Time for the Old Man to Go

During the protracted teetering that preceded the fall of Slobodan Milosevic, I came back from Belgrade with this sad souvenir, a five hundred billion Dinar note:

Whoever is driving the train in a state like that is due for a bloody wreck, and Milosevic eventually derailed. But the most catastrophic conductor’s train was just leaving the station.

A few years after Milosevic’s 500,000,000,000 Dinar debacle, Robert Mugabe presided over inflation that, according to a clinical, academic analysis, caused prices to double every 24.7 hours. But there was nothing clinical about actually living in the land of Mugabe. There was chaos.

Robert Mugabe was there when I first turned up in Zimbabwe in 1995. When I think of the considerable chunk of my life gone by since then, I can only mourn for Zimbabweans forced to live all those days under Mugabe, his wife Gucci Grace and their cadre of kleptocrats.

Let us hope that from here all the players, the army, politicians in Zimbabwe and in surrounding countries with interests real or perceived (looking at you, South Africa) can restrain themselves. Let’s all hope ordinary Zimbabweans become the stars of this new show, and get a too-long awaited chance to live and prosper again.

Zimbabwe is gorgeous. In the post-Mugabe future, let’s all visit, congratulate its people and leave behind a wad of foreign currency. Just leave your hunting rifle at home.

Where is Nambia?

A number of years ago my Finnish wife and I attended a reception for the Nobel laureate and former Finnish Prime Minister Martti Ahtisaari. In the 1970s Mr. Ahtisaari worked on the question of Namibian independence from South Africa, something the local host mentioned in his introduction. Unfortunately, and to much snickering, the host pronounced Namibia as “Nambia.” We put it down to our living in the provinces, way down in Atlanta.

Alas, the American president does not share this excuse. Speaking in non-provincial New York yesterday, Mr. Trump declared, “Nambia’s health system is increasingly self-sufficient.” Written copies of his remarks reflected the country’s actual name. This makes it clear enough to me that the president of the United States has never heard of Namibia. Sure, Namibia is a fairly obscure country, and too many people fail to differentiate between the astounding array of cultures on the African continent. In fact, some even think Africa is a country. But it’s still disappointing.

And unseemly. Beyond falling short of the ideal that our leader should be a student of the world, and beyond the obvious lack of a staff willing and able to head off stupid mistakes (if Rex Tillerson was Secretary of State, by golly he’d fix it), Mr. Trump’s engagement with Africa seems to be summed up in his further remark that, “Africa has tremendous business potential. I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich.” Kevin Sieff makes the comparison:

And if you’re unfamiliar with King Leopold, well just sort of never mind.

Namibia, by the way, is just slap flat gorgeous. Have a look at some photos in the Namibia Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.

Stranded


The Royal Mail Ship St. Helena is under repairs in Capetown, South Africa. For a normal ship that wouldn’t generate any headlines. But the RMS St. Helena serves as a literal lifeline and the only means of transportation for the inhabitants of St. Helena Island, a speck of land way out in the South Atlantic ocean. This document, attempting to address questions from stranded and potential passengers and businesses, shows the RMS St. Helena’s importance to St. Helena Island and also to Ascension Island, where the RMS usually calls on it’s regular itinerary. It’s interesting to follow this link and read about the trouble caused by the possible dry-docking of the Royal Mail Ship.

You can feel the remoteness of these places when you take the three day journey out from the African mainland to St. Helena and the overnight journey onward to Ascension. But that just became way more immediate for the unfortunate subject of an article headlined British woman mauled by shark near Ascension Island saved after husband punched it. The only way off Ascension Island is the RMS St. Helena or via the British Ministry of Defense’s “airbridge,” used to shuttle troops between the Falkland Islands, the military base at Ascension and the Brize Norton base near Oxford, England. The airbridge, it turns out to the ill fortune of our shark attack victim, is temporarily not calling at Ascension either, as you can see from the question and answer sheet.

As a result,

the family found themselves “pretty stuck” by travel chaos across the South Atlantic. 

St Helena’s airport, built with the help of £285 million from the Department of International Development, was due to open last May but flights have been postponed indefinitely as it is too windy for commercial aircraft to land safely.

As a result, people normally get the island’s ageing supply ship, the RMS St Helena, to Ascension Island, but it broke down near South Africa in late March and it remains there having repairs to its propellor.

