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When The Crocodile Smiles: Chapter 14 - A Touch Of Impropriety

...There were appreciative chortles as Lucy stepped down again, and was immediately reabsorbed into her mass of admirers. Sandy gravitated towards her and then felt himself sucked in to the vortex like a doomed insect swirling down a water filled sink. Lucy had had her eye on him and welcomed him to the throng.

“Gentlemen, this elegant man may be the British High Commissioner to you, but to me he is my hard working and successful tennis partner.”...

While High Commissioner Sandy Mackelson indulges his considerable appetites, tribal warfair and disease ravage Zungula.

Michael Wood's enthralling and disturbing story of life in a a fictional present-day African country is compulsively readable. To read earlier chapters please click on When The Crocodile Smiles in the menu on this page.

Beauty Musajakawa was delighted at first to hear Michael Huxley on the other end of the line. As she gazed out of her office window to the sparkling pool below, she recognised two young women, partners of her advisory staff, who were taking an early morning dip. All right for some, she thought. Beauty had assumed that Michael was calling about the old Land Rover which she and Magic had left in Bakili. This triviality was furthest from his mind. His voice had an edginess and his usual politeness displaced by a dogmatic tone.

“I’d like to know what donors have decided to do about the meningitis situation up here?” he declared.

“Oh yes, I should have called you about that.” Beauty replied guiltily, immediately sensing his agitated state. “We met a fortnight ago with the Ministry. Their officials acknowledged there had been an outbreak but felt the situation wasn’t serious enough to merit a large scale response from the donor community. They said they’d ordered enough vaccine to contain the problem. They were going to monitor things but urged donors to concentrate any unallocated funds on helping to resolve the food crisis.”

“I’ve never heard such tosh, and that is saying something!” Michael responded angrily. “First, I can tell you that no Ministry representative has been anywhere near Bakili, let alone Mponde, since well before your own visit. So much for monitoring. They haven’t bothered their arses if you’ll excuse my French. More to the point, I now have evidence from a poor old sod who cycled all the way here from Dwangwa – three hundred kilometres if you want to know– that his village, and others have been devastated by the disease. We are probably talking about thousands of deaths in total, though the real number will probably never be known. It is out of control.” The doctor halted his rant to let his information sink in. Beauty was shocked and for a moment was stuck for anything sensible to say.

“Are you absolutely sure of your facts?” she said, sounding just like the policeman who had asked her if she had truly seen a dead man on the Bakili road.

“Call me a faded old goat,” Michael said indignantly, “but I’m not yet a half-wit. What I am telling you is as near as you’ll get to a clear picture. The fighting up here is still raging; God knows how many more will die before your people get their act together. Conflict is the reason why no one from Health will come up here to see for themselves the extent of the meningitis problem.”

Beauty understood her friend’s rage but felt he had overstepped the mark. “Michael, I know now that I should have found time to call you right after the Health gathering. Please bear in mind that I didn’t get as far as Mponde when I visited the north, so I had no real evidence to contradict the line that the Ministry took at our meeting. As to your remark implying inaction down here on the conflict issue, it is precisely this problem which had been occupying the bulk of my time over the last few weeks.”

She went on to describe how, with the help of NGO colleagues, she had put her weight behind a Peace and Reconciliation Conference, to take place in Bakili ten days hence. Actionaid, and Action for Disability and Development were doing much of the local groundwork to bring village chiefs together. Beauty had successfully lobbied the Scandinavians and Germans in particular. They would add funding to a reasonable sum which her Secretary of State was prepared to put on the table, to help end the fighting. Indeed Beauty had gone further by arguing for sustained assistance to the north, believing that many of the region’s problems stemmed from significantly higher levels of poverty and insecurity than were found in the south. Unless this neglect was corrected by the Zungula government and donors together, she believed the north would always be in a state of near collapse.

