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When The Crocodile Smiles: Chapter 19 - A Barb Sunk Deep In The Throat

Joseph Tembo overplays his hand, bidding for the Presidency of Zungula. And British High Commisioner Sandy Makelson is made to realise that his sexual infidelity has denuded him of his influence and freedom.

Michael Wood's novel of political and sexual intrigue in a fictional 21st Century African country is utterly enthralling.

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

Elliot Joseph Chilembe was standing at the panelled doorway of his study, talking on a mobile telephone to one of his business associates in Kintyre. “That is exactly what I am saying. The land will plummet in value when we hoof them out. When the time is right I will tell you which of their fams to snap up on my behalf.” There was a pause while he absorbed what was being said at the other end of the line. Then the President laughed. “No, that will not happen,” he continued. “Look. What would you do in their position? They were born here. Okay, so they maintain connections with relatives in India, UK and whichever. But they won’t leave Zungula. In the cold light of day they will understand I am no Idi Amin. I want them out of the rural areas only. They can do what they like in the towns. They are entrepreneurial by nature and will quickly adapt to running urban businesses. There will be no negative impact on our economy. The Minister of Lands will be issuing the proclamation today. My new policy will be popular among our own famahs who resent the exploitative behaviour of Asians. That will translate into votes for me.”

The Chief of Staff overheard only the last of this as he approached. He had furrows of concern on his face, enough for the President to send a quizzical look in his direction. Chilembe ended the conversation he was having and beckoned his aide to come forward.

“Mr President. You had better come to the communications room. There is something you should hear. It went out on live radio five minutes ago.”

Chilembe was intrigued. In all the time he had known the Chief of Staff, the man had been almost devoid of facial expression. Now worry seemed to be etched into his features.

“What is it?”

“The Minister of Finance has been speaking on Radio Zungula.”

“And?”

“He has made a statement about your recent announcement. Your thad tam.”

“So what? All of my Ministers are making efforts to explain my intentions to the people.”

“Not this one, Mr President. He is opposing you.”

Chilembe looked stunned. He moved briskly down the red-carpeted stairway, his uniformed aide marching along at his side. On the ground floor they strode through the reception hall, past the grand new ballroom off to their right, into the administration centre and then up a short flight of back stairs into the communications room. An operator of the recording equipment waited for the President’s signal and then turned on the tape.

“This is a reminder you are listening to Radio Zungula, the only station which brings you the news on the hour, every hour, throughout the day. We have with us this morning, Honourable Minister of Finance, Joseph Tembo, who wishes to make a short statement about the food situation. Minister?”

“Thank you. In fact I want to address the nation on a different matter. Yesterday I met with my Cabinet colleagues to discuss the President’s recent announcement that he would be running for a third term of office. I want to make clear that President Chilembe has been an excellent Head of State for the Republic of Zungula. Under his direction he has taken us out of the drudgery which was a hallmark of Dr Mpande’s dictatorship. The country has made great strides on a number of fronts; the economy is stronger, there has been social progress with improvements to education at all levels, and better delivery of health care. And the President has been at the forefront of the nation’s battle to conquer the corrupt legacy left behind by his predecessor. As everyone knows however, we now have a Constitution. This most important document sets out the rules and principles under which the State acknowledges it will govern this country. To that extent it is a sacred text. It should not be chopped and changed for the convenience of those who hold the reigns of power. When writing the Constitution we tried to learn from experience in other African countries which we knew to have made mistakes. In particular we aspired to follow the example of our powerful neighbour to the south, by limiting any person’s tenure of the Presidency to two terms – eight years. This is a long time for one man to hold down such tremendous responsibility. A long time for any person to remain healthy in body and mind, given the pressures. Even Nelson Mandela could not stay on for longer.

Given these considerations, my Cabinet colleagues have asked me to make clear their collective opinion that it is unacceptable for the President to stand for office again. Not only is it unconstitutional, as I have explained, but such a move would also ensure that we were looked upon with less sympathy by our donor friends. Zungula remains a poor country and we cannot afford to let our credibility slide. I am using the opportunity of this broadcast to announce my resignation from Ministerial responsibility as of today, so that the President will not stand unopposed when the election date is announced. There will, of course, be other occasions in the near future for me to spell out what policies I would adopt to build on President Chilembe’s achievements, and to put the country on a surer footing. God bless you all. God bless Zungula.”

Chilembe gaped at the recording equipment as if his ears had deceived him. He turned to his Chief of Staff.

“How could this happen?”

“Mr President, the Minister tricked the radio station. He called them in advance to say he wanted to speak about the maize. He was cunning. Our monitoring staff did not suspect there was anything wrong until he was about half way through the statement. By then it was too late to send word to cut him off.”

