Letters from TZ

Stranger things happen at sea

I was not familiar with the name David Petraeus before the man resigned as the director of the CIA. I took comfort in the fact that the CIA is a place where secrets go to die. Or at least that’s what they say in the movies. One should be forgiven for not knowing who runs the shadowy organisation, no?

So I’m thankful to Mr Petraeus for stepping down in a most spectacular manner, forcing anyone who was not familiar with him before the fact, to suddenly become intimately acquainted with the details of his personal life. The director of the world’s most famous spy network announced that he was resigning because he had been caught out in an extra-marital affair that was discovered during an FBI investigation.

Wow. The FBI? Don’t the two agencies have a history of one-upmanship? No, wait. That was in a movie too. But moving right along. History will record that the head of the CIA stepped down because he cheated on his wife. In his resignation, Petraeus was remorseful. “After being married for over 37-years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extra-marital affair,” he said. “Such behaviour is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organisation such as ours.” Right. Never mind that Petraeus will no longer have to testify before a congressional hearing this week on the Benghazi consulate attack. Well, I guess if you’re the head of the CIA and you can’t hide your mistress from your wife, it means it can’t be done (via @chrisrockozfan on Twitter). Or, that something else is afoot.

Are you an expert on Africa?

Every time I see an SUV with red plates in Masaki, Mikocheni, Msasani or Osyterbay, I remember the words of Edward Clay, former British High Commissioner to Kenya. Speaking about corrupt government officials, he said that they were “eating like gluttons” and “vomiting on the shoes” of donors. He was both righteous and indignant in his assessment of a country where there were very few, “who did not believe that exploiting a relationship, proffering ‘kitu kidogo’ or having some illegitimate inside track was absolutely essential to getting some ordinary public service.”

Mr Clay was speaking in 2004, two years after the historic election that saw the Rainbow Coalition sweep into office on a wave of mass euphoria. He was speaking at a time when it had become evident that it was business as usual in government circles, despite the heady election promises to finally free the country from the shackles of greed, sleaze and deceit. And offensive as he may have sounded to some, he was right. But African governments are not alone in their exploitation of the African people. They are well supported by their ‘partners’ in development.

In the article ‘Africa: How to be an expert’, author Duncan Clarke makes a good point while making light of the foreigners who have made Africa their cause du jour. He lumps these “self-styled Africa experts” into a group that includes “political spin artists, sound-bite junkies, arriviste journos, think-tankers, policy workers, random bankers, distant academics, market honchos, corporate suits and public relations acolytes.” These folk don’t actually work in an African war zone, township, slum or refugee camp, but their continued efforts make it possible for development work to happen, and for development workers to drive around in their top-of-the-range, four-wheelers in the great African suburb.

In the estimation of Duncan Clarke, to be an expert on Africa, one must do the following: “Shed any Afro-pessimism. Use terms like “dynamic”, “emergent”, “middle class” and “last investment frontier”. Go for catchy sound bites like “Africa is rising”, the “African Century” or “Africa’s Moment”. Refer to the great African economists, Bob Geldof, Bono, Madonna, George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, or whoever might next walk the Hollywood red carpet. Always genuflect before Nepad, transparency, good governance, inclusive growth, peer reviews and Mo Ibrahim.”

Clarke serves up a stinging review of Africa’s relationship with ‘the West’, which at points is as derisive of the continent as it is of those who want to ‘save’ her. But amid the ranting and raving, he does come round to what in my estimation, is the crux of the matter – money and corruption. To be an expert on Africa he says, one must “never mention state inefficiencies, infrastructural mayhem, proliferating parastatal behemoths, repetitive government disasters, massive institutional dysfunction, energy outages and failed or failing states which are only exceptions proving your prescient economic rule. (One must) ignore contemporary kleptocrats in Armani suits with entourages of patronage. They reflect ancient regimes.” And finally, to really show their expertise, one must “punt aid shamelessly, even if it is the policy wave of the past: it’s now “social capital”.

Practically speaking however, to be an expert on Africa, one must also drive a SUV. With red plates. In the great African suburb.