Michael Huxley listened to the young woman’s tired voice, strained with emotion, and realized he had been unfair to pin any blame on her personally. There was much about her work which he didn’t understand. She battled on a much broader front than he had imagined. Her heart was in the right place and her skills undoubtedly deployed for the greater good. The tribal conflict also needed attention and may even have been the greater priority. The awful end which befell the Wa Tonga and his followers suddenly sprang into his mind – the grizzly photograph which had been splashed across the front page of the Daily Times showing the king’s head, caked in blood, stuck on a tall pole and mounted in the middle of his burnt out compound; an image which had enraged still further, those Umnaravi who had access to a newspaper.

“I’m sorry Beauty. I didn’t mean to be so abominably rude. It’s just that things are worse than I’ve ever known them to be up here, and as you know, Elizabeth and I have been through thick and thin over the years. I understand what has been taking up your time. But I still need to ask for your help in mobilizing the necessary immediate support for a widely targeted meningitis vaccination programme. Otherwise I can guarantee that we will be talking about thousands more going to an early grave.”

When the conversation ended, Beauty sat glumly at her desk, still looking down at the inviting pool, where more people had gathered and were enjoying a cool drink from the High Commission Club bar. It was a world apart from the grim development business. A red winged starling hopped onto the window sill and musically whistled its distinctive “cherleeeoo” as if attempting to brighten her spirits. She couldn’t help but imagine the suffering of those villagers whose desperation Michael Huxley had described. Bold intervention would be needed now to bring belated relief to the survivors.

She took two quick actions.. First a call to her WHO colleague to relay Michael’s information and to obtain advice about appropriate intervention – numbers of vaccines; from which country these would be procured; speed of delivery; onward transport arrangements; cost; capacity to administer the vaccines in the north. Secondly she called in her own sector managers to discuss from which areas of her ongoing programme, British aid could be redirected. This was going to be a tough call given that she was already making cuts to cope with the extra resources needed for food and next year’s maize seeds and fertilizer.

* * * * * *

Sandy Mackelson had procrastinated about Lucy’s reception at the Dombe Capital Hotel. Thinking with the part of him which occasionally rose like a made-ready missile, he wanted to follow his baser instincts. On the other hand he considered his wife and what might happen if she ever found out about an affair, should it ever go that far. He felt like a dog trailing after a bitch on heat and decided he couldn’t resist taking the precarious route. When he arrived at the reception it was already brimming with prominent figures. A drink was placed in is hand almost immediately. The first to greet him was the Tourism Minister, Jessica Wamkulyu, contact with whom was almost unavoidable as her massive girth was blocking the entrance to the Mulanje Room.

“Ah, good evening to you High Commissioner. How is that donkey behaving these days? That was a very good party that wan. We hadn’t realized that you were putting on such entertainment.” She shook her frame in obvious merriment, cackling at her own joke. Sandy moved inside thinking surely there were better brains than hers to occupy a Cabinet position. He was greeted with more warmth by several Ambassadors whose confidence he now seemed to be earning, and Zungulans who were content to be seen, shaking his hand. He had noted Lucy in the middle of the room surrounded by a group of near salivating men; little surprise he felt, given the clinging little number which she was wearing. She looked exquisite, as usual. Before he could move towards her, a white man dressed in a safari suit, mounted a raised platform at the far end of the room and spoke through a microphone. Mackelson thought he sounded gay.

“Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen. Just a few words. I’m very pleased that you could all make it to our little soiree´. As you know, we are celebrating tonight, completion of the hotel’s new reception area, which I think looks fantastic. A lot of very talented people were involved in the execution of a project which really has lifted the look of our capital’s best hotel. I pay tribute to them now. But where would we have been without the design skills and imagination ......... of our wonderful Lucy Kanyerere!”

The man, whom Sandy assumed to be the hotel manager, outstretched his arm as if he was introducing a pop singer. There was rapturous applause, and the lovely Lucy was propelled towards the platform by the hands of those demanding that she say a few words in response.

