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The Death of V

Apparently V died yesterday. I don't make a habit of studying the lives of dictators of countries I otherwise know little about, but V shared my precise date of birth: like me, he was born on 26 April 1967. Unlike me, he was born to a young single mother in the capital of a developing country; like me he went to the local grammar school; unlike me, he joined his country's army as soon as he had finished school, aged 18 in 1985, and rose rapidly through the ranks, to the point where he had a commanding role in the government campaign against the rebels in the east of the country.

V's country was a corrupt single party state, and the army was exceptionally poorly supplied. Three days after his/my/our twenty-fifth birthday, on 29 April 1992, (when I was in Belfast, researching what became my PhD) he led his fellow soldiers on a protest march from the east to the capital. The government fled, and V found himself the youngest head of state in the world, in charge of a disintegrating country faced with an unwinnable civil war.

V was not a good president. He killed his political opponents in mass executions; he conscripted children as young as twelve into the army; he kept power by paying off white mercenaries with his country's looted diamond wealth; and the rebel insurgency gained in strength, to the point where on 13 January 1996, when I was busy with the Northern Ireland peace process, debating the possibility of elections and George Mitchell's report on decommissioning of terrorist weapons, V's colleagues removed him from office, and themselves handed over power to a democratically elected government two months later. V fled to Britain for asylum, eventually starting (but not finishing) a law degree in Warwick University and working as a nightclub bouncer.

In 2000, the year after I had moved to Belgium, V left the UK and went back home again, living unemployed with his mother in the dismal suburb where he was born, reportedly drinking heavily and rumoured to be using narcotics. Yesterday's news is therefore not surprising. Of the various mildly famous people who share my birthdate, two others have died, one murdered in South Africa, the other in a car accident. V's death appears to have been from more or less natural causes, exacerbated by lifestyle choices.

I deliberately haven't named his country up to now, because I wanted to tell the human story of someone with whom I have only the obscurest of links. But if you are interested, it was Sierra Leone, and V's full name was Valentine Esegragbo Melvin Strasser. Not many people will miss him, but presumably his mother loved him.

Edited to add: According to his mother, this is all untrue and he is not dead after all.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 5th, 2008 07:51 pm (UTC)
how do you find people born on the same day - for me (after a quick search online) I can only find a child murderer on death row and a boxer both in the US.

I feel nothing about either of them. I thought I might since watching an ep of the west wing where Josh comes across a pilot with his date of birth and you have found several people with the same date.

I celebrate each year with a friend who is 40 years my senior to the day and know of another woman in the town with the same day though not year. We have once celebrated together too.
Nov. 5th, 2008 09:36 pm (UTC)
Try Wikipedia, and search on all variations of the date - "2 September", "September 2", "2nd September" and "September 2nd". Plus the year of course.
Nov. 5th, 2008 09:19 pm (UTC)
His Wikipedia page could use updating, if you're in the habit of doing such a thing: it doesn't mention his death, and his third name appears as "Melvine" in one place and "Melvin" in another.
Nov. 5th, 2008 09:33 pm (UTC)
I'm increasingly irritated with Wikipedia. If I make the change, I have no doubt that someone will complain that I didn't do it right and inform me by posting a comment to a livejournal entry about something completely different.
Nov. 6th, 2008 10:38 pm (UTC)
Make the change logged out, that's what I always do.
Nov. 5th, 2008 09:20 pm (UTC)
Ah. So not Michael Crichton then.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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