My Friend the Mercenary

( 11 )

Overview

In February 2002, British journalist James Brabazon set out to travel with guerrilla forces into Liberia to show the world what was happening in that war-torn country. To protect him, he hired Nick du Toit, a former South African Defence Force soldier who had fought in conflicts across Africa for over three decades. What follows is an incredible behind-the-scenes account of the Liberian rebels—known as the LURD—as they attempt to seize control of the country from government troops led by President Charles Taylor....
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My Friend the Mercenary

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Overview

In February 2002, British journalist James Brabazon set out to travel with guerrilla forces into Liberia to show the world what was happening in that war-torn country. To protect him, he hired Nick du Toit, a former South African Defence Force soldier who had fought in conflicts across Africa for over three decades. What follows is an incredible behind-the-scenes account of the Liberian rebels—known as the LURD—as they attempt to seize control of the country from government troops led by President Charles Taylor. Brabazon takes his readers into enemy jungles, following a group of LURD rebels—led by Sekou Conneh, a former used-car salesman; Brigadier-General Deku, the senior field commander; and a tough twenty-seven-year-old Brigadier General dubbed Dragon Master—as they attempt to change their nation's fate. The men must deal with limited supplies—in the midst of firefights they are forced to retreat as they run out of bullets—and battle not only opposition forces but extreme heat, hunger, and sheer exhaustion.

Brabazon's friendship with Nick opens a door to a dangerous world of mercenaries, spies, and violent regime change. Nick invites James to film a coup to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea. In a story line out of a Frederick Forsyth novel, a group of mercenaries, intelligence operatives, and international financiers plot to fly a plane full of hired guns to this tiny West African nation fabulously rich in oil—but the plot goes awry. The mercenaries are arrested, and Nick is sentenced to serve thirty-four years in Black Beach prison, Africa's most notorious jail. In a twist of fate, Brabazon remained free.

In this gripping narrative, James Brabazon paints a brilliant portrait of the chaos that tore West Africa apart: nations run by warlords and kleptocrats, rebels fighting to displace them, ordinary people caught in the crossfire—and everywhere adventurers and mercenaries operating in war's dark shadows. It is also a brutally honest book about what it takes to be a journalist, survivor, and friend in this morally corrosive crucible.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The fog of war, informational and moral, permeates this adrenalized memoir of Africa's dirty wars and the men who fight them. British documentarian Brabazon entered Liberia in 2002 to film rebel forces in that country's civil war, taking along bodyguard Nick du Toit, a mercenary and former soldier in South Africa's apartheid-era army. Worlds apart politically, the two men bond amid the savage conflict--in one excruciating scene, Brabazon films rebels cannibalizing a prisoner--as the author comes to depend on and admire his tough, courageous companion. Nick joins a byzantine conspiracy to overthrow the government of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea and invites Brabazon to film the prospective coup, a proposal that crosses the boundaries of journalistic ethics, though it strongly appeals to Brabazon's lust for adventure and cash. His postmortem on the plot's disastrous outcome, with its cast of shadowy financiers, rival intelligence agencies, and soldiers of fortune, reads like a political thriller. Brabazon's searing narrative captures both the allure of war--the rush of danger, the deep camaraderie, the get-rich-quick mirages--and its brutal realities. It's both a seductive paean to and a harsh exposé of the mercenary ethos that fattens off of Africa's travails. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Brabazon, a British journalist and documentary filmmaker, here details his two-year (2002–04) relationship with Nick du Toit, an arms dealer, mercenary, and onetime member of South Africa's apartheid Special Forces. This memoir draws its power from du Toit's role as Brabazon's "bodyguard" while the author was shooting footage of the insurgency against Liberian dictator Charles Taylor. Readers here encounter an array of elements common to these wars: blood diamonds, child soldiers, and cannibalism. Less familiar is the moral ambiguity of unorthodox violence against an indicted war criminal and Brabazon's ethical compromise in his trek with the Liberian rebels. The insurgency emerges in this book from the larger context Brabazon establishes regarding neighboring states. Only a family emergency prevents him from accompanying du Toit during an abortive coup d'état in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea. VERDICT Because of the subject and the author's lucid writing, the book is both a gripping adventure and a valuable account of a West African tragedy. It will especially interest students of African politics and journalism. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/10.]—Zachary T. Irwin, Pennsylvania State Univ.-Erie
Kirkus Reviews

Intensely vivid story of war and the peculiar breed of warriors who fight it in 21st-century Africa.

An award-winning filmmaker and frontline war reporter, Brabazon cut his teeth in the Liberian rainforest, marching hundreds of miles with the rebels of Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, who were seeking to overthrow the despotic Charles Taylor in February 2002. Before the author's reports for the BBC radio, the existence of LURD was just a rumor. But for the company of a seasoned South African military man and adventurer named Nick du Toit, it might have been up to another intrepid journalist to get the scoop. The green Brabazon might not have survived even the dysentery that laid him low a few days into the journey, let alone gunfire or worse during bloody skirmishes with Taylor's troops, if not for du Toit's experienced hand nearby. Their bond survived the horrors of Liberia's civil war on that trip and others, despite the author's suspicions (and friends' warnings) about du Toit's history with the apartheid-era Special Forces and his new careers as arms dealer and soldier of fortune. The man the author knew seemed gentle and humane, as well as fearless. Brabazon's respect for du Toit led him to seriously consider his invitation to film a coup he and "business partners" were plotting against another despot, Teodoro Obiango of Equatorial Guinea. Ironically, a family tragedy saved the author from his friend's fate: capture by Obiango and horrific torture at the hands of his security forces in the notorious Black Beach prison, where Obiango had begun his career in brutality. The book opens with stomach-churning accounts of the torture that du Toit and his co-conspirators suffered, based partly on videos the torturers made. Brabazon himself was unflinching as a documentarian of war, and his prose is no less sparing, whether describing the gruesome reality of guerrilla combat or the agonizing moral quandaries of battle. The first two-thirds of the book offer as thrilling a narrative as any war novel on the shelves, and the finale is as clear a picture of the murky world of postcolonial Africa as the readers are likely to get.

A haunting memoir and tribute to an extraordinary comrade-at-arms.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802119759
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/22/2011
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.80 (d)

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2015

    Pretty good

    Good

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  • Posted May 6, 2011

    Just ok

    The more I read, the less I liked the author. First, he had no objectivity during his filming. He prearranged to give reports to intelligence services. So this should be a reason why a military should never allow press to be imbedded. Second this guy spoke about fear like he was a baby. If you are gonna get scared, don't go into a wAr zone. I then wondered why an experienced military man would hang around a guy like the author...something else must have been going on not covered in the book. The author films death, young kids getting killed and then profits from it by selling his work to the media. He also glorifies in getting awards for his filming. Ok to fill time reading in an airport, but really nothing special here.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 4, 2011

    a must read

    an intense edge of your seat read

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2011

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    Posted May 27, 2011

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    Posted June 9, 2011

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    Posted August 13, 2011

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    Posted May 31, 2011

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    Posted July 2, 2011

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