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When The Crocodile Smiles: Chapter 10 - London

The British Government is made fully aware of the extent of corruptionin Zungula, where the president has been involved in selling on millions of dollars worth of grain given as aid to another African country.

Michael Wood's vivid narrative of present-day Africa, set in an imgaginary country, demands to be read.

For earlier chapters please click on When The Crocodile Smiles in the menu on this page.

Before the video conference began, the Secretary of State quickly scanned again the text of a telegram which her Private Secretary had placed at the top of her red box the previous evening, for reading on the train to Peterborough. It was marked “Urgent. VC with Beauty 11.00 am tomorrow. HC attending.” The telegram was written in the familiar style of the Department of Foreign Affairs, fuller than years ago when extra words made officials think twice about cost. Now a text was trimmed only with a Minister’s mountainous reading in mind.

“RESTRICTED
FROM DOMBE (MODEV 143 of 7 JUNE)
TO PRIORITY DFA AND ODD
RFI MAPUTO, LUSAKA, GABORONE, TSHWANE (PRETORIA), LILONGWE, NAIROBI, HARARE, UKREP BRUSSELS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR IMF/IBRD

SUBJECT: ZUNGULA – RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

SUMMARY

1. BRITISH TEACHER MURDERED WHILE ON REMAND IN DEDZA PRISON. WORRYING ESCALATION OF TRIBAL CONFLICT IN THE NORTH. HUNDREDS DEAD. FOOD CRISIS IN ZUNGULA NOW CRITICAL WITH EXPECTED MAIZE SHORTFALL THIS YEAR OF ABOUT ONE MILLION METRIC TONNES (EXCLUDING THE NORTH). REGIONAL FOOD SECURITY CONFERENCE ENDS WITH DONOR AGREEMENT ON REQUIRED MEASURES FOR FOUR WORST HIT COUNTRIES IN SUB-REGION. BUT EVIDENCE UNCOVERED OF CORRUPT PRACTICE AT HIGHEST LEVELS IN ZUNGULA, ON RECENT SALE GRAIN STOCKS.

DETAIL

2. MY MODEV 124 OF 25 MAY REPORTED THAT JAMES MIDDLETON, A TEACHER AT GREENACRES SCHOOL IN DOMBE, HAD SOUGHT REFUGE AT THE HIGH COMMISSION AFTER BEING PURSUED BY A MOB ALLEGING SEXUAL ABUSE OF ONE OF HIS PUPILS. MIDDLETON’S PROTRACTORS CAMPED OUTSIDE BHC PREMISES FOR FIVE DAYS. I MET WITH COMMISSIONER OF POLICE CHITAMBO AND MADE CLEAR THAT ZPF HAD NOT BEEN SUFFICIENTLY ROBUST IN PREVENTING OBSTRUCTION OF BHC BUSINESS. I EMPHASIZED THE AID RELATIONSHIP WITH ZPF WAS IN JEOPARDY. HE FINALLY AGREED TO TAKE STEPS TO DISPERSE THE MOB. THE FOLLOWING DAY I AGREED TO RELEASE MIDDLETON INTO CHITAMBO’S CUSTODY ON THE ASSURANCE THAT MIDDLETON WOULD BE GIVEN FULL POLICE PROTECTION. STAINBURY (CONSULAR) DISCOVERED ON MORNING OF 5 JUNE THAT MIDDLETON HAD BEEN MOVED TO DEDZA PRISON THE PREVIOUS EVENING. THE HIGH COMMISSION HAD NOT BEEN INFORMED. I DEMANDED ACCESS TO MIDDLETON YESTERDAY AND TRAVELLED WITH STAINBURY TO SEE HIM. ON ARRIVAL WE WERE TOLD BY CHITAMBO AND SUSWE (COMMISSIONER OF PRISONS) THAT MIDDLETON HAD BEEN INVOLVED IN A SERIOUS BRAWL WITH OTHER PRISONERS, ALLEGEDLY OVER FOOD RATIONS, AND HAD SUSEQUENTLY DIED OF INJURIES SUSTAINED. DR. WARTON AT THE HIGH COMMISSION CLINIC HAS EXAMINED MIDDLETON’S BODY. HE CONFIRMS EXTENSIVE INJURY TO MIDDLETON’S FACE AND NECK (CONSISTENT WITH BATTERING) AND INTERNAL DAMAGE, INCLUDING RUPTURING OF THE ANUS, CAUSED BY PROLONGED AGGRESSIVE PENETRATION. BODY HAS NOW BEEN MOVED TO MORTUARY. GRATEFUL YOU CONTACT MIDDLETON’S NEXT OF KIN (DETAILS BY SEPARATE TELEGRAM), AND REQUEST PERMISSION TO CONDUCT FULL POST MORTUM.

