Saturday, February 9, 2013

Congo Dawn by Jeanette Windle


If absolute power breeds absolute corruption, what happens when a multinational corporation with unlimited funds hires on a private military company with unbridled power? Especially in a Congolese rainforest where governmental accountability is only too cheaply for sale and the ultimate 'conflict mineral' is up for grabs?
Set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's war-torn eastern Ituri rainforest zone, Congo Dawn confronts former Marine lieutenant Robin Duncan with just that question. A veteran in handling corruption and conspiracy, Robin has never had any trouble  discerning good guys from bad. But as her private security team tries to track down an insurgent killer, Robin faces a man who broke her trust years ago and discovers that gray areas extend deeper into the jungle than she anticipated.
As a vicious global conspiracy emerges, run by brutal men who don’t leave witnesses alive, Robin must decide if there is anyone left she can trust. And where is God in the suffering and injustice? How is it followers of Yesu (Jesus) caught in the crossfire can still rejoice when everything they hold dear is ripped away?



Paradise Lost.
That translated piece of literature written by a long-ago foreign poet had been a favorite of Jesuit monks who’d taught a Congolese orphan boy his letters and their language many years ago. Perhaps because they’d felt just so at their exile to his own country.
“Baba. Father. Have you not understood what I said? With these we can now make a paradise out of our home.”
Father and son stood on a stony outcropping that thrust skyward over the rainforest canopy, one of dozens of the strange rock formations that rose like termite mounds above the treetops, their stony composition bearing no apparent relation to the sandy soil or red clay that made up the jungle floor. Burial mounds of the Ancient Ones, tribal legends avowed before pale-skinned foreigners arrived to teach terms like igneous and volcanic anomaly.
“Baba, do you not see what a miracle this is? As great a miracle as finding you alive again. The Almighty at last has chosen to shower favor upon us. This place, our people, will never be the same again.”
The tall, ebony-skinned youth was dressed incongruously for this place in collared shirt, slacks, and such shiny black shoes as his feet had never known during their growing years. But anxious, dark eyes and beaming smile were the same, though he now held out a handful of gray pebbles rather than the schoolwork of his boyhood. In years past, his father could have responded with unstinted praise, but now he shifted his own bare feet to look down over the cliff edge.
The clearing below stretched to the banks of a wide, lazy river, its water the dark tannin shade of tea, a drink the Jesuit monks had taught the older man to enjoy. Several dozen thatched mud-brick huts occupied the highest ground, beyond the reach of wet-season flooding. Women wrapped in the colorful lengths of homespun cloth called pagnes stooped among cultivations of cassava, maize, beans, yams, and peanuts. Others moved along a path from the riverbank, their graceful sway balancing pottery water jars on top of their heads.
Children too young for work or school scampered among banana plants, playing some game of running and hiding. On the river itself, a pair of hand-hewn wooden pirogues drifted lazily toward a bend where the watercourse disappeared back into untamed rainforest. Several village men, naked except for the same loincloth that was the older man’s sole dress, stood precariously on the canoe rims to cast fishing nets woven of thin, supple lianas. Drawing the nets from the water, they removed a few catfish and eel, then cast the nets again.
Paradise Lost.
There was a time when such had been the older man’s own opinion of this remote jungle locality. When this place had seemed to him an unjust and cruel exile.
Young then, younger than his last-born offspring now standing beside him, he’d been among his country’s first high school graduates after their colonial masters at last packed up and left. By then a Congolese army officer named Mobutu had seized control in their place. Renaming his country Zaire, he’d promised that its vast natural wealth would no longer enrich foreigners but instead provide a grand new world of prosperity, justice, and peace for the Congolese people. The older man standing on the rock outcropping had been the first appointed administrator for the schoolhouse and health outpost their new government had pledged to build in every village.
Life here had not then been so isolated. There’d been a road. Just a dirt track carved through the rainforest but wide enough for motorized vehicles. The road’s makers had not built it with any interest in the village. This region had none of the treasures its foreign masters had craved. No diamonds. No gold. No copper. Not even rich soil to be exploited for cotton, sugarcane, or other cash crops. It was simply a dot on the map. And though government tax collectors traveled the road, so did the army units who maintained a welcome stability.
Still, to a youth who’d known the amenities of a city, the taste of imported drink, the stimulation of books and travel, his appointment here had seemed more punishment than promotion. Unfortunately, he’d also been a kinless orphan without connections of blood or wealth to command better opportunities.
Why had he stayed? Especially since Mobutu’s new name for an ancient land had proved to last far longer than his promises. Instead of schools and medical centers, Mobutu with his sycophants and endless greedy relatives had built for themselves palaces, parks, and places of entertainment. Betrayal in turn spawned revolt. Rebel militias of every stripe and tribal allegiance became as much a part of the Congolese landscape as crumbling bridges, abandoned rail stations, and beached riverboats.
Perhaps it was no more complicated than a village girl with the ebony roundness, graceful lift of head under her water jar, and strong limbs of true female beauty who’d by then caught his eye. Since the riverbank community was in essence a single intermarried tribal clan, he’d acquired along with a wife the extended family he’d never known in that Jesuit orphanage.
The older man standing now at the cliff edge had not left the Ituri Rainforest again. When the promised concrete school building never materialized, he’d used his own government salary to raise a mud-brick community center. There he’d taught classes and administered rudimentary health care until growing troubles outside the rainforest cut off even that meager stipend. As motorized vehicles stopped passing through, the road grew over with lianas and ferns. Market goods were reduced to what could be lashed to the frames of occasional bicycles that still wore a narrow track along the old roadbed. The community center’s tin roofing gradually rusted away, to be replaced with the same thatch as the rest of the village.
By then the administrator had his own growing family. He’d kept them fed as other village families did by cultivating the soil, harvesting the abundance of rainforest and river. And he’d kept the school open, teaching each succeeding crop of boys and girls from the crumbling Swahili primers and Holy Scriptures that were the only books the village possessed. Though most considered squatting indoors over battered slates and mildewed pages a pointless exercise, there were a few with a hunger to learn who walked a full day down the overgrown road to where the foreign God-followers had healed the region’s sick and offered a higher education to their children.
Including this youngest son standing before him.
The boy had not been gone long when news trickled into the village with the last of the bicycle merchants that the white foreigners had been driven from the rainforest, their hospital and secondary school burned to the ground by raiding rebels, the town’s Congolese inhabitants massacred. To add terror were other rumors of villages wiped out by soldiers who were not rebels but wore the uniforms of government forces.