“Thank you. Thank you everyone,” she said a little breathlessly. “As Paul mentioned, this has really been a team effort and I think my personal contribution has been overcooked. You know, I am just glad that I could have been of some help.” She wore a bright smile and there was an obvious gleam in her eye. “Though I was also grateful for the generous consultancy fee. I hope I can persuade the Vice President that I can use this to buy myself something sweet.”

There were appreciative chortles as Lucy stepped down again, and was immediately reabsorbed into her mass of admirers. Sandy gravitated towards her and then felt himself sucked in to the vortex like a doomed insect swirling down a water filled sink. Lucy had had her eye on him and welcomed him to the throng.

“Gentlemen, this elegant man may be the British High Commissioner to you, but to me he is my hard working and successful tennis partner.”

“Ayee. I did not realise that you were good with a bat,” this from the Director of the Anti Corruption Bureau.

“A raquet, Gilbertson. But you are right. My sporting prowess leaves much to be desired,” he said with unusual modesty. Lucy slung an arm around Sandy’s waist and laughed with all the others. At the same time she discreetly slipped something into his jacket pocket. “Well, I had better circulate some more,” she announced, and with that she moved away with a reduced band of followers still trailing after her – the worker bees obediently following their queen.

* * * * * *

Beauty Musajakawa was relaxing, watching an episode of “Yes Minister” courtesy of BBC Prime, the Channel of relentlessly recycled ancient comedies and banal “reality” documentaries. Beauty had had a long day. She was nearly asleep on the sofa anyway. When the phone rang in the hall, she looked at her watch and wondered who it might be at this time of night. Living thousands of miles away from England, late calls always brought about an inexplicable fear that something might have happened to mum or dad. When she heard the voice at the other end of the line, her heart did skip a beat:

“Good evening Mr President.”

“Miss Musajakawa. I think we are knowing each other quite well these days and I am wandering if I can call you by your fast name.”

“Of course. That would be fine Mr President,” she said, sticking to protocol.

“Good. I have been away for a few days on family business but now I am back in the saddle so to speak. I wanted to have an informal chat with someone on the donor side whom I could trust.”

Beauty felt a prickling at the tips of her ears, the sort of sensation that a person gets if they are conscious someone is creeping up behind them. She waited for Elliot Joseph Chilembe to continue.

“First Beauty, I think you can see that this suspension of budget support is hurting us very badly. We have not been able to allocate sufficient funds to maintain essential services to health and education. Therefore it is the poor who are surfering most. Can you say when financial aid might come back on stream?”

Beauty knew she would have to be careful. His line of argument was familiar, and the reference to suffering intended to pull at the heart strings – to appeal to her emotional side.

“I regret I can’t give you any such assurance for the time being Mr President. You’ll be aware we believe there has been some irregularity in the handling of grain reserves; this against a background of the poor harvest and a recognized food crisis affecting much of Southern Africa. Until donors can better understand what happened to your reserves, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to persuade our Ministers back home that the environment is right for early resumption of budget support. What I can say is that we are not letting this issue of confidence, affect our willingness to help people get over the current food shortage. As you already know, a number of donors have agreed to provide immediate food aid and I can tell you that the first of British shipments is now on the way.”

“That is very heartening,” Chilembe said rather tersely. Beauty was determined to finish.

“In addition the UK will maintain its import support programme – that is the large scale provision of seeds and fertiliser aimed at boosting next year’s production. We will work closely with government extension services to ensure that supplies are distributed to farmers most in need. There may be as many as three million beneficiaries.”

“I see. Well I hope you will let me know as soon as there is some good news on financial aid. We are a poor nation. Britain is our mother cantry. We look to you to help us out of our difficulties.”

Beauty noted that there had been no real interest in what she had to say about food relief. The President seemed only concerned about cash.

“Now,” he continued, “what about our problems in the north? My people tell me you are organizing a gathering of chiefs in Bakili. Is there anything I can do?”

“Mr President, I’ve been giving some thought to possible ways of bringing people back together in a spirit of reconciliation.”

“Please go on,” Chilembe urged.

