Archive for the ‘Namibia’ Category

Black rhino hunting

December 23, 2013

Namibia: To Kill a Rhino

Hugh Paxton’s Blog would welcome your thoughts on the following. Practical? Unethical? Good idea? Bad?

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/10/131028-dallas-safari-club-black-rhino-hunt-auction-conservation/

Scams and Fraud: Part one of two parts. “The Diary of Abbot Buggly – Diamonds.”

September 28, 2013

Hugh Paxton’s Blog has just received a new post from TheGirl outlining a fiendish scam originating in Yemen. Clever but fiendish! And potentially very expensive for the unwary victim. I’ll run her post in a minute. First here’s something on scams from the Hugh Paxton Blog archives.

BLOG ED NOTE: Nine years ago my wife and I had a daughter. We were in Namibia at the time and I decided to record her first year of life in diary form, ostensibly written from her perspective.  All the events described in the book, no matter how improbable they may sound, actually occurred. The book, titled “The Diary of Abbot Buggly” trotted around a few publishing houses who all said the same thing. “It’s a charming book but…” The problem was that the book didn’t slot neatly into any established publishing genre. So that was that. At one years-old my daughter had already joined the long list of aspiring authors to hit a brick wall. Not that she noticed. The story didn’t quite end there. With a little help from her Daddy, Annabel (my daughter) approached Air Namibia’s in-flight magazine, Flamingo, and for the next six years ran a monthly column describing her African adventures. She was, and remains, Africa’s youngest travel correspondent.

‘Abbot Buggly’, incidentally, is just one of many ridiculous nicknames we have inflicted on the poor girl during her lifetime. Some time I’ll tell you why but not now.

It’s scam time! Hey ho! Let’s go!

 

Excerpt from The Diary of Abbot Buggly: START:

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN:  Diamonds.

Akiko (our Flat A tenant and my godmother) has a new Owambo boyfriend named Paulo.

 

For some reason whenever I see him I start screaming. He tries to be friendly but I scream. Oddly no other individual I know has that effect on me. I’ve met Basters who’d give Freddy Kruger nightmares but all I do is smile at them. I’ve been barked at by enraged baboons. No problem. I’ve even seen some of my father’s drinking buddies  – not a sight for the faint hearted – but all they do is make me chortle. Paulo turns up, wearing a suit, Mr. Respectable, smiling tenderly, and I just let rip!

 

“Waaaaaaaahhhh!”

 

It embarrasses my parents but he seems to take it in his stride.

 

“She just hates me,” he explains.

 

Paulo is some sort of director at Namdeb, the parastatal that controls Namibia’s diamond mines and the domestic diamond industy. Namibia has a LOT of diamonds.

 

At one time they were so plentiful that they could be collected by moonlight – lines of poorly paid serfs would shuffle forwards on their hands and knees out in the desert looking for their pale reflective glow.

 

Its not that easy now. You need to dig for them, or dredge off shore at the river mouths, particularly the Orange river mouth. But there are still a lot of them about.

 

 

ABBOT BUGGLY ADVISORY TO WOULD-BE DIAMOND SMUGGLERS.

 

If you are a diamond dealer and receive an invitation to Namibia to view a diamond that has fallen off the back of a lorry, so to speak, the invitation has in all probability been sent to you by a policeman.

 

The same rule applies if some chap surreptitiously saunters up to you outside the Hidas Shopping Centre or the Maerua Mall.

 

Fish are caught by shiny lures and so are diamond smugglers. It’s an expensive business, being hooked, what with the crippling fines and legal costs and whatnot. But it keeps the State coffers stocked.

 

Inserting diamonds into orifices of one sort or another (but usually the first sort that springs to mind) is also inadvisable. The concept is neither new nor imaginative.

 

A cleaner at Namdeb made unfortunate headlines by leaving NamDeb’s premises through an X-ray machine weighing a few more carats than he had when he’d entered the building.

 

His name was – and this is probably why the arrest made the headlines – variously reported as Mr. Sodem or Mr. Sodom.

 

A lot of people DO smuggle diamonds. The illegal trade comprises anything up to 15% of annual global turnover. But they’re usually Lebanese, Angolans or have their own private armies

 

And the black market keeps a lot of potentially rich countries perpetually poor as drug crazed warlords rampage and fight and lay waste the land (see my father’s hideous novel, Homunculus, for grisly details).

 

No, take my advice, go with the nappy ploy (see Chapter Two).

 

Or leave Namibia, sun-bronzed, happy and about as rich as when you came. Diamonds may be forever (they’re at least 4 billion years old) but a ten stretch is no tick of the clock.

 

While we’re on the subject of receiving uninvited offers you cannot refuse from Africans you’ve never met and never heard of, take the Abbot Buggly stance. Just say no.

 

My father and mother regularly receive emails from Nigeria, or Senegal and most recently from Cameroon and Cote D’Ivoire.

 

The emails come from government officials disgusted with the state of corruption in their respective countries, or from earnest NGO workers appalled by the mismanagement of state funds, or from bankers who want to mobilize public money  (that would otherwise be wasted by self-serving politicos) for the benefit of the poor.

 

Occasionally the mails come from a lawyer who has just discovered that a very distant relative of my parents has died leaving 500,000 acres of oil-rich land to them to apologize for not having kept in touch.

 

In every case there is a request for funds to be transferred to an account, or a request for the fortunate recipients of the email to provide their own bank account details. So that funds can be transferred to their own account, you understand.

 

You see, in every case there is the offer of making my lucky parents rich for facilitating the financial procedures.

 

My father has just been offered ten percent of five million greenbacks if he could only help a human rights activist release the said sum from a Nigerian account held by a dead member of the former military dictatorship. The money would help in promoting democracy.

 

“Yeah,” my father said, “right.”

 

Strangely a large number of people actually get suckered in. To quote a recent Nampa-Reuters report, “The so-called 419 scam, named after an article in Nigeria’s penal code outlawing it, has been so successful in the past 20 years that campaigners say it is now the third largest foreign exchange earner in Africa’s most populous nation.”

 

The third largest!

 

One wretched German was informed by a “government minister” in Lagos that that old staple, a distant relative, had died leaving an estate worth well over ten million pounds. In order to transfer the property to the German, funds were needed to smooth the procedure.

 

This is not Europe, the German was regretfully informed, this is Africa and sadly riddled with people whose palms need greasing before things get done.

 

The amount of grease needed in this case could have kept an armored division rust free for the best part of a decade; several hundred thousand smackers. There was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing. Emails to the German, more money transferred to Lagos fro the German.

 

The German then received a communication from the Lagos police authorities.

 

The German was, they regretted to inform him, the victim of a criminal gang specializing in mail fraud.

 

The good news, however, was that the authorities were on to them. The fiends would be arrested. The money returned.

 

But this is not Europe, the police told him, this is Africa and sadly in order to get things done funds were needed to facilitate things.

