A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa, by by Alexis Okeowo.
I knew about this book thanks to a Goodreads friend, Ina. who also blogs here.
The book writen by American journalist Alexis Okeowo, who grew up in Texas, and whose parents are from Nigeria, relates to us the lives of several men and women in these four countries: Uganda, Mauritania, Nigeria, and Somalia.
The book was published in October 2017, and the information is very current, which made it more devastating to hear.
I’m very glad I got out of my reading path, and took up this tangent. Historic non fiction is proving a great way to show me how ignorant I am, and if it’s well written, -as this one is, it’s urgently needed. News can’t keep me as informed as a person who knows about conflicts and problems first hand, and who can write with skill. Okeowo doesn’t beautify nor vilify any person or event. However, she’s not just a detached journalist, she is tangled up in what she talks about, and in the second part, she includes a bit of her own personal thoughts on how this all affected her. Apart from those brief explanations, most of the book displays an informational style, to the point, succinct and direct, definitely journalistic.
I wish I had read this review before reading the book. The only flaw the reviewer sees, it’s in the structure of the book. Given that I’m zero familiar with these four countries, the fact that she split the stories of each country in two parts, made it more difficult to follow. If I had read the review, I would have read, Uganda, part I, and part II, Mauritania, part I and part II, and so on. But I wasn’t totally lost. By the second part, when she picks the narration of each country, I started to remember who it is she was talking about.
The section devoted to Uganda is about the life of two teens abducted by The Lord’s Resistance Army. Fifteen years old Eunice was forced to marry nineteen year old Bosco. Those child soldiers, abducted and forced to harm the communities they came from, and the young women they force to marry them, have a hard time coming back and being re-integrated. Both victimizers and victims, their life is impossibly hard both while at the LRA lines, and, if lucky to leave the LRA alive, in the communities they go back to.
Mauritania is about slavery. I’m ashamed to know I didn’t know there’s still so many slaves, and not just that, the vestiges of slavery, the culture and mentality of slavery, it’s so hard to upturn. From Mauritania, I appreciated the insider’s look into this activist man, Bokum. Events and people aimed to end slavery are celebrated in the West, but for those living in this country, it means shunning from neighbors and imprisonment from government. Government denies this problem, but it’s still present in reality.
Nigeria. Boko Haram (a group that ended as a terrorist organization), and the abduction of hundreds of girls from a boarding school in Chibok, is a story where reality outdoes anything we could have imagined. Why did they abduct them? Because they were girls, and going to school. Such a basic right, we think, yet those many girls and women who want to lead a normal life, are threatened by fundamentalists. In this section we learn about a group of vigilantes that was formed following the initiative of just one brave taxi driver. However, as in the case of Uganda, the role of the government military and the terrorist group becomes murky.
Living in the bush. Something I had not heard about before, but that’s what the young men and women were instructed to do to avoid terrorist raids. They had to sleep in the bush, no true rest, always alert to the dangers. And, if abducted, that’s how the terrorist groups lived as well.
Somalia. There’s still young women being killed for the great sin of playing basketball. Yes. And, if not murdered, harassed, threatened, deterred in every possible way.
I agree with Taryn’s review when she says this,
Okeowo explores their flaws, hopes, and fears without judgment.
That’s what I appreciate the most about the book. I’m glad I decided to read it. Thanks, Ina, for recommending it to me.