Can a 419 Scam Letter Lead to Romance?

I received a 419 email letter a year ago and on the spur of the moment decided to begin a dialogue with the writer, a Miss Naomi Bangura whose father “lost his life in the course of the crisis in Seira loene.” Fortunately for her, he had willed her $14.3 million in a Cote D’Ivoire bank account. Now she just needed my help in getting it out of the country. And of course in return for this help I would make my fortune. This is how the relationship got underway. My replies to her first two (un-edited) letters are in italics; please read from top going down, there will be future posts continuing this weird exchange.

Miss Naomi Bangura
Avenue 22 Rue 4
Treichville ,Abidjan,
Cote d’Ivoire


I love your profile and i have Decided to get in touch
with you,to see if you can help me solve my problem.

My name is naomi bangura. My father had lost his life in
the course of the crisis in Seira loene .My father
willed in cash, the sum of $14.3M USD which he
deposited in a bank here in Cote D’ivoire in suspence Abidjan west Africa, with enabling
conditionalities for the release of the fund which are
as follows:

(1) That I must be 24 years or above.(2) That upon
request for the release of the fund, there must be
evidence of investment intentions especially outside
the west africa, I contact you therefore to confirm if
you can absorb me in partnership in your company or
possibly advise me on any investment opportunity in
your country.

When I reach agreement with you, the bank will release
my fund into an account that you shall nominate and I
will come over to you to commence business partnership
with you with the fund.

I expect your urgent response including your
addresses, your telephone and fax number.

Thanks for expected cooperation.

My regards,

miss naomi bangura.

dear naomi,
I am so sorry for your los. I have heard of Sierra leone on tv and know that it is having lots of problems. You appear to be ver young and I hope you can be helped. have you tried save the children? I give them money every year. my business is in tiling residential houses here in croydon in london so i do not know if that is the kind of business tjat the bank would accept. but if it is, write me an email and maybe you can do some business with us. I look forward to hearing from you and may the lord bless you.

Miss Naomi Bangura
Avenue 22 Rue 4
Treichville ,Abidjan,
Cote d’Ivoire

Dearest,MMKiam happy to read from you today and i know,
that God will use you to bless me. Firstly, i want to assure you of the safety of this transaction and i will invest it in your business venture as soon you claim this fund from the local bank in abidjan. i will also give you the deposit certificate my late father use to deposit the fund with the bank for proof. I will like you to enter into an agreement with me so that the business will be legal. I will go to the bank later today to ask the president of the bank if they will accept you you.I know that they will accept you, i will like you to send me your telephone number and fax number for me to submit to the bank to enable the bank to contact you for further directives regarding this fund that is still in their fix suspense account.

I am tired of staying in this country because of the political problems and the safety of my life. i want to meet you soonest so that i continue my education. God bless you and the family.

Mr MMK, I want you to re-assure me that you will not betray me immediately you confirm this fund to your account, i want to make it known that this fund is my last hope and i will not live to loose it.Awaiting your prompt response.

Yours Naomi Bangura





Dear Naomi,
i am sorry that I hgave been out of touch for the last week, one of our employees died in a tragic accident faling of the roof of a building when fixing a leak. anyway, i am glad that the bank has accepted my offer of us doing busines together. but our lawyers need to be in contact with the bank directly so could you please send us the details and we can take it from there. also could you send a picture of yourself to me?
Take care.

This continues the curious correspondence that I had with a one Naomi Bangura who ‘loved my profile’ and decided to ask for my help securing a fortune her father left her in Ivory Coast. Since the letter found me while I was conducting research in Kigali’s jails last year, I was bored enough to seek entertainment wherever I could find it. So I adopted the persona of a working class Englishman who owns a roofing company in the London suburb of Croydon and has recently had an employee killed on the job. My replies are in italics and the first few exchanges can be found in an earlier posting on April 28th.

Dear Mr MMK,

I thank you for your letter,as I regret of the death
of your fellow employees. I pray for his soul to rest
in perfect peace.

I think I welcome your idea of involving your
lawyers,at least it will help to speed up this,so that
this money will be transferred without any delay.

Please here is the contact of the bank.

Bank of Africa,Abidjan

The contact person is Dr Kevin Idris,the director of
remittance department.

Please, I will appreciate if you contact the bank
immediately,and request them to transfer this money,so
that I will leave here as soon as possible,to live a
better life and continue my education.

I have attached the certificate of deposit and my
picture for you,and will be glad to see yours.

Thanks you and God bless you.

Naomi Bangura.

Dear MMK,
Beloved Mr MMK am very glad to have a person
like you on my way and i am sure is not a mistake
because before i got your contact i prayed and fasted
for 3 good days and this is divinely made by the power
of Jesus christ.
And i will not stop praying for you and all the
members of your family in Jesus name.
Please,sir i will you to contact me as soon as
you contact the bank.
Have you received my picture and bank document?
God bless you is my prayer.
yours naomi.