 

By this stage most people would be entertaining serious doubts when encountering a Lagos government letterhead, no matter how nicely forged it was.

 

Not the German. No expense was spared to help the law track down the scoundrels who had duped him. Hundreds of thousands. But he was determined to fight to the bitter end.

 

This came when he finally ran out of money.

 

And never heard from anyone from Lagos again.

 

An even more extreme case occurred when a retired Czech doctor was taken for $600,000. Understandably disgruntled, the man stormed the Nigerian embassy in Prague last February, and shot dead the leading consul.

 

Of course Interpol takes a keen interest in these shenanigans, but more amusing is the phenomenon of scam baiting. Scam-baiters lead the con artists along with a view to humiliating them. One Englishman is building up a large collection of scammers’ photos.

 

First he gives the scammer his name. It is a false name. Then feigning keen interest in the scammer’s proposals he requests photos of the scammers holding a placard displaying his false name. It’s so he can see who he’s dealing with, he tells them.

 

One scammer obliged by sending a photo of himself, beaming amiably into the camera and proudly holding aloft a piece of paper reading “Iama Dildo.”

 

That gets it said.

 

……

 

Back to diamonds. Yesterday there was a robbery . Three men made off with several cases of shiny stones from Namdeb down in Orangemund .

 

Early evening, Paulo came over with a gift of two large frozen fish (the deal being that my father will cook them and then everyone will gather and eat them). After the fish had been appraised, praised and manhandled into the freezer compartment of the fridge – they weren’t large fish really, they were huge fish – my father asked about the Orangemund incident.

 

After I’d stopped shrieking at him (it took a long while), Paulo gave a derisive snort.

 

“We’ll get them. Those guys were SO dumb. So DUMB! Idiots!”

 

Seems the robbers were wearing overalls and balaclavas to hide their identities. Clever. After making their getaway they changed their clothes, dumped the overalls, but one of them forgot to remove his birth certificate from a pocket.

 

Why would anybody bring their birth certificate along on an armed robbery ? Shotguns, yes. Balaclavas, yes. But a birth certificate ?

 

Dumb. Real dumb.

 

….

 

This morning the phone rang unfortunately early. Our caller had seen the advertisement in the window of our Isuzu trooper.

 

“How does it work ?”

 

My father launched into his patter. “Well, it’s a smooth runner, has 170,00 kays on the clock give or take..”

 

“No,” the voice interrupted. “I mean how does the deal work?”

 

“Well, I guess you come and see the car, we take it for a test drive, if you like it you give me money, I give you the car.”

 

 

“So you want money for the car?” The voice was now sounding furtive. Sleazily furtive.

 

“Uh huh. Yes. ”

 

“Can we work it differently?”

 

“What differently? You mean you take the car but don’t give me any money ? “

 

“There can be ways of doing things. Shall we make a plan?”

“Go away.”

 

A moment later the phone rang again. A different caller, this man got to the point fast in a strangely offensive “jiveass” pseudo-black-1960s-American pimp accent.

 

African pronunciation of English is mainly a wonderful thing. It is solemn, considered, structured, sincere; it employs a splendid, entertaining, enthralling vocabulary.

 

It is possible to listen to a politician making the most outrageous ly deranged statements  and find yourself nodding; awed, overwhelmed by the richness of the voice, the syntax, the steadied rhythm. Unless they’re some racist monstrosity like Mugabe.

 

That man could be singing Grand Opera a la Pavarotti only better. You’d still want to throw eggs.

 

But this jiveass thing. Yech! Drives my father wild. He was now fully awake. So was I.

 

“Hey man I need the wheels. Your Land Cruiser.”

 

“My Land Cruiser is an Isuzu Trooper. And why don’t you go away?”

 

“S’right, man. Cool. The Trooper. I’ve got to be over the Angolan border by seven tonight. We’ve got to make speed. I’m packing stones.”

 

“Where are you ?”

 

“The Tech.”

 

“Windhoek Polytechnic ?”

 

“Ya man. The Tech. Can you pick me up ? We got to check this thing out.”

 

“Go away.”

 

“Heeyyy! We need to work on this!”

 

“Go away.”

 

 

Catherine is a colleague of my mother. She’s from Kenya but is on a one-year renewable contract with UNDP’s Environment Unit here and she intends to stay in Namibia.  Catherine is willowy, elegant and altogether lovely. Fantastic telephone manner. Makes great cakes.

 

But this is not germaine to my tale.

 

She advertised that her car was for sale and she got similar telephone calls.  Subsequent encounters with the prospective buyers indicated that they were all criminals seeking to convert smuggled diamonds into something more legally sellable than lumps of compacted carbon.

 

Cars don’t last forever but at least they are useful.

 

Catherine did sell her car eventually, but not before she and her mother were lured by a smoothly packaged individual into a small room with a Chinese gentleman sitting behind a desk. On the desk was a neat little suitcase.

 

Pop went the suitcase’s locks.

 

“Take a look,” said the Chinese gentleman, or words to that effect. They looked. The stones, supremely indifferent to the passage of billennia and their current surge in popularity – a mere nothing in geological time-scale –sat there.

 

Catherine and her mother got out fast. Then they sold their car to someone who wasn’t waving minerals at them.

 

Wendy summarized the whole phenomenon perfectly.

 

“If they want to buy a car why don’t they sell their diamonds and use the money to buy the car?”

 

Why not indeed?

 

Akiko coming back with Paulo pointed out that if my father was interested in buying stones and making a huge profit he’d need to know whether the stones were worth anything.

 

My father admitted that he knew nothing about diamonds.

 

Akiko gave a gay laugh. “Of course not, you’re not Jewish.”

 

Good point.

 

Paulo was equally well informed.

 

“They sell you glass. Your car crosses the Angolan border. That’s it. Your glass. Their car.”

 

Then he said, “Hello, Isobel!” and gave me a wide smile.

 

Isobel????

 

Isobel!!!!

 

I screamed at him. He fled.

 

Speaking from a five month old perspective, if I saw an uncut diamond I’d ignore it. Dull, soapy looking pebble of a thing. Perhaps if someone had cut it so that it reflected light and sparkled, I’d swallow it.

 

Or choke on it. Or throw it away. Or lose interest in about thirty seconds. My question to the world is this. Why are wars, atrocities, madmen in Sierra Leone/Angola/ Liberia/Congo beating baby’s brains out being funded by these silly little things ? Why don’t the people buy small yellow furry octopi that squeak when you squeeze them instead?

 

They’re fun.

 

And I don’t think that anyone has killed anyone over a soft furry yellow octopus that squeaks when you squeeze it.

 

Or tried to exchange one for a car.

 

But, heck, I’m young and I’m sure the world has things to teach me.