3. MUSAJAKAWA (HEAD OF ODD ZUNGULA) RETURNED FROM THE NORTH ON 2 JUNE. THE PURPOSE OF HER VISIT WAS THREEFOLD. (1) TO ESTABLISH EXTENT OF FOOD SHORTAGE IN THAT PART OF THE COUNTRY (2) TO INVESTIGATE REPORTS OF DEEPENING CONFLICT BETWEEN UMNARAVI AND NGONI (ABOUT WHICH SHE CONSULTED IN ADVANCE WITH HER SECRETARY OF STATE), AND (3) TO DETERMINE WHETHER THE MENINGITIS OUTBREAK (FIRST REPORTS OF WHICH CAME FROM MPONDE) WAS UNDER CONTROL. MUSAJAKAWA CONFIRMS FROM VISITS TO A SAMPLE OF SMALL TOWNS AND VILLAGES THAT MAIZE IS IN DESPERATELY SHORT SUPPLY. HOUSEHOLD STORES ARE NEAR EMPTY WHEN THEY SHOULD BE FULL AT THIS TIME. MANY RURAL PEOPLE HAVE RESORTED TO “HUNGER RICE” (WILD GRASS SEED) AND FORAGING. PROBLEMS WITH PRODUCTION OF MAIZE AND OTHER FOODS ARE SIGNIFICANTLY EXACERBATED BY PROLONGED DROUGHT CONDITIONS, CONTINUING RISE IN HIV/AIDS CASES (DISRUPTING AVAILABILITY OF FARM LABOUR) AND NOW TRIBAL CONFLICT.

4. MUSAJAKAWA AND HER DRIVER DISCOVERED A TRUCK WHICH HAD BEEN HALTED BY A MAKESHIFT ROADBLOCK ABOUT TWENTY FIVE KILOMETERS FROM MACHOPE. ALL OF THE VEHICLE’S 20 OCCUPANTS (UMNARAVI), HAD BEEN BUTCHERED. MUSAJAKAWA CONTACTED ME BY SATELLITE TELEPHONE. I INSTRUCTED HER TO RETURN TO DOMBE WITHOUT DELAY. THEY FLEW BACK SAFELY FROM BAKILI THE SAME DAY. MUSAJAKAWA’S EXPERIENCE AND SEPARATE REPORTS FROM NGOs OPERATING IN THE NORTH, INDICATE THAT WHAT STARTED AS A RELATIVELY MINOR DISPUTE, HAS ESCALATED INTO A SERIOUS INTER-TRIBAL FEUD WITH POSSIBLY FIVE OR SIX HUNDRED DEATHS SO FAR.

5. MUSAJAKAWA SAW NO DIRECT EVIDENCE OF MENINGITIS BUT FOR OBVIOUS REASONS HAD BEEN UNABLE TO REACH MPONDE (REPORTED SOURCE OF THE DISEASE). MoH COULD NOT SAY WHETHER CLINICS IN THE MPONDE AREA (AT THEIR BEST WITH FEW TRAINED STAFF AND SHORT OF ESSENTIAL DRUGS AND MEDICINES) WOULD BE ABLE TO COPE. DONORS ACTIVE IN THE HEALTH SECTOR ARE MEETING THIS WEEK TO DISCUSS POSSIBLE INTERVENTION.