Sir,how are you today?am afraid because i have
not been hearing from you for a long time,after
sending my picture and bank document and contacts i
want to ask you wheather you have received them or
not;Have you contacted the bank?
Frankly,speaking i am worried for not hearing from
you,remember you promised to help me,this money is all
my hope and life you know there is political problem
here in ivory coast for confirmation check this
(WWW.ABIDJAN.NET).Being a young girl of my age i need
your help and direction and if you cannot help me is
better you let me know now so that i can look for
another person that can help me.
I know that you might be busy of one thing or the
other but you have to remember that am a young girl
and human being and i see you as my father.
My greetings to your family and may GOD bless you
all amen.
Am waiting for your message.

Dear naomi,
I am sorry have been out of contacy. sory about you feeling so sad. as i told you one of my workerts got hurt ansd that is what we have beenn focusing on. really want to help you but am wondering about the money. just when you wrote me and even kindly sent me your picture (you are a very younf and atractive girl) someone wrote me a letter who is also in the same probliems like you. is this common problem? he was writing from liberia and had a lot of monery in the bank. almost fifty million which he offered to share if i helped him. i am tempted to also do busines wityh him, what do you thinlk? it would be good money for me and it would also help youbng people in trouble. tell me your thoughts.
thank you and cheers.


Mass of Appetites: A Nairobi Bar Horror Story

I was wondering what to post and then thought of Buffet Park in Nairobi, which is a collection of bars and nyama choma joints in posh Hurlingham. I spent a number of entertaining evenings there this past December and was struck by a sense of being in a space built to accommodate appetites: intense longings and ambitions for position and power. You could tell from the way everyone’s eyes constantly scanned the room rating, dismissing, pleading and dissecting all. Whatever you had done during the day established your position in Buffet Park at night, and perhaps the reverse is true as well. Daytime victories in business, government or politics were reflected in nighttime winnings of sex, food and attention. Two sides of a coin. So I started thinking of a man who has been at this for a while, whose spirit is corrupt during the daytime and how he would behave at night. I called the guy Mass of Appetites and wrote this very short horror story about him. Enjoy the experiment, if you can.

The Mass of Appetites is always on the make, out on the town most nights of the week, like a shark that cannot stop swimming and hunting for a single moment lest it drown. His German automobile turns into the bar parking lot slowly, ponderously, with the drivers behind him hooting their exasperation. Appetites drives carefully and his car is always very clean. It has one of those pine tree air fresheners dangling from the back mirror alongside a small smiling green troll doll bought on a trip to Dubai last year. The inside of the car is immaculately cleaned and the outside polished to a dull sheen. He looks for the parking space that will afford the most people a look at his car and is willing to wait interminably for one to free up. He crouches in his seat, taking in the sights, with his soft paw-like hands holding onto the velvet-bound steering wheel. When the watchman informs him there are open parking spaces further down, he chooses his response carefully from his two-item menu: threaten or cajole.

He takes in the other cars in the lot, which are mostly Toyota Corollas bought from Dubai – the unmistakable mark of the striving classes. In the old days the ladder’s steps were: servant quarter in Golf Course, house in Buru Buru, a plot in Githurai, house in Plains View and the final move to Kileleshwa. Now it is about modes of transport: mathrees for a few years, the Shuttle, a used Nissan Sunny, new Corolla, used BMW then finally the Mercedes Kompressor. They will never rebel he thinks with an amusement laced with contempt, they will only keep switching their modes of trajectory to account for every national failure. Finally parked, he heaves his distended belly out of the car by first putting both feet on the ground then with a heavy grunt rising. He maintains surreptitious glances at the car, nervous that it will be stolen and also curious what everyone thinks of it.

Appetites ambles into the bar, beady eyes darting in all directions as he seeks friends and targets. His eyes take in the girls barely out of school, judging the firmness of thigh, the weight of buttock and most importantly the state of finance. He can guess within a few hundred shillings how much everyone has in their purse or wallet. Pocketing, he fingers a wad of notes with one finger and then subtly rubs it against his penis which is already semi-engorged with possibility. As he walks toward fellow appetites with whom he’s done ‘Tender business’ in the past and who he calls his friends but secretly loathes, he notices a girl, dressed in a tight black dress that hugs a curvaceous body, who is eyeing him with what she imagines is a knowing eye. A frission of excitement runs down his sweaty back. She is the best kind – the ones who imagine that they KNOW, who want to eat into his wad, to use him. He chuckles inwardly knowing that he is unusable and cannot be lied to because he has achieved the exalted state of decadence which is the truest form of freedom. It does not matter that she has coupled hundreds of times or has a boy she loves and comes to this bar only for the money, he can smell the remaining strands of innocence woven into her firm youthful flesh. He likes to be the final nail in the coffin. She will not know that when he heaves his hairy thighs off the bed with his fang dripping semen, he will have pulled the last bits of innocence out of her and transformed her into the undead.

He calls for a triple shot of Johnny Walker Black and three kilos of roast meat – fuel for the hunt – while loudly ordering a round of drinks for the table. Miming conversation with his fellow Appetites, who do not mind since they too are busy, he sweeps his eyes across the room taking in the men this time. He wonders whether they present any competition for his mission. He casts around seeking those that appear to be in love, wanting to watch them for little lapses that betray the futility of their attempt to find happiness. Spotting one such couple seated with the girl in black he notes the boy’s eyes occasionally glazing over as they covertly take in the sight of strangers’ thighs and arses. Soon the girl will be ready for Appetites when she finds out that her beloved, but slightly disappointing boyfriend is pawing her sister or sleeping with her best friend. He has seen betrayal a thousand times, but gets a delicious charge each time.