 

 

 

 

 

Leonie’s View: Compare Namibia to Syria, Iran, Bosnia …

February 23, 2013

Hugh Paxton’s Blog was amazed to see Namibia rated the seventh most miserable place in the world. Have the buffoons who compiled this list actually visited Namibia? Talked to Namibians? I think not. Namibia more miserable than Syria? And this data was provided by the CIA? Jaysus!

The 25 Most Miserable Places in the World

Business InsiderBy Lisa Mahapatra | Business Insider – Thu, Feb 21, 2013 2:27 PM EST

The misery index, a crude economic measure created by Arthur Orkum, sums a country’s unemployment and inflation rates to assess conditions on the ground (the higher the number, the more miserable a country is). The reasoning: most citizens understand the pain of a high jobless rate and the soaring price of goods.

Business Insider totaled the figures for 197 countries and territories — from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe — to compile the 2013 Misery Index.

Note: Results are based on CIA World Factbook data, which estimates figures for countries and territories that do not have reliable local reporting agencies. The CIA World Factbook was last updated on February 11, 2013.

25. Mali

10fd1192-330f-4b53-87f0-13f57f4d8e8c_25-mali.jpgFlickr/ravpixMisery index score: 36.5
CPI inflation: 6.5%
Unemployment: 30%

One of the poorest countries in the world, Mali depends on gold mining and agricultural exports for revenue, which is why the country’s fiscal status depends on gold and food prices. About 10% of the population is nomadic and about 80 percent of the working labor force is engaged in farming and fishing.

24. Mauritania

Misery index score: 37
CPI inflation: 7%
Unemployment: 30%

Half the population is still dependent on agriculture and livestock to earn a living, and poverty is rampant. The local economy depends heavily on commodities exports, mostly of iron ore. These exports are pretty much the only reason why Mauritianian economy grew 5 percent last year.


23. Iran

ee3ab441-57dd-4c99-8c53-3f9118ed7d94_23-iran.jpgFlickr/[CDS] SoHoMisery index score: 39.1
CPI inflation: 23.6%
Unemployment: 15.5%

Price controls, subsidies, and other rigidities under mine private sector growth, and are proving to be a real drag on the economy, as is a rapidly depreciating currency. Which is why corruption is rampant, and illegal business activities abound. The economy is also heavily dependent on oil, and has suffered from international sanctions. Unemployment persists at double digit levels.


22. Maldives

Misery index score: 40.8
CPI inflation: 12.8%
Unemployment: 28%

It’s a lovely place to vacation at, and a good thing too—tourism accounts for 30% of Maldives’ GDP and more than 60 percent of foreign exchange receipts. But falling tourist arrivals and heavy government spending have taken a toll on the local economy, cause high inflation and an unemployment rate that’s nearly double since 2010.

21. Gaza Strip

2013-02-13T151742Z_1320435722_GM1E92D1SO301_RTRMADP_3_PALESTINIANS-EGYPT-TUNNELS.JPGREUTERS/Ibraheem Abu MustafaMisery index score: 43.5
CPI inflation: 3.5%
Unemployment: 40%

Ever since Hamas seized control of Israel in June 2007, Israeli-imposed border closures led to a deterioration of an already weak economy—more unemployment, elevated poverty rates and a sharp contraction of the private sector which relied primarily on exports.


20. Bosnia and Herzegovina

Misery index score: 45.5
CPI inflation: 2.2%
Unemployment: 43.3%

Inter-ethnic warfare between 1992 and 1995 caused unemployment to soar and production to plummet by 80 percent, and the country hasn’t quite recovered ever since. The local currency is pegged to the euro, which keeps inflation in check. In 2011, a parliamentary deadlock left Bosnia without a state-level government for over a year, which caused the IMF to stop disbursing aid.


19. Yemen

b0bb566815c73a05290f6a7067008c6f.jpgAP Photo/Hani MohammedMisery index score: 46.4
CPI inflation: 11.4%
Unemployment: 35%

Heavily dependent of declining oil resources, 25 percent of the country’s GDP comes from petroleum. Yemeni GDP fell by more than 10 percent in 2011, but this decline slowed to 1.9 percent in 2012. The government is trying to diversify the economy, but has to deal with declining water resources, high unemployment, and a high population growth rate.


18. Haiti

Misery index score: 46.5
CPI inflation: 5.9%
Unemployment: 40.6%

Even before the earthquake in 2010, 80 percent of the Haitian population lived under the poverty line, and 54 percent in abject poverty, and large section of the population has poor access to education. The country is still recovering from the affects of the earthquake, and has to deal with rampant corruption.


17. Swaziland

c0b90ab1-2610-4b64-8e41-d55b469a5987_17-swaziland.jpgWikimedia CommonsMisery index score: 48.4
CPI inflation: 8.4%
Unemployment: 40%

Swaziland is heavily dependent on South Africa—that were 60 percent of its exports go, and 90 percent of its imports come from. The global economic crisis hit Swaziland exports hard, and declining revenue has pushed the country into fiscal crisis. The local currency is pegged to the South African rand, so inflation isn’t too bad, but the country suffers from high unemployment.


16. Afghanistan

Misery index score: 48.8
CPI inflation: 13.8%
Unemployment: 35%

Afghanistan is still recovering from decade of conflict and still has to deal with high levels of corruption, weak government capacity, and poor public infrastructure. Foreign aid, agriculture and a growing service sector industry are helping the country recover, but it still suffers from high inflation and unemployment.


15. Marshall Islands

31c1fe87-745c-432e-bb73-0f6c77754ba3_15-marshall-islands.jpgMisery index score: 48.9
CPI inflation: 12.9%
Unemployment: 36%

The best thing the local economy has going for is assistance from the U.S. government. Tourism is its best hope for economic growth, but currently employs only 10 percent of the labor force. Government downsizing, drought, a drop in construction, the decline in tourism, and less income from the renewal of fishing vessel licenses have been a drag on the economy.


14. Senegal

Misery index score: 49.5
CPI inflation: 1.5%
Unemployment: 48%

Despite receiving a lot of foreign aid, Senegal suffers from unreliable power supply, which has led to public protests and is partly the cause of high unemployment.


13. Kenya

6e32713e-6b1c-45a4-bbe2-b5514bf8e5af_13-kenya.jpgAll rights are to Nuru InternationalMisery index score: 50.1
CPI inflation: 10.1%
Unemployment: 40%

Corruption and reliance on a few specific primary goods whose prices have remained low have been holding Kenya’s economy back. Unemployment has historically been very high, and remains so. However, oil was discovered in Kenya in March 2012, which might help revive its sagging economy.


12. Lesotho

Misery index score: 51.1
CPI inflation: 6.1%
Unemployment: 45%

Lesotho has the third highest GINI coefficient in the world, which means that income inequality is particularly high here. Growth is expected to increase due to major infrastructure projects, but weak manufacturing and agriculture sectors are a drag on the economy. Rampant unemployment is also a big problem.

