This reader’s review of The Catholic Orangemen of Togo appeared on Amazon yesterday. I like it very much because it seems to understand what I was trying to do. I really enjoy reading the readers’ reviews on both Amazon and on Facebook virtual bookshelf. When you write a book you crave feedback from those who experience reading it.
I remain very sad that my publisher buckled at the libel threats from Schillings on behalf of mercenary killer Tim Spicer, and I had to publish The Catholic Orangemen myself. The result was a much smaller readership. Murder in Samarkand deals with the extremes of human experience; The Catholic Orangemen is less spectacular, but I think it is better written and it contains the little wisdom I distilled from over a decade of working intensively on Africa and its problems,
As in his earlier book, Murray is enormously entertaining. But this is also by far the most informative book I have read about the nature of the problems modern African states tend to have. For instance he describes how many modern African countries have developed very restrictive trade agreements which allow them to accept subsidised US or EU produce, thereby bankrupting their own businesses, but won’t trade with each other because so many businesses are corrupt monopolies owned by relatives of government officials and they don’t want their neighbours to get the jump on them.
Murray also details a colossal level of corruption and bloodletting among all the West African countries, even the relatively stable Ghana. In the earlier part of the book Murray details his role in London having responsibilities for West Africa as a whole. Later he became Deputy High Commissioner of Ghana.
His most remarkable achievement here was in going to enormous lengths to facilitate a free election at the point when Jerry Rawlings had to give up power, having served two terms, and by virtue of incredible levels of organisation and very hard work managed to get a result.
This book is also frequently hilarious, never more so than in recounting his stage management of a Royal visit to Ghana, Duke of Edinburgh and all. At one stage the royal support team set up camp, so to speak, at an Accra hotel, at another the High Commissioner is gloriously upstaged. Some sections remind me of Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Black Mischief’. Murray speaks the truth and sometimes its shocking, often it confirms in glorious detail what one had often suspected, and sometimes it’s hilarious.
This book is set in the 90s, before Murray went to Uzbekistan, but was written quite recently, and Murray wasn’t as cynical about the morality of his own government during his stay in Africa as he later became. But what he has to tell us about the Arms for Africa affair reveals that what has shocked so many of us about Blair’s involvement in the Iraq war was not a one-off, driven by some compulsion to kowtow to the Americans. Long before 9/11 he was ignoring the painstaking work of whole departments of the Foreign Office to get his mates off the hook with their massively profitable corrupt arms dealing.
To anyone who loves Africa, and to anyone who wants chapter on verse on exactly how degraded the conduct of our government has become, this is essential reading.