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That Angry and Ignored Wind

Author: Jeffrey Tayler Title: Angry Wind: Through Muslim Black Africa by Truck, Bus, Boat and Camel Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 2005, 256 pp.

When the Harmattan blows, entire populations in central and western Africa powerlessly see their own already miserable condition grow worse every day. But in recent years there has also been another wind blowing over the Sahel, an angry wind that shakes the spirits of millions of people from Chad to Nigeria and from Niger to Mali.


This is a wind of resentment of the West, and in particular of America, that feeds upon an ideological Islamism that is ready to nourish the anger of those who feel without hope. A region which the world remembers almost only at moments of crisis and which runs the risk of being transformed into an 'African Afghanistan', a forge for the creation of new generations of terrorists. Christians and Muslims co-exist with great difficulty in a scenario whose exemplary case is Nigeria: with its 137 million inhabitants, this country runs the risk of becoming the largest (and most dangerous) failed State on the face of the earth, with catastrophic consequences for Africa, and not only for Africa.


The American journalist Jeffrey Tayler, officially a correspondent in Moscow for The Atlantic but in practice for years a freelancer travelling the world, a specialist in difficult and forgotten places (his volumes dedicated to Siberia, the Congo and the Sahara have become bestsellers in the USA), travelled for months through Muslim black Africa in order to describe its moods in this book.


Angry Wind documents the long wanderings of Tayler in the countries of the Sahel, far from the most used routes, in lost villages in the middle of the desert where only his mastery of Arabic and French, together with a good doses of 'tips' to corrupt local guards and bureaucrats, allowed him not to get into (too much) trouble. An Islamic and angry Africa where the moves of the United States of America in the Middle East create a resentment that extends to the whole West and to Christians.


To forget or underestimate what is stirring in the Sahel is a risk that the rest of the world should not run such is Tayler's thesis. In describing a region that is sending out signs of radicalisation, the author attempts a religious and sociological analysis that turns out to be the least convincing part of his book. But although Taylor encounters evident difficulties in understanding what is animating and feeding the tensions of the area which have a religious background, he is at his best when describing the places that he visits and in leading the reader to the discovery of scenes, traditions, smells and tastes of regions where few Westerners have ever set foot.


The dangerous trips in deserts populated by corrupt militiamen and soldiers, dinners based on delicious camel meat or the tales at balls during the Muslim festival of the Tabaski celebrated amongst the Tuareg nomads, capture the reader's attention as only great travel books can. The wind that blows continuously and impoverishes the land, together with the descriptions of the miserable conditions of local life, bring to mind The Grapes of Wrath of John Steinbeck (an author from whose influence very few American writers are able to distance themselves).


Tayler offers instruments of knowledge of great importance on the furrow that is opening up in the Sahel between Christians and Muslims, who are increasingly led to regard each other with suspicion and to divide themselves into geographical areas, with the temptation circulating among many of them to enter into a direct clash. Chad, the point of departure of the journey which took this American author as far as Senegal, has one may also point out a border with the Sudan, where these tensions have for some time given rise to massacres.


The suffering of Africa gradually emerges at every stage of Tayler's journey but it is expressed in all its historical enormity when the writer reaches Île de Gorée, the small island in front of the coast of Senegal through which millions of black slaves passed on their way to the continent of America.