11. Sudan

c8a7bda4-c8b6-4ee8-97a9-49757a8288b3_11-sudan.jpgMisery index score: 51.5
CPI inflation: 31.5%
Unemployment: 20%

The secession of South Sudan in July 2011, the region of the country that had been responsible for about three-fourths of the former-Sudan’s oil production, was a huge blow to Sudan’s economy. The country is currently trying to find new ways to generate revenue, not very successfully. Sudan introduced a new currency, called the Sudanese pound, but the value of the currency has been falling since its introduction. Rising inflation, which hit 47 percent in November on an annualized basis, is a huge problem.

10. Syria

Misery index score: 51.7
CPI inflation: 33.7%
Unemployment: 18%

Syria’s economy is still getting slammed by the conflict that began in 2011. In 2012, Syrian GDP contracted because of international sanctions and reduced domestic consumption and production. In addition to a rising unemployment rate—it rose by more than three percentage points in 2012, the country is also experiencing high inflation as the Syrian pound continues to fall.


9. Kosovo

2013-01-31T120800Z_115152200_GM1E91V1JON01_RTRMADP_3_KOSOVO.JPGREUTERS/Bojan SlavkovicMisery index score: 53.6
CPI inflation: 8.3%
Unemployment: 45.3%

The poorest country in Europe, the average annual per capita income is $7,400. Remittances from other European countries, primarily Switzerland, Germany and the Nordic countries account for 18 percent of GDP. Though Kosovo’s economy has show significant process in transitioning to a market-based system in the past few year, rampant unemployment remains a problem.

8. Nepal

Misery index score: 54.3
CPI inflation: 8.3%
Unemployment: 46%

One of the least developed countries in the world, about a quarter of Nepal’s population lives below the poverty line. Agriculture drives the Nepalese economy, accounting for more than a third of its GDP. Civil strife, labor unrest, its landlocked geographic location and susceptibility to natural disaster exacerbate its already weak economy.


7. Namibia

4ad631d6-8edf-471a-871e-3c7b67d69dc6_7-namibia.jpgMisery index score: 57
CPI inflation: 5.8%
Unemployment: 51.2%

Heavily dependent of the its mineral resources, Namibia exports a lot of diamonds, uranium, and gold. However, the mining sector employs only 3 percent of the country’s labor force. Since there isn’t much else going on, almost half of Namibia’s workers are without jobs. Income inequality is absurd here—even though the country boasts a high GDP per capita, Namibia has the highest GINI coefficients: 70.7%.

6. Djibouti

Misery index score: 63.3
CPI inflation: 4.3%
Unemployment: 59%

Thanks to scanty natural resources and little industry, unemployment in Djibouti is ridiculously high. The only reason inflation is low is because the Djiboutian franc is tied to the dollar. As a result, the Djiboutian franc is artificially high, which make it even more difficult for the country to pay its debts.

5. Turkmenistan

fa79f1da-a2e3-48e9-a3c3-93c01cfc8856_5-turkmenistan.jpgFlickr/David StanleyMisery index score: 70.5
CPI inflation: 10.5%
Unemployment: 60%

Agriculture accounts for only 8 percent of Turkmenistan’s revenue, but employs half the country’s workforce. The country suffers from rampant corruption and mismanagement from its authoritarian government. And it isn’t going to get any better. According to the CIA Factbook, "Overall prospects in the near future are discouraging because of endemic corruption, a poor educational system, government misuse of oil and gas revenues, and Ashgabat’s reluctance to adopt market-oriented reforms."


4. Belarus

Misery index score: 71
CPI inflation: 70%
Unemployment: 1%

In 2011, a financial crisis began in Belarus, triggered by government directed salary hikes unsupported by productivity trends. Despite receiving billions of dollars from the Russian-dominated Eurasian Economic Community Bail-out Fund, the Russian state-owned bank Sberbank, and selling the Beltranzgas to Russian state-owned Gazprom for $2.5 billion, to try and help stabilize the economy, the Belarusian ruble lost 60 percent of its value in 2012 and is still falling.

But at least almost every Belarusian looking for a job has one—with around 50 percent of the labor force employed by the government, the country boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world.


3. Burkina Faso

2013-01-25T185858Z_272978706_GM1E91Q085I01_RTRMADP_3_MALI.JPGREUTERS/Joe PenneyMisery index score: 81.5
CPI inflation: 4.5%
Unemployment: 77%

Burkina Faso has a large population and very limited natural resources. The country’s economy depend on agriculture, cotton and gold. The country is still reeling from the after effects of a severe drought in 2011 which decimated grazing land and harvests, and the country suffers from rampant unemployment.

Even so, things are better than they used to be. According to CIA Factbook, "The risk of a mass exodus of the 3 to 4 million Burinabe who live and work in Cote D’Ivoire has dissipated and trade, power, and transport links are being restored."


2. Liberia

Misery index score: 90.5
CPI inflation: 5.5%
Unemployment: 85%

A low income country heavily reliant on foreign aid, Liberia’s economy was destroyed by civil war and government mismanagement. In 2010, Liberia was so poor that countries that $5 billion of international debt was permanently eliminated. Thought the local economy has been growing at a fast pace in the past two year, it has been mostly because of rich natural resources and high commodity prices. Which is why 85 percent of the country’s labor force cannot find steady employment.


1. Zimbabwe

e641f701-25fb-495d-b40a-e18000da60b6_1-zimbabwe.jpgMisery index score: 103.3
CPI inflation: 8.3%
Unemployment: 95%

Several human rights organizations have called out the government of Zimbabwe of violating basic rights like freedom of assembly and the protection of the law. Violence and intimidation are common in political tactics, and political leaders have mostly failed to agree any any key outstanding governmental issues in the past few years. Zimbabwe’s economic growth is slowing, in part because of poor harvests and low diamond revenues. According to the CIA Factbook, "the government of Zimbabwe still faces a number of difficult economic problems, including infrastructure and regulatory deficiencies, ongoing indigenization pressure, policy uncertainty, a large external debt burden, and insufficient formal employment."

The local unemployment rate is estimated to be 95 percent, though the CIA Factbook caveats that the true unemployment is "unknowable" under current economic conditions. Though the inflation rate has stabilized of late, Zimbabwe faced massive hyperinflation between 2003 and 2009.


Source: CIA Factbook

Leonie’s View: The Namib Desert

January 2, 2013

Hugh Paxton’s Blog thanks Leonie for this. If you have visited Namibia you will have seen these things. And if you haven’t visited, get going!

I miss that lovely irritating profoundly beautiful country, I really do. But, hey! Bangkok’s not bad and I’ll be back in Namibia sooner or later, the sun shines, the world turns, and these images are not the sort of things to forget!

Happy New Year back to you Leonie! Keep well and keep this stuff coming!

Love from Hugh and crew in Thailand

Sent: 02 January 2013 04:43 PM
To: Hugh Paxton
Subject: The Namib Desert

Dear Hugh, Midi & Annabel!