Elliott Joseph Chilembe could not believe that he had been betrayed by his friend and business partner; without so much as a hint from him or anyone else that they were uncomfortable with his decision to stand again. Tembo and the Cabinet, if the statement could be believed, had committed treason.

“That bastard. Without me he would have been nothing. I made him what he is today.”

The President stormed out of the communications room. “Get the Commissioner of Police here as soon as possible,” he commanded the Chief of Staff. “In fact, no. Get him on the phone. There is no time to waste.”

* * * * * *

WFP trucks arrived at the GMB early enough to ensure the whole morning could be devoted to loading. The Board’s own vehicles came back too, though their old Bedfords looked a sorry sight compared to the spanking new UN Mercedes Benz lorries. The central depot was a flurry of activity with chains of men a metre or so apart, passing sacks of maize along a line, one to the other, ending with two stackers on top of each truck. It was backbreaking work. The men glistened with sweat from their physical exertion. Their bosses, with Sam’s admonition still fresh in their memories, moved from truck to truck with their files and clipboards, making a show of supervision. Cheeky little grey headed sparrows jumped about on the floor of the yard and underneath the trucks, picking up any spillage.

Phiri had also been busy. He was now wise enough to be aware that this enormous consignment of food might still be threatened on its way to Bakili. If quantities could be siphoned off before delivery to the stores, there was no reason to suppose more might disappear as it proceeded north. He had therefore met with a Defence Force commander based in Dombe – an Umnaravi man like himself – and requested that the trucks be given an escort. The officer was only too pleased to oblige, offering as it did, the opportunity to visit family at the same time.

Within two days all the available food had reached the Bakili depot and some had already been distributed to far flung villages. In what had been the conflict areas, a fragile peace had been holding. Now the chiefs had cause to remember the Umnaravi man from Machope, the one who wore the business suit, who lived in Dombe. They remembered his promise. At first they had held themselves ready for disappointment. When the trucks rumbled into their villages and the food was unloaded, the people howled their approval and the celebrations began. They would no longer have to eat the seeds which the donors had started to distribute, intended as planting material for next season’s harvest. Things would improve now. If the rains came, the villages would be able to grow their grains (though the Edze would still make them struggle with labour power needed in the fields).

The chiefs offered praise to the spirits and to that man – the one who called himself son of Lupenga. Inadvertently, Sam Phiri had become the most popular person in Northern Region. His name began to appear in local church news sheets providing coverage of issues particular to the north. Plaudits were also going out on local radio. Soon there were calls for Sam to return to Bakili so that the people could enjoy his participation in the tumultuous festivities and celebrations. They wanted to see again, the face of the man who had brought them back from the brink of disaster.

* * * * * *

After leaving the studios of Radio Zungula, Joe Tembo got back into the blue Jaguar and drove down the palm lined Manchewe Avenue until he reached the junction with Kayale Road. He was heading for the Dombe Capital Hotel where he had pre-arranged a press conference in the company of other Cabinet Ministers, each of whom had said they would follow his lead and resign that morning. He felt sure now that his decision to go first had been the right one. Doing so set him above the others. The bloated Jessica Wamkulyu would be joining him as he made his remarks to the press. After today you won’t be getting into bed with Elliott, Tembo was confidently predicting about the Tourism Minister, grinning at the thought of her massive frame in a clinch with Chilembe. He was also counting on the Health and Education Ministers to be there, along with those holding the National Security, and Home Affairs portfolios.

Because Tembo had no driver that morning he parked the Jaguar a hundred metres or so from the hotel entrance. As he ran up the steps to the lobby he felt good about life. He had taken a major career decision which he knew to have the unequivocal backing of all but a few unimportant members of Cabinet. When the election came, he would be well placed to capitalize on the nation’s anger – about the food crisis which President Chilembe had so appallingly mismanaged; about the damage which had been done by needlessly extended fighting in Northern Region. He would present himself as the man who could restore confidence in government, the candidate who was efficient but fair – the only one who would concentrate first and foremost on healing the nation’s wounds, while also getting to grips with new measures required to ensure growth and future prosperity. His reform programme would bring the donors back in greater numbers and he imagined their early agreement to resume financial support. The World Bank would extend new multi-million dollar loans to implement employment generating projects. The country would begin to enjoy an unprecedented level of economic stability.

There would be some personal benefits along the way. Why else would one make the sacrifices necessary to become a politician? Apart from the palace, there would be contract letting traditionally organized through the Office of the President. But he didn’t see himself as the smiling crocodile – he would limit his share to 5%; far less noticeable than the cut Elliot Joseph Chilembe habitually took. The President has also taught him how to manipulate the grain market, so it ought to be easy to move in on that when there were obvious surpluses. He would not be fool enough again to rouse donor suspicion by dipping in at times of shortage. He was sure that by the end of his first term, he would be a very rich man. He was not greedy by nature and might well hand over to someone new after four years. Why not? The Presidency was only a means to an end and there was no need to linger longer than necessary.

