By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Susan Minot
Narrated by: Robin Miles
Thirty Girls is a novel about war in Africa. It is a war that escapes American thought and action. One suspects American’ apathy is related to economics, but like conflict in the Middle East, it seems unlikely American involvement will make much difference. Thirty Girls is off-putting in the beginning because it appears Susan Minot is comparing a troubled tryst with kidnapping of 139 girls in Uganda, a real event in 1996, called the Aboke’ abductions. By the end of the story, a more complicated tragedy unfolds.
Africa is a nation of great beauty and potential wealth. However, it is beauty marred by war and wealth; i.e. wealth distributed between a multitudinous poor and a rich minority. Africa is fighting for its own identity while stumbling over poverty and education. Minot illustrates how Africa has many of the cultural maladies of the Middle East.
Colonial nations have suppressed native African’ cultures for many generations; i.e. colonies of immigrants from Great Britain, Portugal, France, and Belgium took over the continent. In contrast to Africa, colonial nations took a step back from establishing similar colonies in the Middle East. Rather than foreign colonization, indigenous Middle Eastern’ leaders were co-opted to aggrandize foreign interests. An additional difference between the Middle East and Africa is that many leaders of Africa’s reawakening are not well-educated. It is not that these leaders are not intelligent but they rely on tribal custom, superstition, and terror to establish territorial control. (Middle Eastern leaders are well-educated and only use custom, superstition and terror as a tool for control.) This perspective comes from Minot’s story and the points of history she touches.
Two notorious leaders of Uganda are Idi Amin, and more recently, Joseph Kony. Idi Amin served as President of Uganda from 1971 to 1979. He was born in Uganda. His mother was a herbalist and diviner while his father deserted the family. He joined the military and through charisma and brutality became a high-ranking British army officer. In 1962, Uganda gained independence. In 1971, Amin overthrew the government. Amin expelled 50,000 to 70,000 Asians living in Uganda in 1972. In 1976, Amin offered shelter to hijackers of an Air France flight from Israel to Paris which led to the Entebbe raid by Israel. Amin was estimated to have killed over 300,000 civilians in his rule.
Joseph Kony is the rebel leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. He was born in Uganda. He left school to become a healer and a self-proclaimed prophet. In 1996, the Lord’s Resistance Army perpetrated the Aboke’ abductions. The U. S. Government offered a $5,000,000 bounty for Kony in 2013.
Minot conflates the Kony abductions with the murder of a rich Irish immigrant and his family’s generational presence in Kenya (bordering Uganda). The story begins with a writer researching the Aboke’ abductions for a book. The writer’s name is Jane. The Irish immigrant family son’s name is Harry. Harry is 15 years younger than the 36-year-old Jane. Jane is swept off her feet by this handsome adventurer who agrees to accompany her in a road trip from Nairobi, Kenya to northern Uganda to gather information.
One of the abductees is introduced as a witness to and victim of events of the abduction. Her name is Esther. The true history is that one of the thirty girls that were kept by Kony’s army is named Esther Acio. In the story, Esther explains the terror of the abduction, her one year enlistment in Kony’s army, and her escape to freedom. One does not know where truth and fiction overlap in Minot’s story but the difficult future of Africa is plainly divined.
Kony remains free; Idi Amin escapes punishment and eventually dies in Saudi Arabia in 2003. The hard road to freedom for Africa is only at its beginning. In the interest of freedom, it seems the best America may do is support education for African children and let history take its course. As depressing as that course of inaction may be, one wonders if that is not equally true in the Middle East.
More to come–From a trip to Africa in July 2017, an idea for Africa’s economic growth will be posited by this amateur voyager.