The girl in black gets up to go to the bathroom and Appetites, now in full Nosferatu mode, eyes her proud back which tapers to a point before her hips and buttocks explode outward and then settle onto thick hard thighs and thin calves. She walks slowly, uncomfortable in heels that are a bit too high for her, tottering and parting her way through the crowd with a subtle caress here and a hip nudge there. She will do, oh yes, there will be a feeding tonight. But first he must seek that dark, strong thing deep inside him that attracts his prey as surely a flame draws a fly to its destruction. He has never put a name to it, but knows that it emerges in the presence of Black Label, a wad of money, noise, low lights and innocence.

The meat arrives and he reluctantly invites the other Appetites to partake. They fall to it with unembarrassed relish. Tearing, guffawing mirthlessly, wiping grease off bulging, sagging cheeks and holding forth on “prots in Dadora”. Appetite matches them bite for bite, caressing his pot belly to summon the confidence monster who must emerge soon if the girl is not to fall to one of his companions. Here she comes.

She is heading for her table but her eyes are fixed on the table of Appetites, aware that they are rich and on a hunt. She thinks herself their equal in worldliness, confident that her beauty, which she has used to toy with many men, will see her through an encounter with any of them. Appetite watches her amused glance and snickers inwardly knowing that like everyone uprooted and thrown into the thousand universes that are Nairobi she belongs to many and yet to none – she longs for anchor and is seeking it without recognizing her desperate need. She has one of those new fangled Rasta hairstyles made of artificial hair. This strange combination at first puzzled Appetite who had only ever seen locks in pictures of Bob Marley and Dedan Kimathi. He has since come to realize that they have nothing to do with political struggle. They are a flag for a painful process of self-remanufacturing, a response to any one of a thousand traumas faced by the child of a middle or upper-middle class family that has tumbled to genteel poverty. Such girls always tell teary tales of the mistakes Daddy and Mummy made as the to-be-Rasta attended some fancy private school and then went abroad to find Me, he feels a surge of hatred. They make for the easiest prey. He knows how to lay a trap that allows them to feel the greatest degree of freedom even as the noose tightens – it is how they prefer to be ambushed. His first move must confirm her opinion of him and then there will be nowhere to go but up, all the while borne by her pleasant surprise.

‘You are a ngao and you need to imbibe liquids’
‘Yes, I need absorption because I am fleeing from the center – centrifugal as they say’
‘I do not know you, but I think that you are more centripetal – that you are seeking the center’
‘I guess so but what do you intend to achieve by these means of disturbance, surely not twinning?’
Ah, she has moved too fast, resisting even before he attacks. Vulnerability. Appetite is listening beneath her words, seeking food for the dark thing. And it is stirring, detecting that as confident as she sounds and looks there is a wistful undertone that betrays a need of something soon to be determined.
‘In the beginning was nursery and the sound of gasps and grunts when your Mummy left the house, then came primary school when you heard the impact of hand-cheek collisions. You need to know you were the critical element in the causation, it was your fault,’ he breathes as he opens his legs slightly wider so that she is standing between them.
‘What is your name and why are you here seeking to still your misery?’ Her question betrays her ignorance; does she not know she is conversing with desire?
‘I am Appetites son of Starvation.’
‘And I am Needs daughter of Fallen Success.’
‘You seek a port and slavery’
‘Perhaps I do, though I dare say that I believe it to be open sea and freedom’ she retorts with spirit. He feels a surge in his loins as the dark thing arrives in its full magnificence, it has not been this excited in months!

He loudly orders a round of drinks. And then slowly, as a hunter will part the reeds before delivering buckshot, he brushes a sweaty hand against her hip awaiting her reaction. She eyes him, eyes full of questions and suddenly turns to walk away leaving appetites staring at her receding back, the excitement in him battling with hatred. His companions are in full stride talking of plots and deals, and fat man versus fat man politics. They feed on so little he thinks; money to them is the thing. They want prestige and to be feared. How petty when there are souls to be taken and broken, do they not know how much energy there is in a human body that is expended at the moment of death? Appetite has learnt over millennia that there are many deaths and that he can draw succor from all of them. He ambles towards her, using his belly to push his way through the crowd.

‘I’ve been looking for you, Needs, do you know why?’
‘Yes, you seek flesh and what lies underneath it. You want to love me, and you resent me for that.’
‘I know exactly what you mean, you are perhaps wise.’
Appetites likes the way it is going.

(c) MMK 2005

The Matrix Redux: The African Version Scene III

Tree-Hugger Smith: As you can see, we’ve had our eye on you for some time now. It seems that you’ve been living two lives. In one life, you’re (Peter) Kamau wa Njogu, program officer in a respectable human rights NGO that is considering getting into the Maasai land thing. You fly to conferences monthly and write frequent proposals to the Swedes. The other life is lived in sullen resentment, where you go by the alias “Range Rover Driving Rasta Revolutionary”, or Boi.

