The Ghosts of Africa is not a new book. It was published in 1980. But if you want to gain some insight about Africa today and the struggles in the Mideast, it would be a good book to read.
It is fascinating since it tracks the political Intrigue and warfare in Eastern Africa during WWI, known then as the Great War. It is ironic that the maneuvering, guerilla warfare and tribal loyalties are unusually similar to the current Western Powers engagement in the Middle East.
Prior to the Great War, the European Powers had carved up the African Continent into colonies which they exploited for natural resources and manpower. The onset of hostilities in Europe spread the war to Africa. The major conflicts in East Africa were between Great Britain and Germany.
In order to counter the British threat, Colonel Lettow-Vorsek, known as Lettow, proposes to organize, arm and train the black tribes to fight for Germany. This creates a conflict in Germany and the rest of the “White World”. Powerful interests want to reach an accommodation between combatants in Africa to prevent arming the black Africans. They want to keep them suppressed, unarmed, untrained and unorganized. Their fear, which proves to be true, that if the black population is armed, trained and learn to fight a modern war, it will give them the confidence to revolt against their white colonial masters. This would mean the loss of lucrative colonies and resources in Africa.
Lettow ignores the pressures from Berlin and the Kaiser to make an accommodation with the British and arms the black population. The tribes are organized into fighting units call the Askaris and they fight with Colonel Lettow until the Armistice is signed in Europe on November 11, 1918. Lettow’s Army is recognized as the only victorious, German Army of the Great War.
Involved in the intrigue and guerilla warfare are Jewish leaders who hope to establish a Hebrew State in Uganda, black revolutionaries who are plotting a fight for independence, and adventurous Americans who get swept up in the melee of the warfare. There is also a beautiful and sophisticated African Princess named Lanni, who has a European father. She shuttles back and forth between the British and German sides. She is a secret advocate of the revolution and works both sides to gain advantage for her agenda.
Thrown into this conflict are tribal customs and culture, African religions and black taboos. Black tribes are recruited to fight against other black tribes with the promise of rewards after the war. Also thrown into this mix are incidents of adultery, fornication, unwanted pregnancies and passionate love among the characters in this sweeping drama.
As in many wars, the results of the four year conflict leave many combatants, on both sides, unfulfilled and conflicted. Just as Lettow is about to crush the British in a clever ambush, the Armistice in Europe is declared and the two forces stop the fight. Hagen, the British Commander, under a flag of truce, presents Lettow with a telegram that confirms the Armistice and the end of the war in Europe.
The end is sad since many of the main characters on both sides, who have made the supreme effort ,have been killed, severely wounded, died of disease or just disappeared in the chaos of war. In the final analysis, it makes you wonder what was the point of this war anyway. Many admirable and intelligent people have been lost and the situation is really not much different than before the war began. In one poignant passage, a German Askari and a British Askari are talking. The German Askari wonders why he cannot have a medal like the English Askari since they both fought in the same battle. The English Askari replies, “Because we were on different sides.” The German Askari turns and looks over the corpses piled like logs on the battlefield and says., “What other side? Was it not the same war that killed us all brother?”
If you are a WWI aficionado like me, I recommend that you find and read this book. However, it is not an easy read. There are numerous characters and the plots and battles are complex. I found it difficult to follow the action at times and had to reread a lot of passages. However, historians have indicated that the actions portrayed in the book are accurate and Lettow and Hagen, the two opposing commander are based on actual men.
The book is out of print, but you should be able to find it at large libraries, at used book sellers on line, or used book stores.
The author William Stevenson is most famous for his book A Man Called Intrepid. It is the story of OSS operations in WWII and the roots of the CIA. I had the privilege of having a college professor, named Dr. Harry Grace, who was part of the OSS operations In WWII.. He would never talk about his involvement but I was able to determine what he had done by reading A Man Called Intrepid.