Wishing you a wonderful 2013, due to deliver on promises of many years past! 😉

Herewith a bit of nostalgia for you.

Love,

L & co.

Namibia and Ben Beytell – an obituary

December 12, 2012

Hugh Paxton’s Blog is sad to say that Ben Beytell is dead. If you live in Namibia you may have met him, shared a drink or a handshake. He was a lovely man and a true conservationist. Here’s what my wife and I put together to mark his achievements and his passing.

Ben Beytell: A Force for Nature

By Midori Paxton

Ben Beytell, the former MET Director of Parks and Wildlife was a very welcome figure in my 6-year working life at the Ministry. He would arrive each morning on time (unless he was trying to rescue a lost hiker in the Fish River Canyon or was relocating roan antelope). He always carried his trademark briefcase. An old fashioned thing, bulging with papers.

Click of a button or two. And the briefcase was open. Work had begun. The day’s papers – memos, recently received letters, documents – and his pipe emerged and Ben would then head off to run through them with colleagues over coffee and his pipe.

Sherlock Holmes did his best thinking while smoking a pipe and so did Ben. Sherlock’s colleague Dr. Watson frequently gagged and half suffocated in a pipe smoke clogged room, and so did we. But Holmes always got the job done. So did Ben. Holmes and his pipe found the most complex complications “elementary, my dear Watson.” Ben found them slightly more complicated. But that’s conservation in Namibia.

We all loved him.

He wasn’t so much a force of nature as a force for nature.

Pipe at the ready, a flask of something warming usually close to hand, he was bulldoggish, genial, tenacious and determined to see the right man, woman (or oryx) win. His doors were always open. As a result we kept bothering him. Tens of times a day! He bore this deluge of “What shall I do?” “What should I write?” “How can I approach this matter?” with fortitude.

Ben wrote a column for the SPAN project’s magazine, Sandpaper. It punched in on page one just after the editorial and the carrying photos were Ben (looking Ben-ish and bull-doggish) which I took and his brown leather briefcase – old, hard-worked, secure, scratched and enduring.

The column’s concept was simple – “From Ben’s Briefcase.” He’d pull something out and write about it.

I know that he enjoyed writing it, getting a hand written draft out of his old briefcase. I can well imagine him writing his accounts with a pen and paper on a weekend. Usually just after the deadline after my nagging and nudging! Perhaps in his garden with pipe in his mouth and muttering “That Midori is always on my case with deadlines….”

“What Shall I Do?” and “Deadlines” was in his face every day in the office and he’d seen it before, remained calm and sorted things out.

But enough of office gossip! Let’s have a peek in the briefcase.

“This past week, my time was once again occupied by “problem animals” reports. These included two lionesses with cubs near Tsumeb, two bull elephants causing havoc near Kalkveld (where elephants were absent for the last 40 years) and mice in an important Government building.”

Beautiful. Ben moves from lions, marauding elephants to mice in one deft opening of his briefcase.

Let’s take another peek. This time Ben’s with a pack of wild dogs while “developing game water” (MET-speak for sorting out a waterhole), and he’s with his comrade, Xishwe, and an oryx (gemsbok) massacre.

“Xishwe drew my attention to something far ahead in the road. I could only discern black specks darting to and fro, but he immediately identified them as bellehond …I decided to wait and reached for my pipe.”

Classic Ben. No rushing in. No disturbance. Clean observation and poor old Xishwe sharing his second hand pipe smoke while the wild dogs force the gemsbok into a defensive position in a black thorn bush then sneakily “some of the pack were crawling and worming their way through and grabbing him on the hind quarters, perhaps reaching for the soft parts of the groin, which they often target.”

Bad end for the oryx, I’m afraid.

“I looked down at his bare skull” wrote Ben. “One lifeless eye stared at me, clouded with the film of death. But I could discern the fierce, proud look of defiance in the eye of the Aristocrat of the desert who had just fought his last battle.”

I ask you, how many office bosses bring this kind of story to work?

I think we all looked forward to what was next to emerge from that briefcase of his. A lot had the feeling of campfire chat and chewing over past triumphs and fiascos.

Believe me. There were plenty of both.

Ben was inspired to enter the challenging world of conservation by the writing of PJ Schoeman, a thoroughbred rough and tough German-born South African conservationist, award winning author and ethnologist.

Conservation diploma achieved, Ben was sent north to “start a game park” in Caprivi. The instructions were explicit. How to do it was really up to him.

Says Ben in an interview for the Sandpaper, “When I was sent to Tsumkwe in 1977, there were no real parks in the north east. Although West Caprivi Game Park existed, it was occupied by the army. It was important to protect the Tree and Shrub Savanna Biome, portions of our permanent rivers and associated habitats, along with rare and valuable species found there –roan and sable antelope, buffalo, hippo and other wetland species.”

Important, yes. But when he arrived in Mahango in 1977, in the park he wanted to proclaim, he could only find one old sable bull with a broken horn, 35 elephant, 25 blue wildebeest, 12 reedbuck, seven kudu, five warthog and a few lechwe. A rather pitiful and heavily poached population. And not everybody shared Ben’s enthusiasm for exploration.

“We had heard about six rhino allegedly seen, but when we approached the army commander for permission to enter the area he said he would not allow snotkop bokwagters as we had no security clearance and would reveal confidential stuff.” A hippo, subsequently tried to kill Ben.

Ben escaped the hippo he was trying to save, dug his heels in and persistence paid off.

The former SPAN Communication Officer, Linda Baker, notes “Ben laid the foundations for some of Namibia’s most notable and species rich conservation areas…the Mahango – later to be incorporated into the Bwa-bwata National Park, Khaudum, Mamili and Mudumu national parks.”

These parks have opened up the north to tourism, gainful employment and have added significant stamps to Namibia’s ecological passport. One, Khaudom’s passport, would read “Wildest place in Africa, two vehicles advised and don’t annoy a herd of two thousand elephants!”

And there are now hundreds of hippos where Ben found only one.

Ben was an animal person, a wilderness person but people were always there in his mind. He worked to create conservancies, benefitting local communities, tutored MET’s diploma students (says Linda “during this period many of the country’s shining conservation stars were mentored by Ben”) and he rose through the MET ranks.

35 years of work. Then finally retirement.

On his retirement Sandpaper asked for his wish list.

Ben’s wish list

1. Dedicated, committed staff. People are worried about climbing the corporate ladder, but lack commitment. For many, conservation and the environment is not a philosophy to live by, it’s simply a job.

2. Proper acknowledgement of staff, especially those in the lower ranks. These are the people that ‘carry’ the Ministry – our labourers, scouts, workhands, watchmen and rangers. They are the backbone of the MET and should receive more attention.

3. Improved park management. We have many proclaimed protected areas, but it is now time to prove that we can manage them effectively.