Boi: How dare you, who are you to talk to me this way? I care, I really do…

Tree-Hugger Smith: Be patient, listen. You are exhausted with the futility of it all; the savages just won’t listen. They are so power hungry and corrupt and act in such bad faith, and they are so tribalistic. You have decided that there will be no global revolution, so you instead make grand personal gestures: a kind word to the security guard, and extra dollar or two to the gardener, “keep the change” to the waiter, and yoga on Saturdays. Does anyone understand how draining it is to make a $70,000 per year while partying in Porto Allegre and reading all that postcolonial theory to spout (impressively) at parties? Both of these lives have a bright future, Boi, they sustain my work here.

Boi: You can’t scare me with this Du Bois double consciousness stuff, by implying you know me or even worse by suggesting in your snide way that I am that part of Fanon’s post-independence bourgeoisie, which “…is not engaged in production, nor in invention, nor building, nor labor.” I know what’s up; I know that I am a part of a global progressive movement. Besides, who are you to question me when we are supposed to be in this fight together?

Spoon boy: Do not try and justify aid. That is impossible. Instead only try to realize the truth.

Boi: What truth?

Spoon boy: There is no aid.

Boi: There is no aid?

Spoon boy: Then you’ll see that it is not the aid that’s bad, it is only yourself.

Tree-Hugger Smith: Did you know that the aid conferences held every week in a different city are meant to design a perfectly sustainable way to reduce African suffering to acceptable levels? Where none suffers to the point of extinction? Why don’t Africans get in line with NEPAD, agree to our dream for them? Frankly, it has been a disaster. They do not accept the programs in their entirety. Decades of development have been lost. Perhaps we lack the programming language to describe the world we are building for you: sustainable indigence. But I must admit that as Europeans, and here I include my African schoolmates at Harvard who are colleagues, we define our reality through African suffering.

Cypher: Jesus. What a mind-job. It just sounds to me like you need to unplug, man.

Mzee: Boi, you should be listening to Smith. I’ve seen a white aid worker burst into tears at the sight of a dead elephant and a winner of the Nobel Prize literally hug a tree… I’ve seen plenty that would boggle your African mind if it were free. People working for the aid industry have imbibed entire libraries and yet refuse to recognise the prison they guard. Men have expended entire intellectual and moral clips at them and hit nothing but hot air, yet their greed and blindness is still based on a world that is built on rules. Because of that, they will never solve your problems or own your victory.

Boi: For real Mzee, you’re starting to scare me.

Mzee: What is real. How do you define real? Are your little activist campaigns drawn from the African’s political body or are they impositions that even when positive ultimately rob him of his ability to shape his universe? Are you spouting global revolution only to rob the African of his revolutions? There is the world that you know and then there is the one that will one day exist. You will not birth the real, Boi, the world of tomorrow; you are merely a shadow, unreality, and a farce. Africa is to be delivered to her independence by that crude, tribalist, ignorant, poor, hustling, reactionary person who exists within a multitude of political communities that will burst into a thousand instances of violence and cooperation as they seek primacy and purchase. You will be swept away by this process because the anchor of aid that makes you so powerful today will make you irrelevant tomorrow.

Boi: AI? You mean my role in aid is artificial and doomed to failure?

Mzee: You are part of a consciousness that spawned an entire race of African servants: western liberalism of the right and left kind. We don’t know which of the two are winning. But we know that they are born of the same parent, that they would have Africans at the receiving end of their wisdom and would have us build our world in their image. At present, the left types, like Smith, are far more dependent on our misery and it is believed that they would be unable to survive the pouting and posturing that Africa’s allows them to adopt as they pretend to continue the revolutionary traditions of socialism. Since the world wars, when their brethren chose nationalism over revolution, they have been content to yoke us with their lifeless dreams – provided they are in charge.

Boi: No. No, Mzee. Don’t.

Mzee: There are conferences, Boi, endless conferences where Africans no longer think. For a long time I wouldn’t believe it, but then I attended a few aid meetings, engaged in cocktail chatter and considered how you came to this juncture. I listened as dead political categories were brought to life, heard the excitement caused by a post-modern political philosophy that chooses to obfuscate where clarity of thought and expression is required to inspire political action. I realised that they had lost their faith but none of their childish self-indulgence. Smith is part of a Western generation that is determined to thumb its nose at its parental authority (corporations and old white men: The Man) and uses our misery as its proxy and paycheck. Boi, I must tell you the truth: your attraction to ‘power to the people’ rhetoric, love of Bob Marley, Sartre and your vacations in Senegal are part of a new phenomenon: African flower power.

Scene IV coming up soon, watch this space…

Rock-star economics are not helping poor Africans

Franklin Cudjoe, a friend of mine from Ghana who I met in London last year, recently wrote an op-ed for the Daily Telegraph whose sentiments and analysis matched mine so closely that I begged him for a copy to put on this blog. The absurdity, nay madness, of rock stars holding forth on Africa’s crises has driven me to distraction. Not only are the solutions they advocate – increased centralisation of governance and begging – completely futile, but the fact that I am supposed to get teary eyed with gratitude sickens me. Poor Africa, isn’t it enough that you must endure war and poverty without being subjected to mediocre, over-the-hill rockers come to save you?

