and will usually be contained in a host called a Jinchuriki (of which Naruto is one), to prevent them from running wild.

It then follows that the Akatsuki start to hunt Naruto who then has to train even harder in order to gain the power he needs both to avoid capture and to win Sasuke back. Then Sasuke defeats his brother Itachi but learns a dark secret about the Hidden Leaf Village – that its leaders were involved in the plot to destroy his tribe and gave Itachi his mission in order to prevent a civil war with Sasuke’s Uchiha clan.

Sasuke now vows to destroy the Leaf to avenge his brother and knows he must fight his best friend Naruto to accomplish this. But the Akatsuki prove themselves formidable, and their leader consequently reveals the reason for their capturing the tailed beast weapons. Up to now there have been only 9 tailed beasts, but a combination of all will birth a super weapon the 10 tails and lead to the end of the world as we know it.

The different antagonists are thus forced to put their differences aside in order to face the common threat of the Akatsuki and save the ninja world from extinction.

Members of the terrorist Akatsuki group
Members of the terrorist Akatsuki group
Why We love Naruto Shippuden

You would think that the most we would enjoy from this franchise is the fact that it’s Japanese manga. True it is one of the better looking anime titles out there, and sometimes the rendering of locations, characters, and shadows is jaw dropping. But for most people Naruto has always been about the characters with a level of characterization rarely seen in this genre.

We get to know the characters, truly know them, so that in the end we care for them, which makes it all the more painful when they die. From Naruto’s love of raimen, to Sakura and Ino’s girly crushes, to Lady Tsunade’s drinking and gambling habits, to Asuma’s smoking, detail seems to be the focus in bringing these characters to life. We engage with them as much for their personal lives as their professional ninja one, which by the way is kick-ass awesome!

Airing Schedule

The series started on February 15 2007 in Japan, and is produced and broadcast by TV Tokyo. It’s English dub premiered on Disney XD in 2009 and episodes are also available on iTunes, Zune Marketplace, and PlayStation Store.

At the moment you can also get episodes on Hulu and In the UK Crunchyroll is available free on the NOW TV device. The 368th episode will air on July 10 2014.

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Sources: List of Naruto Shippuden Episodes


The Story of African Independence – Ghana

Ghana was the golden boy and pride of British African colonial rule. Called the Gold Coast at the time it had a wealth of resources the most prominent of which was cocoa.

One of the leading exporters of the product, many farmers became wealthy from trade and became part of an elite in Ghanaian society. There was also an educated elite and the British intended to transfer autonomy slowly.

As the most promising of all her colonies in Africa Ghana was seen as a beacon, and the British were going to use her steady progress toward independence as a blueprint for other African states under their rule. The intelligentsia at the time – lawyers and businessmen were pressing for more political power and by 1947 had formed their own political party, the United Gold Coast Convention. They chose as their slogan, “Self-Government in the shortest possible time” and Dr Joseph Danquah as their leader.

Dr Joseph Danquah
Dr Josheph Danquah


Danquah, admired by the British and seen as the most qualified to head a new government, had also been responsible to coming up with the idea to change the country’s name from its colonial name, the Gold Coast, to Ghana – a West African empire that had flourished during the 14th century.

Seeking to garner popular support for their cause for self-determination Danquah’s party sought to employ a full-time organiser. One Kwame Nkrumah was mentioned as a possible candidate.

Nkrumah at a political rally
Nkrumah at a political rally


The lawyers of the United Gold Coast Convention knew virtually nothing of this student who, at the time, was scrounging as a student in London. He was penniless most of the time, but increasingly got more and more involved in politics with his increasing admiration of left-wing sympathies, and soon abandoned his law studies and took to politicking full time – engaging with leading British communists and often participating in anti-colonial protests.

When the opportunity for a full time job from the United Gold Coast Convention was brought to him he jumped at it, but his left-wing views soon brought on the ire of Danquah and the other members of the party.

Nkrumah then left to start his own party, the Convention People’s Party (CPP) and while the slogan for United may have been “Self-Government in the shortest possible time” Nkrumah’s CPP often cited “Self-Government Now” as a sort of panacea (cure-all) for all colonial troubles in the Gold Coast.

Charismatic and energetic, he led rallies with zeal, set up anti-colonial newspapers, was adept at creating anti-colonial slogans, and soon became the toast of “veranda boys” those homeless who slept on the verandas of the rich and and who nicknamed him “Showboy.”

He also led protests against the British, and was instrumental in leading strikes, and boycotts. Soon all of this anti-colonial propaganda led to violence and the colonial governor Arden-Clarke declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew. Nkrumah was duly arrested and imprisoned with other party members who were found guilty of incitement and sedition. He was sentenced to 3 years in prison. After the trial Danquah wrote: “the wolf [has] been driven away.” Arden-Clarke also wrote at the time in a private family letter: “Sorry I have been so bad about writing but I have been rather preoccupied in dealing with our local Hitler and his putsch.”