“Well, as a first step I think we need to identify villages where Umnaravi and Ngoni still live in relatively close proximity. We can get NGO advice on that. Then if we provide the right incentives and the necessary funding for the two sides to work in harmony on small scale development initiatives, we stand a chance of making people see that peaceful coexistence can be rewarded with better living standards.”

“What sort of initiatives did you have in mind?”

“Perhaps the rebuilding of schools, drilling bore holes, construction of small health clinics – so long as they can be staffed. There are endless possibilities. The key is to get Umnaravi and Ngoni men to contribute their labour and have them work side by side.”

Beauty Musajakawa knew that for the longer term, it would also be necessary to attract more donor and central government money to the region. However this was also a political issue, especially given the religious divide between north and south. She saw no merit in raising it with the President at this early stage, especially given his belief that donors were already short changing him by suspending budget support.

“I like your ideas Beauty. Let us hope they bring us success. I hate to see our pepers so full of stories about blood letting. May I suggest another project which should prove beneficial once peace is restored. Please consider funding for a traditional boma. Not an ordinary wan you understand, but a structure which will be big enough to accommodate all the village chiefs. A place where they can sit down in future to debate their problems, rather than resorting to this violence.”

The Briton agreed that a boma was a novel and interesting proposal and felt it could easily be accommodated in the small projects budget now delegated to the High Commission. She was convinced that Sandy Mackelson would support it.

“There is one other thing I would like to consult you about Beauty. You may think this unusual since the business of senior government appointments is a matter purely for our side. I am wandering what you think of that man Phiri in the Grain Marketing Board?”

“Sam Phiri?” she asked innocently.

“That is the wan.”

“To be honest Mr President, he hasn’t been on donor radar screens for very long. But since he took on his new job, we’ve been surprised how well he has handled things, given the relatively junior position from which he emerged. He seems to be hard working, able and committed, and from what I can gather, he is pretty well qualified. Why do you ask?”

“I am promoting him again, this time to Managing Director. We believe that Matthews Chihana may have had something to do with the matter which your auditors are investigating. Certainly he has disappeared. I fear he may have fooled us all and has now run off with his ill gotten gains.”

Beauty was stunned but still thinking on her feet in spite of the lateness of the hour.

“That is interesting information Mr President. Speaking of Mr Phiri though, I wonder if you think it worthwhile my asking if he will join the proposed conference in Bakili? He is a northerner I believe, and if as you say he is to be appointed MD, he could add the perspective of a senior man, representing the views of people like him working in the south. We could also use his help in deciding which areas of the north should be first recipients of food aid presently en route.”

“Miss Musajakawa,” the President sighed, reverting to formality, “if I had the power, I would requisition you immediately as my personal adviser. Please go ahead. Now I fear I have disturbed you long enough this evening. Zikomo kwambili and good night to you.”

* * * * * *

Sandy Mackelson escaped into the corridor outside the Mulanje Room and felt for the object which Lucy had placed in his pocket. It was a key – to Room 202 of the hotel. There was a little note attached. “I will leave the party at 7.30pm. Hope to see you.”

He looked at his watch and saw that it was already 7.20pm. There didn’t seem much point going back to join the others so he walked along the labyrinth of the hotel’s dingy corridors, climbed a flight of stairs and navigated his way further until he found the room which Lucy had somehow organized access to. He looked around. There was no one in sight. Quickly he slipped the key into the lock and entered. This was no ordinary room he felt sure. There were mirrors down the length of one wall; the bed had a luxurious feel when he sank his bottom into it; the sheets were silk. A bottle of champagne stood in a bucket of ice on the dresser. This was just like a bridal suite. Lucy had clearly gone to a lot of trouble. He stood up and moved over to the window which overlooked the now darkened gardens below. The thought of what might soon be happening brought his pants to life, and he fought to keep himself under better control.