I think Franklin says it effectively enough though. Read on.

Personal view: Rock-star economics are not helping poor Africans
By Franklin Cudjoe (Filed: 18/04/2005)

Have you purchased your obligatory white band? Did Sir Bob Geldof send you an e-mail recently, reminding you to ogle his celebrity colleagues “clicking” away on television? Did you join the all-night vigil at Westminster Abbey to shiver in the cold and “wake up the government” about the need to “make poverty history”?

This year, the UK’s “development” charities have joined hands for a high profile campaign which claims that politicians have an unprecedented opportunity to eliminate poverty in the run-up to the G-8 meeting in July.

Rock stars and charities can be powerful advocates for good causes, and they generally have good intentions – but in many cases their lyrics do not genuinely rhyme with the silent hum of the very poor they seek to protect. Their economics are just plain wrong. They ignore history, peddling the misguided belief that poverty, famine and corruption can be solved with foreign aid, debt relief and other policies that have already failed Africa.

One pillar of their current campaign is to eliminate farm subsidies in western countries, a noble goal which indeed would help to achieve a level playing field for agricultural producers around the world. Yet this view is rife with hypocrisy: the same organisations promote subsidies (what they call “fair trade”) for farmers and businesses in poor countries to shield them from the effects of competition.

Coldplay frontman Chris Martin has said that Ghana’s rice, tomato and poultry farmers need to be protected from cheap imports. Yet the problems of Ghana’s farmers lie elsewhere: they and other entrepreneurs are stifled by punitive tax regimes and the high cost of capital, not to mention our disarrayed land tenure systems which lead to low crop production.

Neither Mr Martin nor fellow celebrities have mentioned these problems: they claim that the world’s trade regime is “rigged” in the name of “free trade”, harming poor countries like Ghana and benefiting interest groups in wealthy countries. The only solution, they say, is to protect local economic interests.

If we did ban rice and tomato imports, just how would we feed ourselves? Ghanaians depend on rice as a major staple in our diets, yet local production caters for only 30pc of the rice we consume.

Subsidies to local producers also mean fewer choices for consumers. The average Ghanaian has suffered because of shoddy goods made locally by protected industries that do not face any competition. Who can blame consumers for buying higher quality and less-expensive foreign goods?

Indeed, some savvy Ghanaian businessmen have helped both local farmers and consumers, for instance by providing locally produced rice in packages that ensure the rice isn’t stale when it reaches the consumer. Similarly, other Ghanaian entrepreneurs now collaborate with their Italian counterparts to produce tomato paste brands with Akan names, Ghana’s widely spoken language.

Protection for local producers also means that African countries trade very little with each other, as illustrated by the World Trade Organisation’s 2001 statistics. Africa’s share of intra- and inter-regional trade flows to western Europe alone was 51.8pc, while it was a paltry 7.8pc within Africa.

Development charities loathe international agencies such as the IMF and World Bank – many people would agree though that dealing with these agencies is like playing with loaded dice. They have empowered our politicians to engage in shady liberalisation deals, where international contracts are rigged to favour their cohorts with fat kickbacks.

Such agencies have often advocated ill-conceived policies in the name of market liberalisation – while they simultaneously push foreign aid and flawed development strategies onto us. Even the average Ghanaian knows that these “reform” programmes have achieved nothing other than to enable our bureaucrats to procure gold-plated Mercedes for themselves and their cronies.

But the real problem is not the IMF, World Bank or “rigged” trade rules. The problem lies with us as Africans and especially our leaders, to improve our own wellbeing, and to encourage economic growth through political and institutional reforms.

The solution to all that ails us is not aid, debt relief or “fair trade”. It is to adopt institutions to harness the entrepreneurial spirit that exists in every African country, to enable Africans to trade with each other and anyone else in the world.

Establishing property rights would be an important first step; an effective, transparent and accountable legal system is another. Combined with respect for private property and the rule of law, these broad reforms would encourage entrepreneurship, trade, innovation and even environmental protection because they empower people – rather than the politicians.

As our economies grow and develop, people will be able to afford better technologies, clean water, superior energy sources, better healthcare, and insurance. But one is unlikely to hear such ideas from rock stars and development charities.

While these high-profile campaigns continue to blame western countries for our poverty, they simply give our own politicians more excuses to delay badly needed institutional reforms. Poor Africans would be far better off without rock-star economics.

• Franklin Cudjoe is director of Imani. He will speak at the Global Development Summit in London on June 28

Ryszard Kapuscinski: Bullets&honey says it is a storm in a teacup

Dear All,

I could keep silent no longer. This storm over Kapuscinski is occurring in a tea cup, and it is only right that it should be so for the man and his writing occupy no greater a space despite his book being folded into every Peace Corps do-gooder’s back-pack. The reason I say this is that Kapuscinski is only one of a vast Western army mining Africa for its misery like others do its oil and precious stones. He is therefore in the final reckoning a symptom, but one with a turn of phrase, a nerdy hey-look-at-me-courage and an audience of hungry journalists, aid workers and liberals hanging on his every morsel of misrepresentation to make their baby vulture selves feel just a little better.