While war raged in the outside world, the village closed in upon itself. The bicycle trail was now a tangle of vegetation. Not in many seasons had their community received so much as a visitor from some other jungle village. For all they could know, they might be the only survivors left upon the planet.
Still, the schoolmaster, by now undisputedly acclaimed the village chief, continued to teach the children in faith that one day the road would open again to a wider world.
And the road had indeed opened to bring the return of a son he’d despaired still bore life. Leaning against a boulder down below was a small motorbike that had somehow pushed its way through the overgrown roadbed. The story his son told was not uncommon in the Congo. Among a few students evacuated with the white foreigners, he’d found himself in a refugee camp so far from home he could not have covered the distance in many days of walking. And other survivors had told him that every village in his Ituri district had been razed to the ground.
The boy’s education soon secured him employment as a translator. Seeing potential in the young man, the foreign aid workers sponsored him for further education, eventually even outside the Congo itself. When he’d at last made his way back to this place, it hadn’t been with any expectation of finding the village. But he’d been as delighted to discover his family still living as they were to receive him.
Not until he’d insisted his father climb this outcropping with him had he explained the real reason for his return. The older man shook his head now at the gray pebbles on his son’s outstretched palm, not in negation, but perplexity.
“All know our country’s very bones are filled with great treasure. But there have been foreigners here before to make their tests on these hills. Back when your oldest brother was still at his mother’s breast. Graphite, they named this rock.”
Plucking a chunk from his son’s palm, he rubbed it across a nearby boulder. It left a dark streak. “See? These have proved useful enough to the children for forming their letters since we can no longer obtain pencils. But it is too common for the mining companies to come this far after it.”
“Those who came before were wrong, Baba. This is what I have been studying since I left you. Geology. Remember this? The collection I made as a boy when you first taught us of the treasures a rock can hold?”
Yes, the older man recognized the small, lumpy bag crafted from sun-cured duiker hide. He remembered, too, the boy’s disappointment that the glitter of a pyrite pebble was not in fact gold.
His son was still speaking. “Remember how angry I was that always it has been others—the foreigners, our own corrupt leaders—who reaped the benefit of such treasure and not the people under whose soil it was found? You taught me too not to hate or dwell on past injustices. To become a student and not a rebel. And as a student, I took my collection with me, even when I was running and in the refugee camp. I kept it because it was all I still had of this place. But when I found employment with a mining firm, I tested the rocks in their lab. And I found that those who came here long ago were wrong. That is not graphite you hold in your hand, but a treasure infinitely more valuable. A treasure not even known to exist in your childhood. Valuable enough to bring to this place employment and restored roads and electricity. Better schools and a hospital. All the goods and opportunities I have seen in the outside world that our people have so long been denied.”
The youth trailed off, for the first time registering that his father did not reflect his own excitement. “Why are you not rejoicing, Baba? Is this not what you have prayed for? A better life for our people? For the children you have taught?”
The village administrator was too troubled now to hide it from his expression. Was it for this he’d sent his son from the rain forest to seek a higher education and better world? Such naïveté? Such foolishness?
Paradise Lost.
Strange that only now, as he contemplated its loss, did the village administrator recognize any similarities between this place to which he’d been so reluctantly exiled long decades ago and a Garden described in the Holy Scriptures. A Garden where the first man and woman had opened their eyes to the presence of a Creator God who walked with his children.
Had that first couple looked out as he did now over such endless, tossing, verdant waves? Had they marveled at orange, pink, and lilac flowering trees and rainbow-hued orchids spilling over branches and down tree trunks? Had they smiled or frowned at the chattering, chirping, croaking, cawing, and other noises that signaled the jungle’s richly varied animal life? Black-and-white colobus monkeys. Cockatoos and macaws. That rarest of rain forest mammals, the okapi, an odd if beautiful hybrid of zebra and giraffe. The more abundant duikers and bongo antelopes kept in check by leopards.
And human predators as well, indication that this was not after all the original Paradise. Down below, a group of village men were just now emerging from the rain forest into an orchard of mango, citrus, papaya, and coconut palms. Among limp shapes slung across shoulders, the administrator could pick out antelope, boar, and a vine-tied clutch of pangolin, that tasty rain forest resident with the shape of an opossum and the shelled armor of an armadillo. Added to the catch of those fishermen in the pirogues, the village would eat well tonight.
Yes, if life here was simple, isolated, precarious of existence, bowing always to the vagaries of nature that could in an instant send flood, forest fire, or pestilence to sweep away the timid hold its small band of human inhabitants had carved out on the riverbank, it was perhaps not so ill as the older man had often thought it.
In a gesture that surprised him with its violence, he slapped the gray rock chunks from his son’s hand. “As you said, Son, when have the people under whose soil such treasures have been found ever been permitted to profit from its wealth? Tell me now! Whom have you told of this treasure of yours?”
His son looked more bewildered and disappointed than angry at his father’s reaction. “I saw no reason to keep it secret. On the contrary, it took much persuading before my employers were convinced that I was not wasting their time.”
The younger man held up a small, plastic-shelled oblong. The administrator alone among the villagers would recognize its purpose. A cell phone.
“I have already let them know that I have confirmed a sufficient source to justify their interest. And why not? We will need help from the outside—much investment—to develop this treasure. The first step will be to open the old road.”
He’d lost his father’s attention. This rocky knoll had always been a handy lookout for forest fires. But not for enemies slipping up on the village. The jungle canopy was too impenetrable for that. This time, though, the height of the stony outcropping had provided advance notice of invasion. The older man was already scrambling downward toward the village as quickly as the steep slope permitted. As soon as he was within earshot, he raised his voice in an ululating cry.
It was too late. The roar of two helicopters swooping in low over the jungle had roused more curiosity than alarm. The villagers were hurrying into the open to stare upwards as the helicopters hovered above a cassava field.
Shiny black shoes slipped and skidded on the rock behind the administrator as his son scrambled after him. “Baba, there is no need of fear. It is only our investors.”
But the men jumping from the helicopters’ open sides did not wear the suits or carry the briefcases of businessmen. These were predators. And not of animals, but of men. More ominously, neither did all have the dark skin or features of Congolese.
His son was now at the older man’s side. “There has been some mistake. I will go speak to them.”
But his father was shoving him into the cover of trees and lianas and brush with all the strength of rage and panic and despair. “No, I am chief here. I will speak for my people. You must escape. You must find help.”
The screams had already begun. His youngest son had obeyed his orders and was no longer in view. As he strode into the open, the older man found himself in complete agreement on one point.
Life for his people, his village, this beautiful rain forest paradise, would never be the same.