He walked into the Mulanje Room feeling like a film star. The Press was already assembled and the flash lights from their cameras underlined the sheer presence of the man. There were television cameras too. Good, Tembo said to himself, the more publicity the better. The hotel management had set up a long table with several microphones so that journalists could better hear him and those Cabinet members who supported his cause. Tembo strode purposefully around the room shaking the hands of press men and women, joking with them, but also keeping half an eye open for his colleagues. It was already later than the appointed time, yet none of the others had arrived. Tembo began to worry but still he worked the room. When another ten minutes had passed he knew instinctively that the others were not going to come; something had made them change their minds. Only yesterday they had been urging him to take definitive action. He decided he had no choice but to continue regardless, though he knew the absence of other senior Ministers weakened his position. The dye was cast. There would have been little point making the radio announcement in isolation. He had to hit all the media sources in one morning to make maximum impact. Taking his seat in the centre of the long table, he looked and felt uncomfortable.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the press,” he began. “Some of you may already know that earlier this morning, I tendered my resignation as Minister of Finance.” Tembo paused to allow the mumbling to die down. “I have been concerned for some time about President Chilembe’s intention to run for office again, in direct contravention to the terms of our Constitution......”

Joe Tembo had abandoned the ready made statement which he had worked on the night before which would have applauded the President as a precautionary measure, even if the sentiments were hollow. Without the physical presence of others in the Cabinet, he had been forced to go on the attack. To make clear that a third term was an unacceptable abuse of power.

“The President had hoped that no member of his party, or of his Ministers, would be brave enough to step forward and offer an alternative way. Our country has experienced very difficult times of late. We have had the plague of meningitis. We have been hungry. We have killed one another in a widespread inter-tribal war which started over ownership of a cow! There has been corruption at a high level. It is time for us to put our country first. We must...........”

Tembo stopped speaking and looked up as the door to the Mulanje Room burst open. He had assumed the interruption to be the late arrival of one of the Ministers. There was an audible gasp from some of the women present, when Lawrence Chitambo in the company of five armed policemen, marched to the front of the room.

The Commissioner of Police grabbed one of the microphones. “This gathering will disband,” he shouted ominously, the sweat dripping from his brow. “Before you pless people go however, you will be wanting something for tomorrow’s pepers.” Chitambo then turned his snarling face to Joe Tembo. “You! You are under arrest for high treason.”

Before Tembo had a chance to move from the chair, he was hauled out of it by the policemen and ignominiously pulled over the table by his jacket lapels. The white table cover was dragged with him, spilling a jug of water, and toppling the microphones in the process. Cameras flashed again as the Minister was dragged from the room by his neck tie, hands bound with a plastic gripper.

* * * * * *

Beauty Musajakawa was delighted. The North was getting food at last; Michael Huxley had phoned reporting that meningitis cases had fallen to manageable levels; and the fighting between Umnaravi and Ngoni tribesmen had now definitely ended. There was a firm platform upon which to build the project assistance which she had indicated would be forthcoming at the time she attended the peace negotiations.

Her Bakili visit report had been sent to her Secretary of State in London with a submission requesting formal approval of the £3 million per annum aid allocation specifically for the North. Earmarking funds for a particular region was highly unusual but so were the circumstances. The SoS had readily agreed the proposal but she wanted NGOs in the region to compete for the funds, in accordance with guidelines still to be agreed. Spending would be broadly in accordance with objectives set out in ODD’s Country Plan. One further condition she insisted upon was that a Fund manager be appointed. In other words the main administrative burden would fall to someone other than Beauty Musajakawa, whose responsibilities were already heavy enough. The Dombe ODD office moved fast and advertised the job with a five day deadline for applications. One of their own local staff applied, beat the competition resoundingly, and was appointed as a Technical Cooperation Officer – the first Zungulan ever to achieve such recognition. Project proposals were already coming thick and fast from NGOs with the capacity to manage what, for them, were large development initiatives.