4. More awareness by our people of the importance of conservation. It should become a way of life for all of us, not only some. There should be a willingness to sacrifice for the benefit of conservation. We should forget the past, realise that today is a gift (that’s why it is called the present) but think of the future.

“Today’s a gift, that’s why it’s called the present.” I like that!

I think we all felt that Ben was a father of SPAN, involved from the day we all met at Midgard in 2003 with the then MET Permanent Secretary and MET directors and UNDP. An exciting meeting, full of energy. We mapped out threats to Namibia’s parks and the barriers that prevented the MET from unlocking the potential of the park to safeguard biodiversity and contribute to national and local development. Not just empty talk. Things happened. Lovely to see.

Ben was a gift for Namibia. He was a true father of the national parks in Namibia and he will continue to live in the heart of Namibia’s wilderness and the magnificent parks.

And his briefcase will live on. Let’s end with another peek.

“We will never really appreciate the contributions and the sacrifices towards Conservation that different role players have attributed, and I am at a loss to sing their praises, but they know in themselves what they have done, and all I can do is to wish that their colleagues remember them by nominating them for the Staff Field Awards in recognition of their remarkable and unselfish

achievements.”

Ben, on retirement was given an armchair (among other things). The idea I suppose was that he should sit down in the armchair and watch the world go by. As opposed to waking up in a tent and shaking scorpions out of his boots. Knowing Ben he’d have hopped into his armchair, dozed merrily for a bit and then would have started looking for his boots.

Life for Ben Beytell was never complete without a few scorpions in his boots. Sadly he passed away a few months ago and not long after his retirement. He will always be greatly missed

Hong Kong Ivory Seizures – the biggest ever – and the Rhino Massacre Reaches New Heights

October 21, 2012

Hugh Paxton’s Blog’s got a wet finger to the wind and it’s feeling cold.

So much effort is going into conservation and so many bastards are ripping dollars and disaster from the jaws of success.

Hong Kong authorities have just seized close to four tons of ivory from two containers – one from Tanzania, one from Kenya – the biggest haul of endangered species products in the Chinese territory’s history since it reassumed control from the British.

I suppose the good news is that the ivory has been intercepted and that the Hong Kong good guys were helped by a tip-off from authorities in neighbouring Guangdong province on the Chinese mainland. Not everybody’s asleep at the wheel.

This said, some Africans are positively narcoleptic. Those containers should never have left the east African ports. They should have been inspected and the shippers arrested.

Kenya and Tanzanian authorities should wake up and shake things up. Not leave the job to people half a world away, even if that is where the demand is coming from.

And rhinos? What an ongoing catastrophe that’s proving to be!

Latest stats? Poachers have slaughtered 455 so far this year in South Africa alone. Up from 448 last year, 333 in 2010, and 13 in 2007. Somebody was doing something right in 2007.

Somebody’s not doing something right this year. Kruger National Park has already lost 272 rhinos (compared to 252 last year).

The predicted figures of year end loss are in the region of 600.

November and December are “kill rate spike months” according to rhino conservationists.

“I think the rate at which it [poaching] is increasing has come as a major shock. We’re sitting at 455 with the two worst months to go and if you consider the growth rate [of the rhino population] is six percent a year we’re getting close to tipping point,” says Kirsty Brebner, rhino project manager at the Endangered wildlife Trust.

South Africa has 18,000 white rhinos and roughly 1,800 black rhinos. The birth rate is still ahead of the killing rate but really it is touch and go. If it’s go then the only rhino your kids are going to see will be in a zoo, in a heavily fortified game farm, or in neighbouring Namibia which is doing an inspiring job of looking after its black rhinos – the largest population outside of park boundaries in the world.

Perhaps it is a good idea to end on a slightly encouraging post script. South African authorities have arrested 207 people involved in poaching and sales of their grisly results since we all said ‘Happy New Year’ at midnight 2012, witchdoctors and church groups have pitched in as anti-poaching eyes and ears, the army has patrols out and about, the public have opened wallets to fund sniffer dogs and there are vigilantes on the war path.

China’s definitely the villain of the piece when it comes to ivory. Vietnam is an unwelcome player in the rhino horn game. Thailand? We are an elephant loving nation and a key conduit in a trade that if un-checked will involve the death of elephants.

Namibia: Billy-Kyoto University-Hilux Surf

July 9, 2012

Hugh Paxton’s blog is rather sad to see another of our cars destroyed by stupid or well meaning or disaster prone Africans.

Follow this if you want a bit of perplexing tragic drama that is likely to cost me a huge amount of money!

Cheers! I suppose. I feel like weeping.

hugh

Dear Hugh,

hope your well! Everything is all right here in Herzinger Street. However Billy is not doing fine. The last few month he was staying and working in Okahandjia and we did not hear much from him. This weekend he called us from Katutura Hospital where he is since a week now. Yesterday he asked me to write you the following:

Hi Hugh,

I´m staying in Okahandjia now. I´m still servicing the Hilux Surf of the Kyoto University from time to time. I took the car to Okahandjia. Futjioka (Kyoto University) knows about it, since he brought the vehicle to Okahandjia and I took him back to Windhoek. The Kyoto University will be back in Windhoek in August or September. The deal was that I will bring back the vehicle to Windhoek once it is finished. I came to Windhoek with a taxi and left the car at Andre Benade in Okahandjia in his locked up garage. I asked him to start the car once a time to charge the battery. While I was in Windhoek I picked up an infection in legs, arms and feet and eventually ended up in hospital, where I´m still today. The doctors don´t know what´s wrong and blood test results from South Africa are awaited.

Monday afternoon I saw a newspaper by chance and I came over the report about Andre Benade dying just outside Okahandjia on the Windhoek road. Apparently he lost control over the vehicle, rolled, smashed into a tree and was killed. He leaves behind 3 girls (3, 5 and 6 years). He was on the way back from Windhoek where his wife had a major operation in the catholic hospital. After making a few telephone calls I found out that Andre was driving the Japanese car. A picture of the damaged car was in the German newspaper ( http://www.az.com.na/bild-des-tages/ber-die-leitplanke-in-den-tod-gerast.150650.php). I didn´t give him permission to drive the car; I told him not to use it. I think he desperately wanted to be by his wife and he took the chance with the Surf, since he couldn´t use his own car. I wouldn´t know since I´m in hospital too. I couldn´t get more information till now and I don´t know when I ´m coming out of hospital. We have to inform the Kyoto University and find out where the vehicle is. Unfortunately I have Futjioka´s email address in my briefcase in Okahandjia only.

Billy

That´s what he dictate me. I told Tabo about it this morning. He will contact the Kyoto University. I guess the vehicle is covered. I´m sorry for submitting bad news from Namibia. Please let me know if we can assist somehow.