Kapuscinski actually strikes me as more pathetic than dangerous for the dangers that many Africans face are of far greater magnitude than this man’s seat in an a little panel being held in New York City. I have often attended such panels for the visceral thrill of feeling wonderfully alive while observing unintentionally absurdist dramas. I am willing to bet many shillings that the panel droned, ponderously and self importantly on the IMPORTANCE OF THE WRITER and his place in making sense of evil and violence or laughter and resistance or poverty and music or HIV and film or the Girl-Child and Fela Kuti. It does not matter what they discussed because Kapuscinski and Soyinka or Rushdie, all of them, were performing: entertaining an audience that had paid good money and drank pre-wisdom wine and dressed in black – this after all is Manhattan. They held their chins, chewed on their spectacle stems, drunk some Evian water and generally held forth as they had on a thousand other panels to the very same spectators. Even the gasps of delight and outrage were scripted for everyone on the stage had been carefully selected for this purpose.

Meanwhile in Ituri, a brother was sharpening his machete, hitching up his trousers, cocking his much-used AK-47, getting ready for a bit of sport. This dude has nothing to do with Kapuscinski, and may even one day boil him when he fails to take the last flight out. That for sure would cement his reputation: he was soooo intimate with Africans, knew them inside and out actually, and now even resides inside the belly of one…

It has often struck me sadly that part of the reason that Kapuscinski survives his trips into war zones is that he is white. Were I to postpone my return ticket to ‘civilization’ in a bid to write a last-one-out-of-hell story alongside him, I would almost be guaranteed some steel and pain. Why this is so is puzzling to me, and feels like risky ground to explore. It is only one of the many issues that I think that our thought and energy can be devoted to productively. Kapuscinski, and his place or non-place in panels, is of little consequence. He is on them precisely because what he thinks of Africa dovetails quite well with its place as the hell that assures the west that it is heaven. Of course this does not mean he should not be challenged but one needs an awfully large amount of energy and time to do it with any consistence.

My suggestion: throw this stuff out there so that a few of his eager beaver fans can turn on him and with the time that liberals of all stripes seem to have now that they are consigned to the margins, they will hound him all over the world. I can see the pimply faces peeking above fair-trade T-shirts; accompanied perhaps even by a few earnest dreads huddled on the steps of a PEN event with little signs saying NO LIES KAPUSCINSKI. Perhaps even a radical or two taking up the call of No Justice, No Peace or some such slogan. The result of course would be that Kapuscinski’s speaking engagements would double as would his audience, this time drawn by the delicious prospect of controversy.

We live in a world that promises solutions for every ill. But there are few for Kapuscinski and his nonsense. You can neither speak truth to him or his audience for they are engaged in an act of eating and savoring his racism, without which the fruits of their wealth would be much diminished. Miserable Africa is needed desperately and Kapuscinski is actually an aid worker providing goodness and relief to the parched western soul. I am determined to offer no solutions for there can be no African response to Kapuscinski: the very concept of talking to him as an African I find to be a waste of time. It is a tug and pull over a place and a concept that makes little difference to individual life, notwithstanding the so-called Africa policies and initiatives which are nothing but grand delusions and Trojan horses for western aid liberalism and its little African servants. I want to deal with that brother with the AK, what does he want I would like to know and why does white skin, in my impression, seem to shield you from his machete? Ah, so many questions, such a short time, so much urgency, but not for Kapuscinski.



Ryszard Kapuscinski: The Debate Starts to Sound Academic

I have been fascinated and excited by the debate that Binyavanga Wainaina started with his letter protesting Ryszard Kapuscinski’s depiction of Africa and Africans throughout his career. His foil is Remi Raji of the Nigeria PEN Center who writes with erudition and intelligence, arguing that Ryzard’s participation in a PEN event in NYC should not be “muzzled”. The rest of the debate or discussion if you are a diplomatic type can be found on the sidebar and on this post – always reading from the bottom upward… Read on and let me know what you think.

Hi Binyavanga,

Let me take off from your other “confession” and say that it is necessary to look here, beyond the immediacy of the present affliction, that is the subject of our mutual but different concern, the cause of this unplanned dialogue: Kap? It is important to look beyond the Kap phenomenon and perhaps look inward and ask, where are “we” in the share of ideas of power, or rather, in the power of ideas. Here we tug at a very serious issue of the collective, that is the “African condition” (I am not sure if this is the forum to deliver so many pregnant worries, pains and aspirations); and I can only add that the current rule of such species as the likes of Kap, in the media/culture wars, and many others before him, is the unfortunate result of incapacitations, inflicted and self-inflicted, strewn all over the continent.