When Beauty picked up the morning paper her mood changed to shock. There always seemed to be some kind of political intrigue in Dombe but the detention of Joe Tembo was extraordinary. It was well known that he was a close and trusted associate of the President’s. Some even speculated that it was he and not Kanyerere (the Vice President) who was being groomed for succession in due course. But Tembo now seemed to have burned his boats if verbatim reports of his press statements were accurate. While Beauty rued the loss of a smart operator within the talentless ranks of Chilembe’s Cabinet, she couldn’t help think that some kind of justice had been done to the man who had so cruelly altered the course of Sam Phiri’s life. She focused again on the front page of the Daily Times:

“COUP PLOT THWARTED: TEMBO ARRESTED

Yesterday the nation was shaken to its foundations. Timely action by Commissioner of Police Chitambo, prevented a coup attempt from coming to fruition. At the centre of the plot was erstwhile Minister of Finance, Joseph Tembo. According to government sources the Minister conspired with others in the Cabinet to wrestle power from our dear President. Tembo, until now considered a strong supporter and close confidant of President Chilembe, has allowed greed and driving ambition to get the better of him. His co-conspirators have still to be named but according to Commissioner Chitambo, additional arrests are expected when Tembo’s interrogation is complete. In a brief statement from Police HQ, Chitambo said he expected those involved to flee their posts like rats from a sinking ship; border posts have been put on alert. He implied that the disgraced Finance Minister was also involved in corrupt handling of the nation’s grain to an unknown buyer in Kenya, this at a time when Zungulans were hungry. In this respect he has been linked with the former MD of the Grain Marketing Board, Matthews Chihana, who is thought to have travelled abroad with his share of the booty. At least the authorities have Tembo in custody. This newspaper hopes the disgraced Minister will be locked away for a long time..........”

* * * * * *

The American Ambassador was on a winter ski-ing holiday in Switzerland. The EC Delegate had taken a small party of Ambassadors down to Mulanje to visit a rice project intended to help diversify away from failing tea. The trip might take a couple of days. It would involve eight or nine top diplomats descending on hapless workers in the rice cooperative. The Ambassadors would arrive in their Mercedes, Range Rovers, Toyotas and Volvos, flying their little national flags. They would bewilder farmers with the stupidity of their questions. For whatever else they excelled at, foreign diplomats had little idea about agricultural development, or for that matter, how their own aid agencies worked, let alone the fathomless, wasteful European Commission. Then they would go off for a jolly good lunch somewhere, as far away as possible from the dirt and grime.

There was not a single senior diplomat left in town whom Sandy Mackelson could recruit to help him lobby the President about Joe Tembo’s imprisonment. However naively the former Minister had behaved, however much he had been taken in by the flattery of Cabinet colleagues whose support faded away when it most mattered, he had done nothing illegal in announcing his intention to stand for the Presidency. With instructions from London, the High Commissioner had no choice but to go and see the President alone.

He had asked Heather to contact the Chief of Staff to make the appointment. She was in the middle of making the call, when Mackelson saw the embossed envelope lying in his in-tray. This looked more important than a run of the mill diplomatic event. To his mild surprise, contained therein was an invitation to dinner at the palace. There was a note attached saying the President wanted a private meeting. Fortunately, only “His Excellency” had been invited so there would be no need to explain Madeleine’s absence. The timing was perfect too as Mackelson had been invited that very evening. He would be able to raise not only concerns about Tembo, but also the attack on Beauty Musajakawa and her partner, Rick Holgate. A reporting telegram could then go back to King Charles Street.

The High Commissioner cast his mind back to the brief chat he’d had with his predecessor before leaving London. “Don’t think for one minute that socializing with Zungulans will be anything more than a one way street. They’ll never invite you to their homes – except the President of course”. How right the now retired diplomat had been. It was eight months since Sandy and Madeleine Mackelson had arrived in Dombe. They had entertained extensively. They kept meticulous lists of the hundreds of Zungulans hosted at the Residence; Madeleine had recorded the menus each guest had enjoyed so that repeat visitors could be sure of sampling different cuisine. They had in truth, tried very hard. During their entire stay however, this was the first time an invitation had been extended to one of them from a Zungulan; ironically, the President was probably the only significant figure still to set foot inside the Residence during the Mackelsons’ tenure. Now that Sandy was off to the palace, he felt quite proud.

* * * * * *

Patience Phiri had heard her lover’s address on Radio Zungula and had been both thrilled and excited. As she lay at the pool side, teasing the male staff with glimpses of her beautiful shape, she had begun to fantasize that her rocket propelled journey to the good life had barely begun. If Joe was successful in his bid for the Presidency, she could expect untold riches, and a jet-setting life style. She had heard about the Mugabe woman who spent her life shopping. This was the example that Patience wanted to follow. To spend perhaps half the year in far away places; in Paris and London; New York. The other half of her time she would have fun showing off her acquisitions at home, and parading her new status. She might even be permitted to travel by herself and if so, she dreamed that she would find younger, more vigorous lovers at each destination – a pleasure which would be made simpler as soon as she had persuaded Joe to buy houses and apartments in her favourite places. Yes, that was how life would be. She smiled to herself when she thought it was just weeks ago that she had still been earning a living as a secretary; that she was just about existing in the misery of a two room house, in the cesspit called Chabwele township.