Best,

Florian

Shaun and Annabel’s Bits: African Scams

May 14, 2012

Further to Shaun’s Nigeria Google post here’s a chapter on scams taken from my book “The Diary of Abbot Buggly.” I serialised a few chapters of the book on this blog last year and then lost momentum. It’s a diary written by my daughter, Annabel, during her first year of life in Namibia. Obviously she needed a little help. The diary starts a couple of days after she was born and ends on her first birthday. All the events described occurred. The book did a few rounds of publishers and all said the same thing “It’s a charming book but we don’t think it will sell/we don’t know what to do with it/what category is it?” The Diary remains unpublished on paper. Bit of a shame. But publishers are hard and have to be hard headed. JRRTolkien was told by one publishing talent spotter that Lord of the Rings was a great story but would never sell. 50 others told him something similar And Beatrix Potter was a complete no-hoper. No potential whatsoever. I think a lot of people might have had some fun with the Diary of Abbot Buggly. Now it’s a bit dated. Annabel’s eight but Namibia hasn’t changed so very much.

Judge for yourselves! And have some fun free of charge!

Cheers!

Hugh

PS Beloved daughter Annabel, when young, wore an outfit that made her look like a deranged abbot. She also looked, in her earliest days, a bit like a bug. Hence Abbot Buggly.

Subject: Abbot Buggly on Scams

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: Diamonds.

Akiko (our Flat A tenant and my godmother) has a new Owambo boyfriend named Paulo.

For some reason whenever I see him I start screaming. He tries to be friendly but I scream. Oddly no other individual I know has that effect on me. I’ve met Basters who’d give Freddy Kruger nightmares but all I do is smile at them. I’ve been barked at by enraged baboons. No problem. I’ve even seen some of my father’s drinking buddies – not a sight for the faint hearted – but all they do is make me chortle. Paulo turns up, wearing a suit, Mr. Respectable, smiling tenderly, and I just let rip!

“Waaaaaaaahhhh!”

It embarrasses my parents but he seems to take it in his stride.

“She just hates me,” he explains.

Paulo is some sort of director at Namdeb, the parastatal that controls Namibia’s diamond mines and the domestic diamond industy. Namibia has a LOT of diamonds.

At one time they were so plentiful that they could be collected by moonlight – lines of poorly paid serfs would shuffle forwards on their hands and knees out in the desert looking for their pale reflective glow.

Its not that easy now. You need to dig for them, or dredge off shore at the river mouths, particularly the Orange river mouth. But there are still a lot of them about.

ABBOT BUGGLY ADVISORY TO WOULD-BE DIAMOND SMUGGLERS.

If you are a diamond dealer and receive an invitation to Namibia to view a diamond that has fallen off the back of a lorry, so to speak, the invitation has in all probability been sent to you by a policeman.

The same rule applies if some chap surreptitiously saunters up to you outside the Hidas Shopping Centre or the Maerua Mall.

Fish are caught by shiny lures and so are diamond smugglers. It’s an expensive business, being hooked, what with the crippling fines and legal costs and whatnot. But it keeps the State coffers stocked.

Inserting diamonds into orifices of one sort or another (but usually the first sort that springs to mind) is also inadvisable. The concept is neither new nor imaginative.

A cleaner at Namdeb made unfortunate headlines by leaving NamDeb’s premises through an X-ray machine weighing a few more carats than he had when he’d entered the building.

His name was – and this is probably why the arrest made the headlines – variously reported as Mr. Sodem or Mr. Sodom.

A lot of people DO smuggle diamonds. The illegal trade comprises anything up to 15% of annual global turnover. But they’re usually Lebanese, Angolans or have their own private armies

And the black market keeps a lot of potentially rich countries perpetually poor as drug crazed warlords rampage and fight and lay waste the land (see my father’s hideous novel, Homunculus, for grisly details).

No, take my advice, go with the nappy ploy (see Chapter Two).

Or leave Namibia, sun-bronzed, happy and about as rich as when you came. Diamonds may be forever (they’re at least 4 billion years old) but a ten stretch is no tick of the clock.

While we’re on the subject of receiving uninvited offers you cannot refuse from Africans you’ve never met and never heard of, take the Abbot Buggly stance. Just say no.

My father and mother regularly receive emails from Nigeria, or Senegal and most recently from Cameroon and Cote D’Ivoire.

The emails come from government officials disgusted with the state of corruption in their respective countries, or from earnest NGO workers appalled by the mismanagement of state funds, or from bankers who want to mobilize public money (that would otherwise be wasted by self-serving politicos) for the benefit of the poor.

Occasionally the mails come from a lawyer who has just discovered that a very distant relative of my parents has died leaving 500,000 acres of oil-rich land to them to apologize for not having kept in touch.

In every case there is a request for funds to be transferred to an account, or a request for the fortunate recipients of the email to provide their own bank account details. So that funds can be transferred to their own account, you understand.

You see, in every case there is the offer of making my lucky parents rich for facilitating the financial procedures.

My father has just been offered ten percent of five million greenbacks if he could only help a human rights activist release the said sum from a Nigerian account held by a dead member of the former military dictatorship. The money would help in promoting democracy.

“Yeah,” my father said, “right.”

Strangely a large number of people actually get suckered in. To quote a recent Nampa-Reuters report, “The so-called 419 scam, named after an article in Nigeria’s penal code outlawing it, has been so successful in the past 20 years that campaigners say it is now the third largest foreign exchange earner in Africa’s most populous nation.”

The third largest!

One wretched German was informed by a “government minister” in Lagos that that old staple, a distant relative, had died leaving an estate worth well over ten million pounds. In order to transfer the property to the German, funds were needed to smooth the procedure.

This is not Europe, the German was regretfully informed, this is Africa and sadly riddled with people whose palms need greasing before things get done.

The amount of grease needed in this case could have kept an armored division rust free for the best part of a decade; several hundred thousand smackers. There was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing. Emails to the German, more money transferred to Lagos fro the German.

The German then received a communication from the Lagos police authorities.

The German was, they regretted to inform him, the victim of a criminal gang specializing in mail fraud.

The good news, however, was that the authorities were on to them. The fiends would be arrested. The money returned.

But this is not Europe, the police told him, this is Africa and sadly in order to get things done funds were needed to facilitate things.

By this stage most people would be entertaining serious doubts when encountering a Lagos government letterhead, no matter how nicely forged it was.

Not the German. No expense was spared to help the law track down the scoundrels who had duped him. Hundreds of thousands. But he was determined to fight to the bitter end.

This came when he finally ran out of money.

And never heard from anyone from Lagos again.

An even more extreme case occurred when a retired Czech doctor was taken for $600,000. Understandably disgruntled, the man stormed the Nigerian embassy in Prague last February, and shot dead the leading consul.

Of course Interpol takes a keen interest in these shenanigans, but more amusing is the phenomenon of scam baiting. Scam-baiters lead the con artists along with a view to humiliating them. One Englishman is building up a large collection of scammers’ photos.

First he gives the scammer his name. It is a false name. Then feigning keen interest in the scammer’s proposals he requests photos of the scammers holding a placard displaying his false name. It’s so he can see who he’s deaing with, he tells them.