Saturday in New York has passed but many other Saturdays in America, Europe, and Australasia will come… We will continue to witness such viral claims of journalese pretending as great literature, at the expense of a race, the othered members of humanity whose nights are still inscrutable and mysterious to behold? We will continue to witness these and other ignominies because our own system of challenge is not coordinated, because the apparatuses of state are wont to turn the other eye, and because the continental intelligentsia has been isolated and denied any significant play in the course of the re-definition and redemption of the State; our skepticism will multiply but will not count if we fail to speak at the right fora and opportunities. What for instance is the African Union without its programmatic punch? And what is a Diaspora divided against itself? The inflation of such blighted imagination as Kap’s did not start in a day, and will not end, suddenly. It goes a long way. But if you don’t believe in “the free-flow of ideas”, how can we make sense to one another? I hope that this journey is not taken in vain. Sincerely,


Hi Remi,

I must say I am enjoying this conversation. Thank you for your insights, and willingness to take this journey with me… Another confession: the secret gagger in me wants him tied and bound, but I know this to be futile and unhelpful. Why does the instinct to gag rear its head?

Because any African knows the particular flavour and danger of his kind of language. It is responsible for many deaths. It is the language that seeks to justify your incapacity, to distance your humanity from his centre. Now, much of what he says, Remi, and this is where the threat of Kap is at its most dangerous: that even though a twelve year old African would laugh at some of his propositions, the very nature of his language is compelling to the exact person he wants as a readership: the liberal European, American who has never been to Africa, and who has deep inside him, built by the ideas of Conrad and Blixen and CNN and countless made for television Dramas, an idea that Yes the African is indeed a strange being, maybe even a child who needs a firm (but loving) hand.

Ryszard Kapuscinski is the intellectual leader of this community, who, sadly (and if his writings were only about affecting the minds of Europeans, I do not care) have a huge effect on our lives. Now. A large part of the history of Africa has been decided by a well-armed and powerful Europe, with a well-armed and compelling ‘way’ of seeing us that justified their actions. Talk to any Reuters or AP journalists based in Africa: Ryszard Kapuscinski is their guru. They put out news that dominates the coverage of the continent to the rest of the world….and their primary source to ‘understand our minds’ is Ryszard Kapuscinski.

So back to PEN. By asking why they invited him, I was not suggesting they gag him – his books are widely available in mainstream bookshops all over Europe and America. Penguin love him, and publish him. But, there are many great writers. What I ask is, Why Kapuscinski?

Is PEN America’s open-mindedness so open that they would invite a known and racist and bender of well-documented fact to their most important event? Where the ‘select’ are called?

How are we to read this? Am sorry. I find it hard to believe that the effect of PEN’s action will be an ‘exposure’ of his falsehoods. What they have done is to ‘validate’ his point of view: to say that there is Meaning and Good in his body of work…and any criticism that comes from such an event will simply show that there is another side to a writer who has already been certified as a “great truth teller’ by PEN themselves…

Whatever happens in New York, he will add to his CV, and get better and bigger book-deals, and have more ‘authority’ than he had before… I wish I believed in the inherent free-flow of ideas that would suggest that, as (you say) the Yoruba say: “A lie may journey for twenty years, soon Truth will break its spell, in one day”.

In these days of spin and the power of one broadcast to reach a whole world, the truth is that it is those closest to the nerve centre of ‘the broadcast’ who will impose their truths on the rest of the world. This is how KAP got to his lofty perch. This is the method that will keep him there. Salman Rushdie, a man I thought had quite a good nose for bullshit says this about KAP:
“Kapuscinski’s writing, always wonderfully concrete and observant, conjures marvels of meaning out of minutiae.”

(Binyavanga Wainaina)

Hi Binyavanga,

I believe we are reaching an interesting point about the phenomenon I choose to abbreviate as Kap. And for that I will be brief. No, I have not suggested that we should not “protest” what others (including ourselves) write about “us”: on the contrary I am saying that when we do so, we should understand the difference between monologues and dialogues. I personally care less about what Granta and Mr. Harding have to say about their own “product”; and of course, I do not speak for PEN America but I do know that Pen’s charter does not approve of any intent to “gag” the other. Rather, it is in a forum as the one you’re attending that the truth can square up to lies and distortions. As the Yoruba say, “A lie may journey for twenty years, soon Truth will break its spell, in one day”. The simple fact that a Wole Soyinka would “share” the same arena with Mr. Kap will tell you that the symbolic day is nigh…

So there, I read, I write, and I teach writing. And I will be delighted to read your novel about this new experience!

Remi (Raji)

Hi Remi,

Thank you for your response.

I write for a living. The question of representing the world I come from is, of course, uppermost in my mind. All I am saying is that I find it difficult to understand why Ryszard Kapuscinski should be speaking at Pen’s gathering this week. The truth is that Kapuscinski occupies a central role in the minds of many (including the PEN American centre). In their minds he is “one of the world leading writers”

It is this that has got him the invitation to New York, to share a strange with people like Wole Soyinka, and Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie.

Of course we will continue to write. But are you suggesting avoiding protesting what others write about us, simply because our writing will ‘replace’ them? That is not true. Conrad is as influential now as he was then … and Ryder Haggard is still in print…is still available in AFRICAN libraries…

The very act of inviting him validates what he stands for and has written to readerships and literary communities who seem not to know better. Jeremy Harding is familiar with Africa, having lived there and he thinks Ryszard Kapuscinski is the ‘Greatest Intelligence to Bear Upon Africa Since Conrad.’

