A critque of imperialism

Irish involvement with Africa is all too often seen though the work of missionaries, especially in Nigeria and Kenya. But this reissue of a book by the late Wicklow novelist Gerald Hanley, better known for The Year of the Lion and Gilligan’s Last Elephant, deals with a very different area and very different kind of involvement.

Hanley served during the Second World War with the British army and worked in Somalia as a district officer. Here he got to know the warrior clans of that much fragmented country, which neither the Ethiopian Empire nor the Italian Kingdom had done much to unite, especially as the area was also divided with the British and the French. Warriors describes how a small group of officers attempted to keep the peace among warring factions in a remote district. Seven were driven to kill themselves.

The book provides a devastating critique of imperialism. Hanley, however, also came to respect the warriors and their attitude to life and death, even their indifference perhaps to the sufferings of others. Today we are told that Somalia is a dysfunctional state, which it is even by the norms of Africa. The Somali pirates and the jihadists, who are so often on our front pages, share the attitudes of the warriors. Perhaps to understand something of today’s problems we might learn from the insights of a transplanted Irishman recorded in this book.