6. THE REGIONAL FOOD SECURITY CONFERENCE ENDED LAST NIGHT. IT WAS ATTENDED BY EXPERTS FROM ODD, WORLD BANK, EC, NORWAY, USAID, FAO, A NUMBER OF SMALLER DONORS, AND AGRICULTURE REPRESENTATIVES FROM GOVERNMENTS OF ZAMBIA, MALAWI, MOZAMBIQUE, ZIMBABWE, AND ZUNGULA AS HOSTS. AN ALL PARTY COMMITTEE OF BRITISH MPs ATTENDED AS OBSERVERS. DATA PRESENTED TO CONFERENCE SUGGESTS THAT NEIGHBOURING COUNTRIES ARE SUFFERING MAIZE SHORTFALLS ON A SIMILAR SCALE TO ZUNGULA. DROUGHT IS MAIN CONTRIBUTORY FACTOR BUT AIDS ALSO NOW OFFICIALLY RECOGNIZED AS A DRAIN ON LABOUR PRODUCTIVITY ACROSS REGION. EXPECTED MAIZE DEFICIT ACROSS FIVE COUNTRIES IS FIVE MILLION METRIC TONNES, ALTHOUGH NO RELIABLE DATA YET PRODUCED FOR THE NORTH OF ZUNGULA. AS A FIRST STEP THERE IS URGENT NEED FOR UK TO CONTRIBUTE TO IMMEDIATE FOOD RELIEF EXERCISE. EC AND AMERICANS LIKELY TO BE OTHER MAIN CONTRIBUTORS (THOUGH SEE PARAGRAPH 7 BELOW IN RESPECT OF FORMER’S POSITION IN ZUNGULA). SECONDLY WE RECOMMEND THAT ODD DOUBLES EXISTING INPUT SUPPORT PROGRAMME (OF SEEDS AND FERTILIZER) IN ZUNGULA TO HELP ENSURE A REASONABLE HARVEST NEXT YEAR (RAIN PERMITTING) AND TO AVOID HIGH COST OF EXTERNAL FOOD DELIVERY. THEY SHOULD ALSO CONSIDER REPLICATING IN NEIGHBOURING COUNTRIES. DONORS HERE ARE ALSO CONSIDERING WHETHER IT IS PRACTICABLE TO PROVIDE ANTI RETROVIRAL DRUGS TO FARMING COMMUNITIES (COMMENT: EXISTING ARV PROGRAMMES HAVE BARELY TAKEN OFF IN URBAN, LET ALONE RURAL AREAS, WHERE DELIVERY AND THE NECESSARY DRUG EDUCATION PROGRAMMES ARE LIKELY TO BE MORE COMPLICATED). THE GLOBAL FUND FOR AIDS, TB AND MALARIA HAS SO FAR HAD LITTLE OR NO IMPACT IN ZUNGULA AND AS SEEN FROM HERE, IT NEEDS A RADICAL SHAKE UP IF IT IS NOT TO BE CONSIGNED TO WASTE BIN OF UN FAILURES.

7. DONOR ATTITUDE TO IMMEDIATE FOOD RELIEF IN ZUNGULA HAS BEEN TAINTED BY DISCOVERY THAT GOVERNMENT RECENTLY SOLD APPROXIMATELY 60,000 METRIC TONNES OF ITS MAIZE RESERVES TO KENYA (WHOSE DOMESTIC PRODUCTION IS ALSO BELOW NORMAL THIS YEAR). THIS IS EXTRAORDINARY GIVEN KNOWN SHORTAGES. WE BELIEVE THAT CHILEMBE AUTHORISED THE SALE, PROCEEDS FROM WHICH HAVE NOT BEEN ACCOUNTED FOR. DONORS HAVE CALLED FOR A FORENSIC AUDIT OF GRAIN MARKETING BOARD ACCOUNTS AND GRAIN DEPOT MOVEMENTS. MEANWHILE I HAVE ALERTED ANTI CORRUPTION BUREAU DIRECTOR THAT THIS WILL NEED HIS ATTENTION (COMMENT: IT IS UNLIKELY IN THE EVENT OF PROVEN CORRUPTION ON THE PART OF CHILEMBE THAT ACB WILL HAVE THE TEETH TO TAKE APPROPRIATE ACTION). FERNANDEZ (EC DELEGATE) HAS SAID THAT BRUSSELS IS UNLIKELY TO HELP REPLENISH FOOD STOCKS HERE, UNTIL THE FORENSIC AUDIT HAS BEEN CONCLUDED. WHILE IT IS CLEAR THAT THE GRAIN SALE HAS TO BE INVESTIGATED, I RECOMMEND THAT UK DOES NOT, REPEAT NOT JOIN WITH EC IN HOLDING BACK ON NEW EMERGENCY SUPPLIES. THERE WILL BE OPPORTUNITY AT A LATER DATE TO BRING GoZ TO ACCOUNT.

8. TWO OTHER DEVELOPMENTS INVOLVING THE PRESIDENT. FIRST HE HAS EJECTED PARLIAMENT FROM THEIR PREMISES (PREVIOUSLY MPANDE’S PALACE) FOLLOWING HIS RECENT MOVE FROM KINTYRE TO DOMBE, AND HE HAS NOW OCCUPIED THE BUILDING AS HIS PERSONAL RESIDENCE. ALTHOUGH PARLIAMENT IS CURRENTLY IN RECESS, THEY WILL HAVE NO HOME TO RETURN TO IN OCTOBER. SECONDLY, CHILEMBE HAS ORDERED UPDATING OF HIS OFFICIAL PORTRAIT. GIVEN EXPECTED DISTRIBUTION TO VIRTUALLY EVERY OFFICE AND BUSINESS PLACE IN THE COUNTRY, PRINTING COSTS WILL EXCEED ONE MILLION POUNDS. THE CONTRACT HAS GONE TO M’MARA PRINTING WORKS, AN OFFSHOOT OF FORTUNE HOLDINGS, OWNED BY THE PRESIDENT.

MACKELSON”

The Secretary of State sighed in exasperation. Donors were spending millions every year in Zungula yet somehow it remained a basket case. The quality of governance lay at the heart of its failures, though God knows it had had more than its share of misfortune; especially for a nation dependent on agriculture, the prolonged drought had been disastrous.