Rarely did Patience even consider Sam Phiri or how he might be coping with their separation. He inhabited a different world now. She had heard on the grapevine however that he had been promoted again and was pleased for him. She wondered if he would stay in that little house. That was the extent of her interest. She had heard nothing of his work in the North or the high esteem in which he was now held there; that influential northerners were calling for him to represent them in the still defunct Dombe Parliament.

The morning sun was warm but not overbearing. Patience reapplied a protective lotion on her legs, lovingly rubbing it into her skin, relishing the scent from the bottle. Several months ago she would never have considered buying such a product. It would simply have soaked up a disproportionate amount of the monthly income and there had been no time for sunbathing anyway in her previous life. Now, Tembo pampered her with anything she craved.

Patience observed a young steward looking at her and decided on a whim to beckon him over from the house. She had intentionally kept her distance from most of the staff, believing them now to be beneath her.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Oh, nothing. It is nothing.”

“So you are thinking I am nothing?” she asked with a pout.

“Ah no,” he smiled. “I am thinking you are very nice.”

The new lady of the house weighed him up. He was a near slave, probably earning no more than £50 a month equivalent, but he was a handsome enough slave. Better looking than Joe, and bigger than Sam. She wondered if in different circumstances she might have “liked” him. She suddenly felt a strong urge to demonstrate her control over, and dominance of the man.

“I want you to help me with this cream. Put a little on your hand, like this, and gently put some on my back. Gently”, she said again. It was a command, not a request, as she turned over to lie on her stomach. The steward did as he was told. Patience began to enjoy the feel of it as the cool liquid turned warm with the motion of his strong hands. She unhooked her bikini top and as she did so, she raised her upper torso off the lounger so that with the curve of her back, her breasts fell free. She knew the effect she would have on the man.

“What are you looking at now. Is it still nothing?”

“You are too young and beautiful for that man,” the steward replied bravely.

“Should I tell him you said that? I think I will. That will get you into plenty of trouble.”

“Please no. I will lose my job.”

He was still rubbing, daring just to touch the edge of her breasts.

“I quite like you, steward. So maybe I won’t tell him. But only if you agree to do me some favours in return.”

“What kind of favours?”

“Hmm. Perhaps when he is out, you can come to me. I will tell you when. And be prepared to do as I say. Do you understand what I mean, steward?”

“I am not sure Madame.”

The man had retreated from his earlier boldness and was now ruing having divulged his opinion about her attractiveness. For he could sense that in her, was risk and great danger. Patience sensed his hesitation. In contrast, the excitement in her has risen and was beginning to course through her. She wanted to make clear that this man might be her toy. She turned so that the steward had a full view of her. Such forwardness was virtually unknown in Zungulan society. He struggled with the embarrassment, the knowledge that he was being played with, and the contradiction that was the rising heat of his own excitement. For he had never seen a woman like this. The only girls he had kissed were uneducated, unshapely and had missing teeth.

“What I am saying is that sometimes I get lonely. When he is away, maybe you can come to me. And if you are a good boy I might even let you touch me.” She turned over again, conscious of the need not to attract the attention of other household staff.

“You can go now. But remember what I am saying.”

She watched him leave and was pleased to see him grim faced. He looked back at her but she turned away, loving the sense of power, but most of all relishing the knowledge that her womanly charms were now strong enough to work magic on any man. She hadn’t failed to see the bulge in his trousers. As she soaked up the sun again she fantasized further about the steward, allowing him entry to Joe bedroom, obliging the young man to see to her growing lust.

As she dreamed of his body and hers entwined, her concentration was broken by what seemed to be the sound of sirens in the distance – a noise which interrupted the sweet melodies of bronze sun birds taking sustenance from the bright yellows and pinks of hibiscus flowers which bordered the garden. The sirens were getting louder. Perhaps there had been an accident nearby, Patience thought. The nanny came out into the garden carrying little Friday. She too had been inquisitive about the commotion and stopped to listen to the blaring sound which was now disturbing the infant, threatening to make him cry.

Patience and the nanny stood facing the front gate in bewilderment when the approaching vehicles stopped directly outside. The high wall prevented them from seeing what it was all about. Then there was a battering on the plate metal which Joe Tembo had had fixed to the gate to ensure privacy. The watchman opened a little grill and spoke to whomsoever it was outside. Immediately he stepped back and pulled open the gate. Patience was alarmed when four police vehicles moved inside and the gate was closed behind them. The Commissioner of Police stepped out of the leading Land Rover and shouted to Patience.

“You are Tembo’s mistress?”

Patience was terrified and had taken Friday from the nanny and clutched him close.

