Posts Tagged ‘diamonds and Namibia’

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 The Diary remains unpublished on paper.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!



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


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!


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.


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.



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.

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