Saturday, 1 March 2014 07:07
On the first day of this century, a corrupted state in West Africa is invaded by a private army. The incursion is supported by a colonising force bringing aid, relief and resuscitation. A new country, Millennium, is born and a new order is established.
This radical action realises the vision of David Heaven, an English entrepreneur with a lifetime’s experience of Africa. His collaborators include four friends whom he met forty years previously at Oxford University. They are the Anglo-French born Alexa Labarre, the missionary priest Pente Broke Smith, the security professional Conrad Aveling and the black CIA officer Kingston Offenbach. Their friendships formed as undergraduates endure through years of widely differing circumstances. They come to know themselves as ‘The Oxford Five’.
Other characters crucial to the foundation of Millennium are Hugh Dundas, a dominant financier with a Midas touch but a troubled background: Martin Kirchoff, who, with his father Sol, introduces David to a career in Africa: Aischa Gomes, the love of David’s life and a daughter of the Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi.
David Heaven’s ambition to impact honourably on a continent in crisis is fulfilled, but at a heavy personal cost. He loses independence, status, friendship, love and ultimately life. He leaves a memoire to his unacknowledged grandson.
Oliver, ‘Olty’, receives his legacy in December 2019 when he is thirty, unattached, a citizen of Millennium and a career diplomat. He is gripped by the memoire which combines unrecorded facts of history with hints at the motives of those who perpetrated the coup.
Olty is frustrated by his grandfather’s sparse summary and he determines to dig deeper. He couples the notes with archives and witness recollections to articulate the passions which fermented in post colonial Africa, resulting in violence, corruption and disorder. His research reveals how the Oxford Five were moulded by drama and romance during the 1970s and ’80s. He discovers how Thierry Cestac, a formidable and forbidding Frenchman made the first of his recurring appearances. The action during these formative years spreads to embrace the Persian Gulf, the Far East and Australia.
David and Martin’s business, The Mansion House, prospers throughout Africa but commercial success is not enough for David, who conceives Project Zero which becomes his obsession. He needs help to shape his vision, courage and imagination to make it viable: and lurking at his shoulder is another shadowy figure, waiting his chance to steal the dream.David is a driven man and desperate to secure the approval of The Oxford Five. Relationships are tested and Olty sees the ruthless edge to Heaven’s character as the enterprise is faced with disaster.
Towards the end of 2020, world events place a renewed pressure on Millennium to defend its provenance. Olty is involved in the diplomatic effort and he is led back to Oxford where he must justify the actions of his forebears.
This is a story of Africa. It is fiction, but the central theme could have been played out anywhere between the Sahara and South Africa during the last 50 years. It could yet happen. It might be happening now.
Julian Beale spent 25 years travelling through 40 countries across Africa whilst representing Land Rover. He experienced the machinations of politics in the former English, French and Portuguese colonies. He was involved in the power play of corporations and he worked with the fixers and intermediaries. He saw the unashamed corruption and he witnessed the misdirection of International Aid.
Julian was arrested, bribed, threatened and shot at. He ate doubtful food and drank worse water. He survived heart stopping plane rides, notably one in an ancient Dakota with dodgy engines, a lone pilot and fourteen goats for company.
Yet from the first, Julian was compelled by Africa, spellbound by the beauty of its nature, captivated by its culture and the warm vibrancy of its peoples. He was humbled by their resilience, patience and disarming good humour even in the face of despair and deprivation.
He says: “There is one day which stands out in my memories, a morning when I saw two young men lying dead in the middle of an urban motorway – victims of jaywalking whose bodies no one had troubled to remove. That same afternoon, I was driving through a shanty town and watched little children emerging from the squalor of their homes to go to school. All were miraculously immaculate in uniform and wearing the seraphic smile of joie de vivre. Such a contrast... and with it came hope.”
In retirement, Julian lives in Gloucestershire enjoying the company of his wife, children and grandchildren. ‘Wings of the Morning’ is his first novel.