So here I am. In his writing the man insults me, the continent I live in; manufactures facts, and makes sweeping racists statements about the nature of ‘my mind’ – turning the African Mind into some sort of below-the-line not quite human (for a human to be of self-criticism makes him not human I think). He can publish this boldly, without editors cringing (in Granta!)

It is important for us to speak to falsehood and to speak loudly. I do not see the logic behind an argument that says that one’s only response should come from one’s writing.

This is all taking place in 2005, in a conference organised by a ‘culturally’ sensitive, progressive organisation supported by many open-minded and intelligent writers from around the world….

So I am maybe trying to understand PEN America’s reason for inviting him: that maybe everybody’s voice should be represented? Even the unreconstructed racists? His short and snappy sentences?

Or the larger truths he has brought out that make his Victorian attitude towards race somehow palatable?

Is there not, somewhere, a line drawn?

I am asking is it possible that now, a hundred years after Conrad, after years of Achebe and Soyinka, somebody can get away with saying:

“The European mind is willing to acknowledge its limitations, accept its limitations. It is a skeptical mind. The spirit of criticism does not exist in other cultures. They are proud, believing that what they have is perfect…”

Is this how PEN promotes ‘understanding between cultures?”

How very progressive!

I must write a novel about it!
(Binyavanga Wainaina)

(From Remi Raji)
“…Having ‘sympathy’ for Mr. Kapuscinski suggests that he has ‘lost’ something – is the ‘victim’ of something- whereas the truth is the victims are those he chooses to distort with his pen…”

Thank you for the response. This is exactly my point, if I must say it in another way. Mr. Kap has indeed “lost” something that all explorative writers should cherish: the ability to see a part of his own world in the prism of the world he tries to portray, and he’s in fact the victim of his own loss or inadequacy. And this is why many would not agree that the writer here is an expert on African issues.

Those he chooses to distort with his pen are not without their own writers and chroniclers, and therefore the point is for us to have the chance of contending with several perspectives (of facts and lies, naming and mis-naming, of fiction written as truths…) on the same subject. The same continent that fired the “truthful” imagination of Rider Haggard, Joyce Cary and Joseph Conrad is the same one which propelled the “fictional” world of Achebe, and of Ngugi, la Guma, Armah, Ba and the rest.

It is good to see through the media game and the wars are so contentious, but then, you can’t stop the subjectivities of some kind of writer by merely saying it; as a writer, you have to out-write him, the same way a generation of African writers has done with considerable success. Yes, I am not too skeptical about this bit, because I know for every one racist there are eleven anti-racists to give one hope, for now and for the future.

Remi Raji

The Matrix Redux: The African Version Scene II

Scene II

The continuation of Scene I of the Matrix; The African Version. The first scene can be found in the March archives. Enjoy and could someone please teach me how to link stuff!!

Mzee: The aid industry is everywhere. It is all around us. You can hear it every time words like sustainable, indigenous, governance, NEPAD, Humanity and wellness are used, or phrases such as fair trade, me-time, evils of globalisation and capacity enhancement. You can see it on every 4×4 with a logo on its door, in the raw tuna salad and the cocktail of diet coke with a dash of St. Petersburg vodka ordered by the healthiest looking person in the most expensive bar you know. Missing that, you can see it when you turn on your television: it is a declaration issued at a giant conference in Porto Allegre, Monterrey or Beijing; there, you are told, a consensus on your future has been reached. You can feel it when you go to work…just before you are downsized, when you listen to politicians now perfectly arrayed into government, opposition and civil society. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.

Boi: What truth?

Mzee: That you are a slave, Boi. Like every African you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.

Boi: Okey dokey… free my mind. Right, no problem, free my mind, free my mind, no problem, right…

Mzee: This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You follow the baby-boomer flower leftists in their attempt to foist their failed revolutions on you: the story ends, you develop some African capacity, give micro-credit loans to gutsy women you admire, rage at Starbucks, and believe whatever Tree-Hugger Smith wants you to believe. Open your eyes and you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

What is aid? Control. Aid is a liberal generated dream world built on the vision of an individuality that is universalised in the image of Smith. It is an attempt to extend a legal and moral code that is everywhere similar. It is contemptuous of the political life of the African, believing as it does that he does not possess one. In the final analysis, it is the vulture that uses African misery as an orientation of its identity: they must be seen and see themselves to be good. Distress is the balm on the wound of a liberal nihilism that everyday rots further as Smith battles to reach for goodness at no cost to his privilege. It seeks control in order to change an African into this.
[Holds up a Mojito cocktail and a picture of a laughing child in a refugee camp]

Boi: No way. No way. This is crazy. But I know Fanon by heart and I am down with the people.

Mzee: I didn’t say it would be easy, Boi. I just said it would be the truth.

Boi: But…listen, I have to think about it all. You’re heavy man. Besides, I have to rush; I am meeting Tree-Hugger Smith in a few minutes so I’ll ask him what the deal is.

Scene III coming up soon, watch this space…