“What do you want here?” she asked.

“That is no business of yours, whore.”

The policemen who had been in the other vehicles were now filing, uninvited into the house. Patience followed them in and watched in horror as they began to sift through drawers, tip contents on the floor, and tear up the fabric on Tembo’s soft furnishings – like an over the top American cop film.

“What are you doing? Why are you behaving like this?” Patience pleaded desperately, the maids beside her, open-mouthed, while the stewards stood outside as if waiting for an office fire drill to come to an end.

“I’ve told you already, whore. Keep your mouth shut,” was all that Chitambo would say in reply. Some of his men had disappeared into adjacent rooms and the damage they were causing was evident from the crashing and smashing sounds within. They were obviously looking for something, but Patience had no idea what combination of circumstances had led to this invasion, and the presence of Chitambo himself. Her fear intensified, such was his notoriety. The raid went on for a full hour but whatever it was they were searching for had not been found. Chitambo instructed two of his charges to empty Tembo’s drinks cabinet and load the contents into his Land Rover.

“That is theft.” Patience could not help herself shouting out. “You are stealing from the Minister of Finance.”

Chitambo strode across to the woman whom he clearly regarded with utter disdain. He looked at her levelly and then, in a flash, swiped his cane across her face. She screamed with the searing pain. Desperately, she held on to Friday but bent to her knees, her only instinct now to protect his tiny frame. Chitambo’s blows were then directed on to her bare back, the cane whipping down again and again until Patience fell and the baby spilled to the floor, its screeches drowning out the policeman’s grunts and the maids’ anguished wailing. One of the them bravely ran forward to gather up the infant. While Chitambo continued to vent his anger on poor Patience, now adding his boot to her belly, Friday was carried away to safety.

When finally the brute of a policeman was content with the beating he had administered, he stood over his victim, breathing hard. He wiped the sweat from his brow, such was the extent of his exertion. There was an element of regret in his mind that there were others in the house who were there as witnesses. Not that he felt any conscience or feared any possibility of reprimand. The woman’s body; it may have been bloodied but he would liked to have had her; yes, he could admit it to himself, to rape her. Instead, Patience lay motionless at his feet.

The Commissioner of Police spent a further ten minutes casually walking around Tembo’s home, helping himself to things which were easily transportable. The Sony television and DVD player; the digital camera; the neat Apple Mac computer; the Kente cloth from Kumasi which at one time had adorned a Ghanaian chief; the clocks and some of the original paintings which hung on the walls, including one by the local artist David Kelly, superbly depicting hunting dogs on their prey. Lawrence Chitambo had no desire for such luxuries himself, but he knew they were salable. “The painting is big,” he shouted to one of his followers. “Perhaps I will be taking that wan to the President.”

Before he and his gang left the premises, Chitambo issued instructions to the servants. “You will clean up this ples. A new Minister will soon be occupying. Tembo is in prison. Yes, I can see the look in your eyes. In prison I say, chaj-ed with treason. You will not be seeing him again. As for this....” he said, pointing his cane at the prostrate body at his feet, “she has no right to be living here. When she comes around, throw her out.”

* * * * * *

As Sandy Mackelson entered the palace grounds, he realized that he must at last have won the President’s respect. An invitation to dinner with him alone was not a privilege afforded to many. Six months before, Mackelson had considered throwing in the towel, such were the challenges facing him and the difficulty of adapting to life in Zungula. Now he was relatively confident about his ability to deal with the many issues which came before him and he felt he was among the most prominent and influential of the Core Diplomatique. There was the new hiccough of his sunken relations with Madeleine to get over but he was sure that in time, she would forgive him.

He was led into the familiar waiting area in the grand lobby and invited to sit while the Chief of Staff informed the President of his arrival. A few minutes later he was taken up to the first floor and ushered into one of several palace dining rooms, the smallest and most intimate which was used only for rare one on one meetings. Elliot Joseph Chilembe arrived almost simultaneously. The President shook the diplomat’s hand warmly. He was smiling and looked relaxed.

“Good evening Your Excellency. Thank you for coming at such shot notice. I am sorry to have kept you waiting,” he said out of politeness and as a conversation opener. “I have been preparing for the African Union Heads of State gathering in Nairobi next week and I have just come off the telephone to Mwai Kibaki.”

“I expect it will be a busy time,” Mackelson replied. “Am I right that enhanced African representation on the UN Security Council is back on your agenda?”

“Not my personal stamping ground you understand. But Obasanjo and Mbeki both feel it is high time Africa had a greater say. I agree with them. This continent of ours is more mature, and far more stable than it was even five years ago. We are a voice of moderation among those who have a reputation for more extreme positions.”