Soon he heard another key being placed in the door lock. He suppressed a sudden urge to hide in case it wasn’t her. But of course it was. Without a word she moved straight to him, placed her arms securely around his waist and drew him close. Her perfume filled his lungs. Then she stretched upward and kissed him with an evident urgency, so hard that Sandy’s lips hurt. There was no doubting what she wanted. His hands shot up like a magnet to her breasts, which he fondled with intense pleasure while they continued their kissing. Her hands were also busy, expertly heading below decks to check that the engine room was functioning.

Her pretty dress was soon unzipped and lying in a crumpled heap on the floor, leaving only her panties temporarily covering what little modesty remained. She pushed the High Commissioner playfully onto the bed and slowly pulled off what was left of his clothing. She noted a good deal more padding around the waist than she was accustomed to seeing on the older man who was her husband – a man who was actually in better shape in spite of his greater age. It was the swollen rod of the diplomat which earned her respect and attention, for her husband was lacking in this department. She seized it with a relish, alternating the reddened thing between hand and mouth to maximize his craving for what was to follow.

Sandy now inhabited a world which he had long dreamed of re-entering. For there had never been anyone better that Susie Braithwaite, even if in the end his attentions to her had been spurned. For Sandy Mackelson, black skin against his white had always been the ultimate stimulant. Now all his senses were reawakened after a long dormancy. He was a man again. After only a few minutes of exploration, licking, and savouring the flavour between Lucy’s legs, they ceased the preliminary skirmishes and moved to the main course, so ending what Sandy assumed to be a famine in their respective sex lives. They locked themselves together, sitting upright on the bed, her astride him, their gratification obvious and heightened by the sight of themselves in those mirrors which seemed fitted purely for the purpose.

Even if there was a hurriedness in their love making, they continued long enough to ensure that both were satiated. In fact Lucy had been surprised that Sandy had lasted as long as he did. As a middle aged man with little or no course practice, he had shown that he still had form. When finally he slipped out of her, Lucy walked over to the dresser and snatched the champagne. She tried to ease off the cork carefully but it shot upwards and the projectile made an indentation in the cheap polystyrene ceiling.

“That was just like you my love,” she giggled.

Sandy couldn’t take his eyes off her gorgeous body, which for him was perfection in every respect. She returned to the bed and poured each of them a glass, which they chinked.

“What shall we toast?” Lucy asked

“To frolicking at every opportunity.”

“Yes I like that,” she said. As they drank she tipped some of the remaining contents of the bottle over her body, loving its icy coldness, and watching the liquid cascade down her breasts, bubbling over still erect nipples. She followed the path of the golden stream to her groin and rubbed it in to her own deep crevice. She knew that Sandy was transfixed.

“Lick it out,” she commanded cheekily. The High Commissioner responded like the slave he knew he had become. As she lay with her legs outstretched, he poured more of his own drink into the chasm which she had opened for more detailed inspection, and he greedily fell upon it.

When they had finished making love again, they lay on the bed in a state of contented exhaustion. Lucy ran her fingers with curiousity over Sandy’s now flagging member.

“Do you know who gave me that champagne?” she asked.

“I presume the grateful management,” Sandy murmured.

“No silly. It was the Vice President of the Republic of Zungula. He said I should make sure I drank something nice on the occasion.”

“Well that was thoughtful of him. But surely there was plenty of booze at the party, including champagne. Maybe you didn’t have time to get a drink with all the attention you were getting.”

“Oh Sandy, you are funny. My dear husband provided the champagne for us to drink after we had made love. He knows I am here with you my darling.”

The High Commissioner felt as if a dagger had been thrust into his chest. So great was his anxiety, he found that he could barely breath.

* * * * * *


Dr Jenny Townsend, MP. (Winchester)
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA
17 July 2007
Dear Beauty,

I am sorry that I have not written before now to thank you and members of your team, for the helpful assistance which was provided to the All Party Committee during our visit to Zungula. It was most helpful to have your valued insights on the famine and to understand more about how the donor community operates in Dombe. I should be grateful if you would keep me informed of developments.