The monitor in the Secretary of State’s (SoS) office came to life. She could see Beauty framed in the screen along with the person whom she thought she recognized as the High Commissioner, Sandy Mackelson. A fault in the transmission had frozen their image and deleted the sound. An IT fundi was quickly summoned to fix it. Within minutes the meeting was underway.

“Thanks for your telegram Sandy. I’m depressed to hear about Mr Middleton. I doubt we have to wait for results of a full post mortem to determine how he died. An issue for us is how we now take forward, if at all, our continuing assistance to a police force which has behaved abominably. I’d like you both to consider this in the next few days please. We can’t be seen to be taking no action. My main concern for this meeting is to agree a line of action on the food situation and work out how to help resolve fighting in the north. Beauty, I’m glad to see that you are back in one piece. What do you think we need to do?” The question had been deliberately put to her. The SoS was well aware that she needed to uphold Beauty’s independence and freedom of operation.

“It’s clear that food has turned into a major issue this year, and our conference revealed much of Southern Africa is badly affected. The combination of factors which HC described, drought, AIDS and in Zungula, tribal conflict in what should be one of the most productive agricultural areas, looks to be near catastrophic. I feel we need to magnify our efforts to help resolve these problems, and bring our influence to bear to ensure that other donors do likewise.”

“Specifically?” the SoS asked.

“At your level, it would help if you could speak to American and key European Development Ministers, and perhaps the President of the EC. Although I’m au fait only with the Zungula situation, my guess is that we can ill afford any delay in getting food supplies into Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe too, as our first action. In tandem with others, a Herculean effort may be needed.”

“What do you have in the Zungula budget?” the SoS asked.

“I have only £3.5 million earmarked for the input support programme in each of this year’s framework and next. On present estimates, that won’t be enough. I’ll have to drop some lower priority work to make way for a probable doubling of money needed for seeds and fertilizer. These of course will arrive too late to make any difference to this year’s harvest. I’d hoped that a bid could be made to the contingency reserve to cover UK’s contribution to the cost of immediate food importation needs.”

There followed a brief discussion at the London end between the Secretary of State and her Africa Director, after which it was agreed that Beauty should prepare revised estimates for the work she had described. The contingency reserve was fully subscribed due to humanitarian pressures elsewhere. The Asian tsunami, although now history, had absorbed massive sums and would continue to do so well into the future. Beauty was therefore encouraged to go slow on a number of projects in her Zungula portfolio, to pay for a British contribution to immediate food relief.

“Now Beauty, I can’t pretend that my task of getting other Development Ministers on board will be made any easier by Sandy’s report of Chilembe’s corruption. Is there any doubt that he’s pocketed the money from the Kenyan transaction?”

The High Commissioner thought this an appropriate moment to say his piece. “It appears he has. We reckon the grain was worth between five and six million dollars. We have it on good authority that some of this went to Joe Tembo in return for his collusion. Chilembe has also graciously agreed that about two million dollars can be spent on updating his portrait nationwide. As we’ve reported, the contract has gone to his own company.”

“Greedy swine! Well look, I’m fed up. First the Mercedes purchases, and now this. I’d like you to inform Chilembe that we have the Kenya sale under investigation. I think until we have the results of the audit we had better not point the finger too directly, but you can tell him that until the matter is cleared up, we are suspending budget support. How much is that Beauty?”

“About a third of our total programme, but we’ve already released £7 million this year. £16 million more is outstanding.”

“Very well. Let’s stop it.”

Beauty suggested such a course might better be taken in concert with the IMF, the European Union and Norway, all of whom had elements of budget support in their programmes. Joint action would be more effective.

“I don’t want a prolonged debate,” the SoS said, “You know how soft the Norwegians are in their dealings with Zungula. By all means try to agree a common approach, but on this occasion we must demonstrate a willingness to take unilateral action if the others won’t play ball.”

This was music to Sandy Mackelson’s ears as he had long been an opponent of spooning money directly into the Zungula Government’s budget.

“Now what are we going to do about the north?” the SoS continued. “Are there organizations in-country we can work with in helping to bring about reconciliation?” Beauty explained there were no donors working in that part of the country. Actionaid and Wateraid had good programmes which were well managed; there were also two smaller NGOs targeting especially women and disability.

“Perhaps we could form a consortium with them. If we were able to draw upon their local knowledge, we might find a way to persuade Umnaravi and Ngoni chiefs to attend peace negotiations.”

“That sounds like a good way to start Beauty. What do you think Sandy?”

“I agree. But we should probably also try to get government representation, preferably someone with a stake in the north, rather than a southerner who might be viewed with suspicion.”

“OK. I’ll leave this to you both. Keep me informed.”

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