Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Lessons in British diplomacy: From Nigeria to Sierra Leone

Lessons in British diplomacy: From Nigeria to Sierra Leone
When I lived in Nigeria it was said there were three classes of expatriates. First class was diplomats. In 12 years the only one I met was the American consul in Kaduna who came to me for Hausa lessons. In the my last two years in Jos, with my colleague Garba Adamu, I taught Hausa to expatriates and a few odd southerners who wanted to be at home in the North.

Second class among expatriates were those in commerce. I met the odd tin miner on the Plateau, but I was expatriate third class, a missionary, and we had little social contact with expatriates outside of our church communities.

Reading Craig Murray’s book, The Catholic Orangemen of Togo and other Conflicts I Have Known, one is transported to the world of expatriate first class, the diplomat. It is a fascinating story from of a British diplomat who worked in Nigeria from 1986 for four years. Then in 1998 he became Deputy Head of Africa Department, (Equatorial) for the British Foreign and Commonwealth office when Robin Cook was Foreign Secretary. His story starts with his part in the Arms to Africa affair, a major incident in the Blair government as they sought to stop civil was in Sierra Leone. He exposed the unethical nature of the British supposed ethical foreign policy. The word of a former Guards officer engaged in private security was preferred to his by a parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee enquiry. The government refused to prosecute a mercenary and a diplomat for breaking an arms embargo though they had all the necessary evidence. The author was transferred to become Deputy British High Commissioner in Ghana.

He contrasts the safety of Accra with Lagos where he says he could not stroll round bars and restaurants at night. He is critical of the records of both countries since independence. In Nigeria ‘The entire government machinery can be simply envisaged as a pump, with the flow or resources only going northwards…. Import licensing has overwhelmingly favoured Northerners,.. the Dangotes and the Dantatas .. . those pulling the levers of power have been Northerners, the effect of this has been the funnelling Northwards of many hundreds of billions of dollars of Nigeria’s looted oil wealth.’ He says French intelligence services bribed Abacha, (who he sees as the worst ever Nigerian head of state, to maintain his banning of British Airways after Nigeria was expelled from the Commonwealth. Shell he says bribed Babangida and police and military commanders suppressing dissent on the Niger Delta. In Ghana Murray was to get into trouble for saying that British firms were involved in corruption. He thinks it extends to the top level of New Labour itself.

Murray’s father had been in business in Ghana and Murray shows a real love for the country. He was instrumental in ensuring that Rawlings agreed to stand down when constitutionally obliged to and that elections were free and fair. He exposed the corruption of Rawling’s regime and his wife’s profiting from fraudulent business deals at the expense of British taxpayer. Negotiating a peace deal for Sierra Leone from a hotel in Togo he describes a meeting with rebel leaders where he realises he was the only person present who had not murdered anyone. He also had encounters with lethal green mambas. By contrast I never came across a live poisonous snake in 12 years in Nigeria.

There is an amusing account of the Queen’s state visit to Ghana and the discomfort of the High Commissioner when he did not receive the customary knighthood. Murray always turned down offered honours. We also get insight into the character of Robin Cook and he does not emerge smelling of roses. Murray is very critical of the Blair and Bush administrations. He was subsequently removed form his post as ambassador to Uzbekistan and left the diplomatic service. He is a maverick but a good writer, full of humour. No other sort of author would choose such a non-commercial and eccentric book title. He does explain it. He comes across as a man of professional integrity and ability, honest about his own failings, especially in marital infidelity. Read and enjoy an expose of the misdeeds of New Labour and of African regimes.

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