Yours sincerely,
Jenny Townsend
(letter scanned and forwarded by electronic mail)


Ms Beauty Musajakawa
Head of ODD, Zungula

* * * * * *

Sam Phiri sat frozen at his desk. When the call came he didn’t quite believe that he was having a conversation with the President himself, but the deep baritone voice was unmistakable. To begin with he thought the game was up; that his disloyalty had been discovered; that he would soon be visited by one of those gangs who permanently removed opponents; or he would be hauled off to Dedza with no prospect of a reprieve until a new government came to power – an unlikely prospect. Yet Elliot Joseph Chilembe seemed to have no such intention.

“Good morning to you Sam. I am sorry we have not yet met. How are you getting along?”

“Very fine Sah, thank you.”

“Good. Good. I think you may know by now that Matthews Chihana has disappeared from view. No one seems to know what has happened to him. I can tell you there is suspicion he has been involved in selling off the country’s grain at this critical time and now he has made off with the proceeds.”

The President had regurgitated the lie he had invented during his discussion with Musajakawa, repeating it already as if he believed it to be true. Sam hadn’t a clue what to say. He was aware that Chilembe and Tembo had been the main perpetrators of the theft. What’s more, Sam was conscious that the President knew of his own part in the Kenya transaction, however much it had been forced upon him. It was as if the President had been talking for the benefit of someone else in his office. With Beauty’s advice still fresh in his memory, Sam managed to respond with exactly what the President wanted to hear.

“If a crime has been committed Mr President, I am sure it will be important to keep the details close to our chests. I don’t think the donors’ auditors will find anything which embarrasses the government unduly, other than the poor state of our accounts.”

It was a masterful piece of deception which Matthews Chihana himself would have been proud of. Sam was even beginning to enjoy playing along with the belief that he had remained loyal. He had almost convinced himself.

“Well Sam, I hadn’t called to discuss the external audit. They will find what they will find. There are two things I want to say. First you will appreciate I need a successor to Chihana. I think you are the man for this position. I want you to quickly find your own replacement in Procurement and Sales. Meanwhile please get acquainted with the Managing Director’s office forthwith.”

This came like a bolt of lightning. Sam was torn between a sense of gratitude that the President had shown such confidence in him, and the stinging realization that he might yet be a pawn in some clever fraud evasion plan which Chilembe had devised.

“Mr President. I don’t know how to thank you enough,” was all he could think of saying.

“Think nothing of it. You are a good man. Now, do you know Tokyo Sexyale?” Chilembe asked, seemingly out of the blue.

“No, Mr President.”

“He is a clever wan from our neighbouring South Africa. I am fond of his writing. He said that people must associate themselves not only with success Sam, but sometimes with failure too; that we should know our limitations and surround ourselves with both experts and good critics. What do you think of that?”

Sam allowed himself the luxury of a few moments thought before replying: “He is right in most respects, Mr President. His advice might well apply to me with the new post you have kindly offered. I think the man is suggesting that even when you have your feet under the table, as our former colonial masters are fond of saying, even top men need help and support. That is it. ”

Chilembe had listened to Sam carefully and had been content with what he heard. The man’s tone had not quite evinced servitude, but there had been the necessary degree of respect, and Phiri could clearly think for himself. He would be a safe pair of hands at the helm in the Grain Marketing Board.

“Your reference to the British brings me to my second point Sam. The situation in the north has been troubling me for some time, as you probably know. You might think that fighting up there doesn’t affect us directly in Dombe. However it does to the extent that it distracts donors’ attention from dealing with what I see as priorities here in the south. You don’t need me to spell this out for you. Our good friend Miss Musajakawa is about to set off for Bakili. She and certain of those NGOs have succeeded in bringing village chiefs from opposing sides together as a first step in the peace process. You are Umnaravi are you not?”

“Yes, Mr President. I am coming from Machope.”