Mackelson was thinking about the short report which Stainbury had prepared several weeks back, containing a senior Zungulan’s claim that the President had a few screws loose. There was no evidence of this so far. Indeed Chilembe seemed lucid. A steward brought in a silver tureen of steaming soup and served two ladles full to each man. Mackelson noted that the President slurped as each spoonful entered his mouth.

“I think you are right so long as a Colonel Gaddafi-like figure doesn’t hold sway as representative of African opinion,” the High Commissioner offered.

“Come now Your Excellency, Gaddafi is a reformed man. The Americans have shown their confidence in him by reopening their Embassy in Tripoli. Even if that were not the case, the existence of one or two deviant voices among those of an entire continent, should surely no more preclude Africa’s right to places at the table, than it would China’s, grouped alongside North Korea.”

The High Commissioner believed that American courting of Gaddafi had more to do with Libya’s oil wealth than anything else, but he was reluctant to take the argument any further, believing anyway that Africa lacked sufficient influence to increase their number on the Security Council. He was looking for an opportunity to move onto his own agenda.

“Speaking of security Mr President, and closer to home, I have to tell you that my Ministers are alarmed about Joe Tembo’s arrest.”

“Alarmed? Why?”

“He acted foolishly in going straight to the media about his intentions, especially as he didn’t first discuss these with you. However, in our opinion any politician in a true democracy should have the freedom to stand for the Presidency at the appropriate time, even if their bid is doomed to fail. You are also aware that my Government supports the two-term concept encapsulated in Zungula’s Constitution. If I can speak frankly, we believe your bid for a third term is unconstitutional. Tembo clearly felt that as well.”

Chilembe resented the High Commissioner’s tone, and the direction the conversation was taking. He paused when the steward reappeared to take the soup plates away. When the man clattered out of the swing doors, the President resumed.

“We can amend the Constitution. It is not set in concrete.”

“Mr President, it was designed to prevent any individual emulating a Moi or a Museveni. Ultimately, we believe long periods in office are damaging. Even Obasanjo has now accepted the wishes of his people. There will be no alteration to the Nigerian Constitution to accommodate what had been his own third term ambitions.”

“Ahh. We have had this discussion before. You forget that Museveni was fairly elected. The people wanted him back, just as I am consistently told mine want me. And as I have said when we last spoke on the subject, your gavanment should not be so two faced. Britain doesn’t even have a Constitution. From what I am reading in your newspepers, some of your own Ministers would say that Blair has already overstayed his welcome during his thed tam at Namba 10. But we Africans do not wish to interfere in your internal affairs. If your Prime Minister feels he can hang on, we are relaxed.”

Each man had an entrenched position. Mackelson’s objective was to persuade the President to release Tembo and at least allow him the chance to stand.

“Certainly not,” was Chilembe’s immediate and emphatic reaction when the High Commissioner raised it. “ Ah no. Tembo plotted against me. He tried to persuade other members of my gavanment to oust me. That is dangerous and undemocratic. As the pepers have said, he will be tried for treason.”

The High Commissioner could not penetrate the President’s armour from any angle. “Mr President, I hope that at least you will show some compassion.”

“Your Excellency. Do you speak any Kiswahili?” he asked, knowing full well that Mackelson was not a linguist.

“Regrettably not.”

“I like that language very much. They have such a way with wads. Akumulikaye mchana, usiku akuchoma. It means the person who shines a light on you by day, sets fire to you by night. Joe Tembo was my friend. Then he betrayed me. He must face the full force of the law. That is all I have to say on the matter.”

Sandy Mackelson knew that Britain’s voice alone would not be enough to save Tembo from the fate that Chilembe planned for him. Further and more intensive diplomatic pressure would be needed from a variety of sources.

“Mr President, perhaps I could move on to a security matter which concerns a senior member of my mission.” Chilembe, raising his eyebrows, encouraged the diplomat to go on. “A week ago Miss Musajakawa was attacked on the way back to her home at night. This was not a robbery but a carefully planned targeting of her vehicle. An attempt was made to set fire to the car while she and her companion were inside. We apprehended one of the thugs who was responsible. He told us that Commissioner Chitambo had given the gang their instructions, which we believe to have been misplaced revenge for our suspension of police aid. You will also remember the death in custody recently of the British teacher Middleton, who was raped and beaten to death in Dedza prison. Lawrence Chitambo was, in my opinion, indirectly responsible for this as well. The evidence in the Musajakawa case is clear enough and I would request that you use the full force of the law (this phrase chosen carefully to mimic the President’s) to bring the Commissioner to justice.”

“Those are seriass accusations against a man whom the people think is a national hero. You’ll be aware of his part in forestalling the coup.”

