I’ve been thinking about Africa for some time. Not many thriller writers place their stories on that continent. After publishing “The Assassin and the Pianist”, I decided to write a story about Dan Stone in Africa. The trigger for me was a news article talking about how we are pulling advisors and trainers out of the continent and leaving a vacuum for the Chinese.

We know they have been busy with their “Belt and Road” initiative. For those of you not familiar with it, the program involves large loans to countries to help them improve infrastructure, with the further help of Chinese technology and engineering—port facilities, roads, and railroads. The outcome is increased Chinese presence and influence and what I call “golden chains” that enslave these countries in debt to China.

China is rapidly becoming Africa’s largest customer.  And the Chinese are looking to gain control over many of the strategic minerals found there. The arrangement goes both ways as China is also using African labor to produce many of its products.

So, what would the U.S. do? These events are currently playing out in real life. My guess, as a thriller writer, is that the authorities just might send in Dan Stone, under deep cover, to disrupt this steadily growing influence.

And now some new postulating suggests the stakes might just be even higher…rising to an existential level. I can’t give it all away, but current events, snippets of information that one can glean from searching the news, have led me to a very disquieting proposition which I am adding to my story.

Researching Africa has been an amazing experience. There is so much to learn. I’m concentrating on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the DRC, or as our State Department refers to it, DROC (they love their acronyms). DROC is one of the richest countries in Africa, but also one of the poorest. Only 2% of their roads are paved. To get from Kinshasa, the capitol, located on the Congo River in the west of the country, to Goma, the largest city in the east, next to the Rwandan border, you can fly on local airlines or drive on mostly unpaved roads that might take up to a week, depending on the weather. There is no rail connection.

If you want to take a ferry ride from Kinshasa, up the Congo to Kisangani, a large city in the east, it could take two months. Ferry operators stop at the towns along the river and may not set out further upriver until they have enough paying passengers.

And DROC has 80% of the world’s supply of coltan. This is an ore from which we get niobium and tantalum, two metals necessary for cell phones and other miniaturized electronic devices. This, in addition to large supplies of gold, copper, cobalt, and diamonds which the Chinese are also interested in controlling. A thriller story line if ever there was one.

Stay tuned for further updates to this complex and timely story which is unfolding in my head and on my keyboard. My working title is “Death in the Congo”, but I’m not sure of that yet.

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