By Daisy Nandeche Okoti
Published January 22, 2015
On the list of the time-honoured works of David Maillu’s numerous literary works is The Equatorial Assignment, a deceptively small book with a story that makes the reader to rethink their perspective on life.
First published in 1980 under the Pacesetter series of Macmillan Publishers, the novel revolves around Colonel Benni Kamba 009 of an organisation called NISA who has been assigned to destroy a secret Afro-Mafia society which intends to control all African states.
When the novel begins, the reader first encounters ‘Benni Kamba the human being’, that is without the power that surrounds him as an expert in his field: a soldier, a remarkable genius and a skilled fighter of crime, both physically and intellectually, with a history of winning all his battles. In fact, this disguised Benni Kamba is the protagonist who the reader interacts with for the most part of the novel as he even uses fake names and professions to cover up his sensitive identity.
The Equatorial Assignment is a story full of adventure and suspense that can appeal to anyone from the age of 15. The writer uses simple, everyday conversational language that any average user of the English language can understand and follow the events as they unfold in the book.
Told through the third person, the novel has multiple sub-plots that all contribute to the construction of the main plot which is the move towards the destruction of the Afro-Mafia society that is threatening the independence of Africa.
Benni Kamba’s life flows like that of any normal young man his age. He is not a flawless hero; rather, he is an ordinary young man with the everyday challenges of the people of his age group, such as relationship challenges and falling for the deceptive charm of a woman who almost destroys him and what he stands for. And this is also the case in the construction of the other main characters who are all presented as having human flaws, a fact that makes it very easy for readers to identify with the events that take place in the novel. The use of flashback also gives the book a natural flow of the day to day conversation whereby the speakers as well as listeners do not have to follow in a particular straight pattern but instead tell the story back and forth depending on what comes to mind or what is important to the main plot at a particular time. Also flashback helps the reader to understand the events that happen simultaneously and one has to be narrated before the other.
Typically of other works by David G Maillu, The Equatorial Assignment does not shy away from addressing very sensitive societal concerns such as corruption, rogue politics and embezzlement of public funds involving senior government officials.
Although published 35 years ago, the book tackles issues that continue to be of major concern in African countries. The novel also raises the question of who actually runs African nation-states; Is it elected politicians led by their Presidents or is there another force that influences the direction of African countries through the powers-that-be? And to what extend is salvation from these powers a reality?
By bringing out the depth of the helplessness of the countries under this Mafia society, David G Maillu subtly narrates the state of hopelessness that African countries wallow in after allowing themselves to be manipulated by these Mafia societies which disguise themselves as rescuers of Africa.
The fact that the author creates an antithesis from within the African countries in the shape and form of NISA goes on to show his optimism at the power and potential that African countries have to liberate themselves from the shackles of power-hungry societies. This also shows the author’s belief in the presence and the potential of African nations to solve their own problems because they have the moral fabric required as well as the willpower to save themselves without necessarily having to rely on external help which is portrayed in the novel as dangerous.