Reviewed by Henry E. Mattox, Contributing Editor
Adventures in Service with Peace Corps in Niger. By James R. Bullington (BookSurge, 2007, 215 pp. $16.99; available on Amazon.com.)
The author of this informative collection of well-organized and clearly written essays treats of two subjects not widely addressed or even thought about in these days of so much focus on terrorism and Middle East wars and rumors of wars. The country of Niger — not Nigeria, its neighbor to the south — has a peripheral link with the war in Iraq, in that it was the site of supposed efforts by Saddam Hussein to obtain WMD materials just prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2002. Otherwise little noticed by the rest of the world since it gained its independence from France in 1960, Niger (which holds the distinction of being perhaps the world’s poorest country) very briefly had headline attention around the world.
The other story line in this collection of articles by Ambassador Jim Bullington concerns an organization, America’s Peace Corps, that President Kennedy created by Executive Order back in 1961. While by no means as little known to Americans as the nation of Niger, the Peace Corps nonetheless in recent years has received relatively little publicity and attention in the United States, as well as abroad. Nothing finer than this compendium could be found to inform the reading public about the life of Peace Corps Volunteers and their accomplishments in sub-Saharan Africa — in Niger to be precise. About 2,800 Americans, mostly young people, have served there over the years with the Peace Corps. More than 400 of these Volunteers took up their duties in the country under the leadership of Ambassador Bullington during his tenure in Niamey as Peace Corps Director.
The author’s articles address the topics of both Niger and the Peace Corps in Niger. He provides a stream of graphic descriptions of the country and accounts of the life and activities of American Volunteers in Niger. Beginning in 2000 and continuing well into 2006, as Peace Corps/Niger country director — and a retired career Foreign Service ambassador — he forwarded these descriptive, highly informative messages that this journal, American Diplomacy, published online under the heading Letters From Niger.The collection in Adventures in Service totals more than twenty lengthy letters, with many illustrations, covering topics ranging from a to z: from Agadez to Zinder, from agriculture to zoology. The author includes a brief account of the country’s two uranium mines in the far north of the country and their production of “yellow cake” ore for export. The yellow cake seems at that stage to be an almost harmless product; accounting for two-thirds of Niger’s export earnings, its importance to the national economy is obvious.
Niger, as varied and interesting a nation as it is, poses hardships for those living there, especially expatriates. The U.S. embassy in the capital city of Niamey, in a report required by Washington and excerpted in Bullington’s book, lists conditions of life for residents:
- The eight-month dry season brings incessant hot winds;
- The temperature during that season reaches 120 degrees;
- The countryside is barren and desolate;
- Niamey has only dusty dirt roads, electricity is unreliable, and the city is replete with shanty towns and nomadic squatters in all sections;
- Trash heaps abound, no public toilets exist, and pests such as rats and packs of wild dogs are numerous.
All of this in the capital city. And this volume serves well to emphasize the fortitude of the PCV’s under the leadership of the author, who strove to better conditions in Niger.
If there is a criticism at all in Adventures in Service with Peace Corps in Niger it is that the volume could have used an index. This is a minor flaw in what amounts to a remarkable personal account of service in a remote, little-known part of the Dark Continent.
The author, Jim Bullington, is currently editor of American Diplomacy and a senior fellow at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk. During his Foreign Service career he served in six countries in Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, including as Ambassador to Burundi. After retiring from the Foreign Service he was Director of International Affairs for the City of Dallas and was then at Old Dominion University until becoming Peace Corps Director in Niger. He currently lives in Williamsburg, VA.
Henry E. Mattox, a retired Foreign Service officer, earned a Ph.D. in American history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He held a Fulbright appointment in Nigeria during the 1990-91 academic year. He was a co-founder of American Diplomacy, serving as editor from 1996 to 2007.