“Mr President, I hope you will you look into what I have said. In my country the Commissioner would at least be suspended while investigations were conducted.”

“I will look into it Your Excellency,” the President said in a non-committal way.

The meal was coming to an end. Sandy Mackelson hadn’t touched the Gateau Pithiviers and cream though Chilembe wolfed through his own. Coffee had not come.

“And how is Madeleine?” the President asked out of the blue, as he guided the High Commissioner out of the dining room. Mackelson was off guard. He reddened visibly and flustered. “Fine, fine thank you. I will tell her you were asking after her.”

“Please do that.” Chilembe’s beady eyes were burrowing into his guest’s through the thick rimmed spectacles. His lower lip was pursed. The two men began to walk down the sweeping staircase but the President stopped half way down.

“If I may detain you for a moment longer,” he said, resting a hand on Mackelson’s arm. “I hear that you have, how shall I put this delicately, developed a fondness for Miss Kanyerere?”

Mackelson felt nauseous. There would be no point bluffing his way out of this one. Chilembe clearly knew that he had had the affair.

“That is all over Mr President. It was a mistake which both of us regret.”

Elliot Joseph Chilembe looked at Sandy Mackelson like an angler might regard a landed fish, with the sort of detachment that was necessary to clunk it on the head and despatch it.

“Regrettably life is full of mistakes. We can but make adjustments as we go along. Little compensations here and there, don’t you agree, Your Excellency?”

Mackelson said nothing, knowing there was more to come.

“Of course you would not want London to hear anything of the temptation which had been put in your way. Neither I suspect, to cause my Vice President any further embarrassment. I do hope news of the liaison will not reach the ears of unscrupulous individuals.”

The full impact of the High Commissioner’s stupidity now hit him like the force of a truck running over a dog. An hour or so before, he had counted himself among an elite band of diplomats with growing influence in Zungula. Now it had all evaporated. At a stroke, Elliot Joseph Chilembe had reduced Mackelson’s future leverage and bargaining power to nothing. All UK diplomatic staff were warned continually about the dangers of sexual entrapment and thereby falling prey to people who might be hostile to Britain’s interests. Now like a bloody fool, he was effectively held hostage by Chilembe.

As his driver took him on the four mile journey back to the Residence, Mackelson worried desperately about his options. He could be compliant for the rest of his tour in Zungula and hope his impotence was not discovered. It would be almost impossible to keep this up for the remaining two years. Or he might claim illness through stress and thereby obtain curtailment of his time in Dombe. That wouldn’t do either. He might end up pushing paper in King Charles Street for the rest of his career.

When he remembered the tape which had been addressed to Madeleine, his gloom deepened further. Yet in spite of Chilembe’s poisonous parting words, he didn’t believe the President had been responsible for the tape’s preparation and delivery to his wife. He felt sure the Zungulans didn’t have the talent. That left just two or three other possibilities. Either his phone line had been interfered with by representatives of nations which still had awkward relations with UK, maybe the Lebanese or the Libyans. Or it had been tapped from inside the High Commission. The latter scenario seemed highly improbable. Mackelson also recalled how Britain had bugged Kofi Annan’s phone in New York when stakes were high over the intended invasion of Iraq. Surely it wasn’t a friendly state that had stooped to similar depths in Dombe? As the black Range Rover swept into the drive of the Residence, Sandy Mackelson was depressed. Not only was his marriage in pieces, but also it seemed, his career was at risk of plunging into a steep downward spiral.

* * * * * *

Back at the palace, Eliott Joseph Chilembe sang to himself as he entered the western wing, now personalised with his lavish tastes. “Chigwinini chikuko mana nawo” he croaked in the baritone voice – “A man with two wives has no wife”. It was a humorous old Zungulan folk song about two wives, each jealous of the other, sending their hapless husband back and forth from one hut to the other, neither ever allowing him to make love. He grinned as he entered the bed chamber, happy to be free of matrimonial responsibility.

“Ah, my gorgeous one,” he said to the waiting woman, for his own bed was rarely unoccupied. “Our British friend will not get in my way now, I am thinking. I have told him that I know all about his little affiliation with the Vice President’s wife.”

The delectable woman looked across to the President with a sultriness in her eyes.

“I am sure the High Commissioner would have been very shocked, my Master.”

To stir him, she had intentionally deployed the old servant language which had originated from the days of slavery. On this night at least, she wanted to relish his preference for domination of her. She watched him undress and waited with eager anticipation for events which would follow, for she could see from the horn pushing at the hem of his ludicrously large underpants, that he was in an excited state. This play-mate already knew from her personal experience over the last few weeks, why Jessica Wamkulyu had publicly proclaimed the President’s virility. Lucy Kanyerere would serve her master with everything he wanted.

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