Furthermore, flights have stopped touching down on the military runway on Ascension for safety reasons, reportedly because of cracks in the runway.

Here is an idea of a bit of the other-worldliness of Ascension Island:

See more photos of both islands in the Ascension Island and Saint Helena Island galleries at EarthPhotos.com. More of my stories about St. Helena and Ascension here.

Unease

lion

The country is at loggerheads. I imagine the way I feel tonight may be the way some felt about the incoming Obama administration.

I’m on the way out of town. We have the pure honor and privilege to be able to spend the next couple of weeks immersed in African wildlife. I’ll post here as opportunities allow. I can’t help but observe, though, that we leave a most unsettled America.

To ponder:

  1. The neoliberal economic model, unsteady since the 2008 crisis, is under attack at all the ideological fringes, fraying at the edges. What will be the impact of a tycoon-president determined to commingle his business interests with the exercise of power?
  2. What is to become of the existing western defense structures? I fear especially for the brave but tiny Baltic states. Then there is the incoming administration’s unsteady start with China.
  3. In light of the incoming president’s apparent appointments, what’s really up with the Trump/Russia relationship?
  4. Come on, now. About this incoming Trump cabinet, consider:
  • An education secretary who wishes to privatize education
  • A labor secretary opposed to the minimum wage
  • A national security advisor who joined in a chant to “lock her up” at the Republican convention
  • An environmental protection head who is suing the agency he will be nominated to lead
  • An Attorney General who was denied a judgeship
  • A health secretary who apparently wishes  to privatize Medicare
  • A UN representative with no international experience beyond trade missions as a governor
  • A housing secretary, a surgeon, with no managerial experience
  • A transportation secretary who is married to the Senate majority leader
  • A Small Business Administration head who is a wrestling promoter
  • Apparently, John Bolton

One or two of these, okay, sure. But collectively?

Now, you may make the “he won, he has a right to assemble his own people” argument. Or the “he’s a small government Republican (if you say so) and these people will advance that agenda” argument. I agree with the former. We can argue about the latter.

But really, are intelligence briefings too inconvenient for a president-elect to be troubled with? Really really? And does a president-elect really need to get publicly prickly against a local union leader in Indiana?

Back over the summer, as we left to visit Greenland, I wrote that I was happy to leave the dismal Trump/Clinton campaign behind, if only for a couple of weeks. For the next couple of weeks I’ll leave the transition with you, but this time I’m uneasy. Things don’t feel right.

If you feel I’m wrong, or wish to quibble on the particulars, please do. We can discuss with civility and respect. Let’s engage.

Meanwhile, for me, it’s onward and upward, for a brief two weeks, to Africa. The law of the jungle (in this case, the savanna), is way more uplifting.

 

 

Friday Photo #45

Bug on a log! With mighty horns and armor!

Photo45

Same guy. I think the lipstick works, don’t you? Understated. Earth colors.

Photo 45-2

This particular bug lives in South Africa. Check out 661 more living things from all over in the Animals and Wildlife section at EarthPhotos.com. And see all the Friday Photos.

And a good weekend to you.

Friday Photo #27 from South Africa

FridayPhotoSAfrica

Here’s a cute little impala in the Mkuze Falls private game reserve, Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa (where, a couple of years ago, your fourth wife flew free). There is no time better than right now, this year, to go and experience the spectacle of African wildlife, and I am excited to say we’re just a couple of months away from the privilege of witnessing the great wildebeest migration in person.

In case you can’t make it to Africa this year here are some photos taken in South Africa, Malawi, Botswana, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia from EarthPhotos.com. And a story from Common Sense and Whiskey, the book, about a trip by steamer across Lake Malawi.

And see all the other Friday photos here. Happy Friday!

MOD Women

While Michelle Flournoy has apparently taken her name out of the running for U.S. Defense Secretary, it’s worth noting that there are currently five female Defense Ministers in NATO: Italy’s Roberta Pinotti, Albania’s Mimi Kodheli, Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen, Norway’s Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide and Jeanine Hennis-Plasshaert of the Netherlands. That’s a record.

There are also female Defense Ministers in South Africa, Montenegro, Ecuador, Kenya, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Guinea-Bissau.