I met a pirate once. It was the summer of 2009 in Somaliland, and I’d made the hot drive across a scrub of desert date, myrrh, and acacia trees to Mandheera, a no-stoplight town. A couple of miles off the road stood the most prominent building in the area and Farah Ismail Eid’s home — a whitewashed, colonial-era prison.
Eid was something of a celebrity, being one of the only convicted Somali pirates who conceded his guilt and would agree to be interviewed. Later, at a prison in Berbera, one pirate declined my offer (“Fuck you,” he told me in surprisingly idiomatic English) while another simply spat at my feet before retreating into the sweaty dark of his cramped, shared cell.
Dadaab is a confounding place, a low-slung conurbation of wind-swept, sun-beaten shelters adrift in Kenya’s wild northeast. The wind is unrelenting, the heat unbearable, yet it is home to 350,000 people, refugees who escaped war and famine only to find themselves trapped here.
They depend on food handouts yet the markets are also stuffed with fresh mangos and Samsung smartphones. There are few jobs yet some are spectacularly wealthy. It is a place of hopelessness and opportunity. Dadaab is temporary, but has existed for 25 years and is the focus of Ben Rawlence’s book.
Heart of Darkness to the Hearts of People (The Times)
Riding pillion on a motorbike piloted by a beer-loving priest through a rain sodden town lost in Congo’s endless jungle, Ben Rawlence arrives at an art deco villa built by a Belgian mining company half a century ago.
Like the town, Manono, in which it sits the villa was abandoned after independence, devoured by corruption and the voracious undergrowth, pillaged by war and eventually reclaimed by more foreigners, this time from the United Nations.