Freight Dogs: The fate of an ordinary person during Africa’s decade of violence

Book review: Giles Foden is a novelist for whom history is a real presence

Exodus of Hutu refugees to Rwanda. Photograph: by Jacques Langevin/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

Exodus of Hutu refugees to Rwanda. Photograph: by Jacques Langevin/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

The “freight dogs” of the title are pilots: shady operators who run illicit cargo in and out of central African war zones. The place is Zaire, subsequently the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The time in question is Africa’s violent decade, 1996 to 2007: the period that saw the First Congo War (which ended with the overthrow of Zairean dictator Mobutu) and the Second Congo War (which has still not fully ended).

It was a time of slaughter and mass displacements, of endemic corruption and shifting allegiances. It was, in other words, a very bad time to be an ordinary person; and the fate of one ordinary person in this period of carnage is the subject of Giles Foden’s long, dense, mostly gripping new book.

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