One scammer obliged by sending a photo of himself, beaming amiably into the camera and proudly holding aloft a piece of paper reading “Iama Dildo.”

That gets it said.

……

Back to diamonds. Yesterday there was a robbery . Three men made off with several cases of shiny stones from Namdeb down in Orangemund .

Early evening, Paulo came over with a gift of two large frozen fish (the deal being that my father will cook them and then everyone will gather and eat them). After the fish had been appraised, praised and manhandled into the freezer compartment of the fridge – they weren’t large fish really, they were huge fish – my father asked about the Orangemund incident.

After I’d stopped shrieking at him (it took a long while), Paulo gave a derisive snort.

“We’ll get them. Those guys were SO dumb. So DUMB! Idiots!”

Seems the robbers were wearing overalls and balaclavas to hide their identities. Clever. After making their getaway they changed their clothes, dumped the overalls, but one of them forgot to remove his birth certificate from a pocket.

Why would anybody bring their birth certificate along on an armed robbery ? Shotguns, yes. Balaclavas, yes. But a birth certificate ?

Dumb. Real dumb.

….

This morning the phone rang unfortunately early. Our caller had seen the advertisement in the window of our Isuzu trooper.

“How does it work ?”

My father launched into his patter. “Well, it’s a smooth runner, has 170,00 kays on the clock give or take..”

“No,” the voice interrupted. “I mean how does the deal work?”

“Well, I guess you come and see the car, we take it for a test drive, if you like it you give me money, I give you the car.”

“So you want money for the car?” The voice was now sounding furtive. Sleazily furtive.

“Uh huh. Yes. ”

“Can we work it differently?”

“What differently? You mean you take the car but don’t give me any money ? “

“There can be ways of doing things. Shall we make a plan?”

“Go away.”

A moment later the phone rang again. A different caller, this man got to the point fast in a strangely offensive “jiveass” pseudo-black-1960s-American pimp accent.

African pronunciation of English is mainly a wonderful thing. It is solemn, considered, structured, sincere; it employs a splendid, entertaining, enthralling vocabulary.

It is possible to listen to a politician making the most outrageous ly deranged statements and find yourself nodding; awed, overwhelmed by the richness of the voice, the syntax, the steadied rhythm. Unless they’re some racist monstrosity like Mugabe.

That man could be singing Grand Opera a la Pavarotti only better. You’d still want to throw eggs.

But this jiveass thing. Yech! Drives my father wild. He was now fully awake. So was I.

“Hey man I need the wheels. Your Land Cruiser.”

“My Land Cruiser is an Isuzu Trooper. And why don’t you go away?”

“S’right, man. Cool. The Trooper. I’ve got to be over the Angolan border by seven tonight. We’ve got to make speed. I’m packing stones.”

“Where are you ?”

“The Tech.”

“Windhoek Polytechnic ?”

“Ya man. The Tech. Can you pick me up ? We got to check this thing out.”

“Go away.”

“Heeyyy! We need to work on this!”

“Go away.”

Catherine is a colleague of my mother. She’s from Kenya but is on a one-year renewable contract with UNDP’s Environment Unit here and she intends to stay in Namibia. Catherine is willowy, elegant and altogether lovely. Fantastic telephone manner. Makes great cakes.

But this is not germaine to my tale.

She advertised that her car was for sale and she got similar telephone calls. Subsequent encounters with the prospective buyers indicated that they were all criminals seeking to convert smuggled diamonds into something more legally sellable than lumps of compacted carbon.

Cars don’t last forever but at least they are useful.

Catherine did sell her car eventually, but not before she and her mother were lured by a smoothly packaged individual into a small room with a Chinese gentleman sitting behind a desk. On the desk was a neat little suitcase.

Pop went the suitcase’s locks.

“Take a look,” said the Chinese gentleman, or words to that effect. They looked. The stones, supremely indifferent to the passage of billennia and their current surge in popularity – a mere nothing in geological time-scale –sat there.

Catherine and her mother got out fast. Then they sold their car to someone who wasn’t waving minerals at them.

Wendy summarized the whole phenomenon perfectly.

“If they want to buy a car why don’t they sell their diamonds and use the money to buy the car?”

Why not indeed?

Akiko coming back with Paulo pointed out that if my father was interested in buying stones and making a huge profit he’d need to know whether the stones were worth anything.

My father admitted that he knew nothing about diamonds.

Akiko gave a gay laugh. “Of course not, you’re not Jewish.”

Good point.

Paulo was equally well informed.

“They sell you glass. Your car crosses the Angolan border. That’s it. Your glass. Their car.”

Then he said, “Hello, Isobel!” and gave me a wide smile.

Isobel????

Isobel!!!!

I screamed at him. He fled.

Speaking from a five month old perspective, if I saw an uncut diamond I’d ignore it. Dull, soapy looking pebble of a thing. Perhaps if someone had cut it so that it reflected light and sparkled, I’d swallow it.

Or choke on it. Or throw it away. Or lose interest in about thirty seconds. My question to the world is this. Why are wars, atrocities, madmen in Sierra Leone/Angola/ Liberia/Congo beating baby’s brains out being funded by these silly little things ? Why don’t the people buy small yellow furry octopi that squeak when you squeeze them instead?

They’re fun.

And I don’t think that anyone has killed anyone over a soft furry yellow octopus that squeaks when you squeeze it.

Or tried to exchange one for a car.

But, heck, I’m young and I’m sure the world has things to teach me.

Namibia’s answer to a Thai fish foot massage: Tadpole attack from Christian Goltz

March 28, 2012

Hugh Paxton’s Blog reckons Namibia can rise to every occasion. In its way. And its way is frequently oblique, innovative and unexpected.

Fish foot massages are currently all the rage in South East Asia. Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia… indeed there are fish tanks full of feet left, right, north, south, east and west. It was a novelty last year. Now it is becoming the norm.

I posted something on the subject in Thai Days a few months ago. If you missed it, the deal is fairly straightforward. You hand over a few notes and stick your feet in a tank full of fish that originated in Turkey and they nibble the dead skin off your feet. It’s normally an agreeable experience.

If it’s a clip joint, the fish won’t be the real thing (they’ll have come from China) and may become aggressive in their attentions resulting in flesh bites.

Fish foot massage parlours have not yet reached south west Africa. And if they get around to it (which I doubt) they will face fierce (and free) local competition.

Thanks to Christian for the tadpole advisory! If you want a tadpole foot massage, his suggestion is that you visit Erongo.

Happy Days: A boy and his tortoise in high summer, Namibia

March 12, 2012

Christian Goltz, photographer and an occasional Hugh Paxton Blog columnist sent in these cheerful pics of his son, Felix, and a leopard tortoise cooling off in Namibia’s Dog Days. Leopard tortoises (like Felix) are adept swimmers.


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