“I do not know that place un-fortune-ate-ely. Anyhow Mr Managing Director, I realize the timing isn’t perfect given the need to settle into your new role. However, I want you to go to Bakili as well, to help with the peace making. Do what you can to persuade them all that fighting is in no one’s best interests. Beauty Musajakawa will be offering aid along with the Scandinavians and maybe those Germans. You can also offer some grain deliveries, now that this is coming in at a reasonable pace. Are you with me?”

“Yes Sah. But I am wandering why me? I have no expertise in the sort of negotiating you describe.”

“Maybe so. Maybe. However you are from that place and you are also a Big Man here in the south. Speak to them from the hat. They will like you. Miss Musajakawa leaves tomorrow. Get yourself on that plane.”

“Yes, Mr President.”

Chilembe was beginning to admire this young man. He even felt a touch sorry for the new MD, knowing as he did, that Joe Tembo had been fooling with Sam’s pretty young wife for months. Tembo probably couldn’t care less that the woman’s child was near screaming for freedom from her womb. While Tembo might be a valued business associate, even a friend, he was also an unscrupulous bastard and it would do no harm to have him taken down a peg or two.

“One last thing Sam.” the President said, “and I hope you will forgive me for raising it with you like this. Like all people with a sound religious grounding, I sometimes come across things which offend me. For example to see a privileged man abusing his powers – perhaps by taking advantage of his secretary. You may wish to think about that.”

What could the President possibly have meant? Sam felt himself far from privileged, though to be sure he had been fortunate of late. Very fortunate. His meteoric rise to MD was unparalleled. This in spite of having been under the President’s microscope. Sam now felt a greater responsibility to run the GMB honestly, in a more transparent manner than Matthews Chihana had done. That would include steering the Board’s operations clear of scrounging politicians as far as possible. Sam made up his mind that he would resign sooner than allow another scam to propagate. He told himself that he would not slip into lazy habits. He would delegate fairly and try to lead by example. Certainly he had no intention of taking advantage of his staff, which the President seemed to have been concerned about. As he packed up his things in the ground floor office, he realized he would need some good people around him as Chilembe had implied; that he might also have to clear out some departmental managers whom he knew were frequently absent, spending the bulk of their day attending to their shambas, no doubt. Success in the job would depend on their active participation in the business. He would have to be firm in ensuring that he got it.

* * * * *

From: The Head of ODD(Zungula)
21 July 2007

PERSONAL
Dr Jenny Townsend MP
House of Commons
London SW1A OAA

ZUNGULA FOOD SITUATION

Thank you for your letter of 17 July. I hope this does not seem trite but I want to emphasize again, particularly as you used the term in your Parliamentary Questions on 23 June, that we are not dealing with a famine here, and saying so has the potential to lead to a great deal of confusion, resulting not least in my Secretary of State’s bulging mailbag from concerned members of the public (whose correspondence is passed to me for draft reply).

I am not saying that people in UK should be unconcerned about the present food situation in Southern Africa but I hope you will appreciate it is important to get the terminology right. There is food shortage here; there is undoubtedly hunger. Some Zungulans are also known to have died from illnesses, the symptoms of which were exacerbated by the effects of hunger. But this is not Ethiopian style famine, and as far as I am aware, there are no reports of outright starvation.

I am about to return to the north to work with NGOs and others committed to helping resolve tribal conflict. This has been troubling the region for some time (though it is little reported in the UK). There is also a serious meningitis outbreak in northern region. We believe this alone may already have killed more than a thousand people. The main health sector donors will pool their resources to buy the necessary vaccines but there is much to do before we can be sure of success in eradicating the disease. Please understand that I welcome your continuing interest in Zungula. However, a plea. My team needs all the time it can muster to battle against the harsh realities of life here. It therefore stands to reason that the more we can minimize nugatory work, the better.

Yours sincerely,
Beauty Musajakawa

Beauty re-read the letter before putting her signature to it and asking her secretary to scan and send it electronically, with the original in the post for good measure. She was sure that the Member for Winchester would be annoyed and there might be a reaction. But at least she had said her piece and got things off her chest.

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