Sir Charles Arden-Clarke with Kwame Nkrumah
Sir Charles Arden-Clarke with Kwame Nkrumah


In prison, rather fortuitously, Nkrumah learned that he could sit in the upcoming elections – he found a hole in the rules: you could sit for elections if you weren’t serving more than a year in prison. Well, his sentencing may have been for 3 years, but he was found guilty of 3 separate counts each for one year.

Having found this small clause in the rulebook he would stand as a candidate for election. Nkrumah’s participation in the election raised expectations and suddenly enthusiasm for the race spread far and wide. Of 23,122 votes he would win 20,780, and of 38 popularly contested seats, Nkrumah’s CPP won 34, with Dr Danquah’s United Gold Coast Convention only managing 3. Arden-Clarke was thus faced with a dilemma: Nkrumah was as dangerous in prison as outside. Releasing a convicted criminal to take office had no precedence, but not doing so would surely lead to riots and Nkrumah had already promised recriminations if his victory was not recognised, but then releasing him also meant freeing him to pursue his “Self-Government Now” promise to the people.

In the end Arden-Clarke released Nkrumah who made the leap from convict to prime minister in a day. Both men quickly decided to work together. To do otherwise would have put the government in a gridlock. Nkrumah, however, insisted on a faster transition to full independence from British rule. The constitution, which he’d been obliged to accept, had left key parts of power to Arden-Clarke (like the police, judiciary, finance and defence), but Nkrumah had grown impatient with this partial power and moved for fuller controls without delay, declaring, “We prefer self-government with danger to servitude in tranquility.”

Martin Meredith in his A State of Africa claims, that “though the British government had misgivings about the pace of change, the following year it granted the Gold Coast a new constitution providing for full internal self-government under an all-African cabinet.”

President Nixon at Ghana's independence
President Nixon at Ghana’s independence

The decision by the British government propelled Nkrumah to even greater heights of popularity not only in Africa but also around the other parts of the world still reaching for independence from imperial powers. Nkrumah was seen as the one who had fought off the British and done the near impossible, bringing independence to Africa. This gave him an almost messianic aura around his people who would come to seek his advice for all manner of problems from legitimate political concerns to actual physical ailments.


The whole world seemed happy for Ghana and her new status and sent their representatives to wish the new country and its leader well. Japan sent a delegate, and so did the soviets. The Queen’s aunt represented her majesty’s government, and even Nixon was around for the Americans. Embracing any and all African babies he could find, the story goes that he apprehended a man with a hug and asked, “how does it feel to be free?” to which the man replied, “I wouldn’t know, sir. I’m from Alabama.”

Nkrumah was a very lonely man and chose Christiansborg Castle for his official residence – a strange decision to many who considered the place hunted by old slaves who’d been imprisoned in the old fort before shipping abroad. Nkrumah at one point claims he was woken by a piercing yelp from his Alsatian who stood whining in a corner with its fur on end, and no amount of coaxing would get the dog out. Arden-Clarke had also had his own experiences, saying he’d been awakened one night to a persistent knocking. A search was made around the house for the source but to no avail. Arden-Clarke never slept in the room again.

Nkrumah’s party was now all-powerful at this point, with a majority holding in government, and having vast wealth at its disposal: (Ghana was at this time the world’s leading producer of cocoa and possessed natural resources such as : gold, timber, and bauxite.)

By the 1950’s cocoa boom the country had built up massive foreign reserves, but strife broke out between the cocoa farming elite and Nkrumah’s CPP – the former being accused of corruption, favouritism to farmers who belonged to the party, and stopping subsidies given under the British . Nkrumah angered them further when he froze the price of cocoa for a number of years.

By 1958 with his popularity on the rise and by the power of his ever sure charisma, Nkrumah brought together the best of African opposition: trade unions, political parties and student unions, for a conference, with the aim of co-ordinating “the African non-violent revolution.” Many who attended were later to gain prominence in their respective countries, Kenneth Kaunda from Northern Rhodesia (Zambia); Hastings Banda from Nyasaland (Malawi); Patrice Lumumba from Belgian Congo, and Julius Nyerere from Tanganyika (Tanzania). The Kenyan and conference chairman Tom Mboya noted the belligerent mood of the conference and noted, “The colonial powers should now reverse the Scramble for Africa.” He declared, “your time is past. Africa must be free. Scram from Africa.”

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“There is a close connection between socio-political development, the struggle between social classes and the history of ideologies. In general, intellectual movements closely reflect the trends of economic developments. In communal society, where there are virtually no class divisions, man’s productive activities on outlook and culture is less discernible. Account must be taken of the psychology of conflicting classes.” ~ Kwame Nkrumah, Class Struggle in Africa

Also See

  • The State of Africa, Martin Meredith
  • The Story of African Independence – Egypt
  • The Story of African Independence – French Maghreb