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Award-winning novelist and missions journalist Jeanette Windle has lived in six countries and traveled in more than 30. Those experiences have birthed 16 fiction titles, including bestselling Tyndale House Publishers release Veiled Freedom, a 2010 Christian Book Award and Christy Award finalist and sequel Freedom's Stand, a 2011 Golden Scroll Novel of the Year finalist and 2012 Christian Book Award and Carol Award finalist.  

Jeanette Windle would like to invite any reader interested in knowing more about Congo Dawn, her other titles, or her life journey to visit her at her website (, her blog From the Eye of the Storm ( or contact her through Facebook and Twitter. She is also delighted to participate with local book clubs or discussion groups through Skype video or on-line chat conference.


Jeanette is giving away a copy of CONGO DAWN. The giveaway is only available to U.S. addresses.To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment along with your email address. You can enter the book giveaway twice--once on each spotlight post.


Rick Estep said...

Her books are loved by the male patrons at my church library. They will love a new book by her. Thanks for the review and a chance to win a copy.

Librarybooks at religious dot com

karenk said...

thanks for the chance to read this book

kmkuka at yahoo dot com

Anonymous said...

I would like to win this book. I could share it with my church library! Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a wonderful book. Thanks for having a giveaway.


Cyndi said...

Thanks for the introduction to a new author for me! Sounds like a great book!


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