All honourable men

Channel 4’s Despatches programme (23/2/15) made depressing viewing. I have long respected both Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind. Mr Straw and I corresponded back in 1997 when I brought to his attention something I felt his then Department had done well. To watch both he and Sir Malcolm so energetically, so sleazily, pursuing the dangled opportunity to consult for a fictitious Chinese company was unedifying to say the least. I suspect, mere weeks away from the end of their long and distinguished Commons careers each had let his guard down and the lure of easy money worked more strongly on them than would have been the case in earlier stages. One must certainly hope so. To hear Mr Straw talk airily about his (presumably now fading) prospects of a peerage and the greater scope that would allow him to aid his prospective client, to watch Sir Malcolm describe his current role as an MP as ‘self employed’ and boast of his automatic access to ambassadors was offensive and embarrassing. Whatever happens next, their greatest punishment, if they have any vestige of honour remaining, is to have to face themselves every morning in the mirror and see looking back at them what sadly we now see: not respected elder statesmen but grubby, money hungry old chancers.

And as someone who has happily had to hustle for work for the past 20 years, I have to say, I really didn’t think they were very good at it.  They not only let down their parliamentary colleagues, they give all us other old chancers a bad name. I’m thinking of using them as examples in future sessions on negotiating as a case study in how not to do it. Too hungry by far.

For the UK, this problem will remain as long as MPs can receive a salary for the public purse and pursue private remuneration. It really is quite simple.

The trial of Dominique Strauss-Khan raises a wider ethical question: What is the relationship between personal morality and professional integrity? By reputation the French have regarded these as separable and distinct. France seemed a place more sophisticated, populated by a people generally more grown up and relaxed about sex. But their response to reports about President Hollande’s personal life last year suggested a shift in this traditionally live and let live attitude which the trial of DSK seems to confirm. Is there a continuity between behaviour in our personal lives and the way we conduct ourselves in public life? And who has rights to what? What is the extent of a public figure’s right to a private life? What rights do the public have to know what those in power get up to when off duty?

The 1998 impeachment procedures against Bill Clinton were not about his extra marital affairs, much as they may have engaged the public imagination and dominated the headlines, but about whether he lied under oath: He faced charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Maybe this is where the personal and the professional, the private and the public, coalesce. In a commitment to the truth or a willingness to tell lies. Surely that is likely to be the consistent across all aspects of one’s life: Can someone really be personally deceitful but professionally ethical? Many people would say no, yet we seem able to accept it can work the other way round. That someone can lie and cheat in their job but be a trustworthy family member and friend. So does integrity mean the same in both contexts? What does it tell us that Clinton maintained high approval rates as president throughout his troubles but opinion polls indicated that moral character and honesty were significant issues in the subsequent Bush/Gore election?

At the time of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, I was in Ghana. Chatting the matter over with a group of senior government figures, one shook his head in wonder at all the fuss: ‘What is this all about?’ he mused. ‘Here, if we give a man power we expect him to act like a powerful man. You know how Clinton should handle these questions? He should say “What? Who? Show me a picture of this woman. Hmmm. Have I slept with her? Probably. Next question.” Could anyone get away with such a cavalier approach here and now?

In an interview with The Telegraph in October 2014, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson dismissed the idea that the public care about his love life. ‘On the whole,’ he said ‘I think that all that kind of thing is, or certainly should be, irrelevant to the job you are trying to do.” Maybe. But only if you’re popular and strong. When you are weakened, undermined and vulnerable, your failings suddenly become public property. So far, Boris Johnson has managed to maintain the persona of a brilliant maverick, much loved to whom the normal rules simply don’t apply. Will it last?

Does it make a difference if the individual concerned is elected rather than appointed? I think so. Increasingly we vote not for parties but for individuals, and even then not on the basis of what they propose to do but on who we think, or they say, they are. If a key plank of a politician’s bid for power is ‘Trust me’ then surely we have a right to access information which may cast doubt about how trustworthy that person is. And when who a person claims to be is a key element in their political campaigning and championed by their supporters, then is it unreasonable for their opponents to feel free to use apparent character flaws against them?

But throughout all this one can’t help but sense a whiff of cant and hypocrisy. A number of Republican members of Congress who voted for Clinton’s impeachment had their own extra marital affairs exposed at the time. Anyone in public life who decides to take the moral high ground sets themselves up as a target and needs to be pretty sure they either have no skeletons in the cupboard or, to mix metaphors, that any prospective dirty washing is securely hidden from view.

My own view, for what it’s worth is that there is a difference between private life and public role and, as the Straw/Rifkind case I think illustrates, these differences must be rigorously policed. In Ethiopia a few years ago I caught the end of some American funded ethics training for law enforcement. In the closing session each participant was encouraged to stand up and commit to an ethical change they would now make. Cheers and applause greeted a series of statements about giving up alcohol or renouncing adultery. I found this evangelical style offensive and the focus on personal behavior wrongheaded. It is also a convenient mechanism for avoiding the real issue.

Some years ago I took a group of anti-corruption activists to meet the then Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Sir Philip Mawer. To explain his role he said that if a Minister has a mistress it is none of the Commissioner’s concern.  However if that Minister pays for her with public funds it very much is. This is the point. If a policemen is demanding bribes, that’s the issue I want addressed. If he becomes a good husband or a sober churchgoer yet still takes bribes he may sleep better at night but I don’t think society has been much advanced.

Tight with intrigue, this novel melds storylines from the past and the present… This is a complex story of 21st century diplomacy, and a story about manhood, as well as a gripping historical thriller.

Booktrust

McCallum’s in-depth knowledge of Kenyan society provides a rich backdrop for an intriguing legal drama with twists and turns aplenty, while pertinent themes on political corruption, being a minority and the question of what separates a terrorist from a freedom fighter will be sure to resonate with the 21st century reader.

-Publisher’s Association

The Final Charge is a gripping study of power and corruption and a mediation on the cope and limitations of a legal system when considering war crimes.

New Internationalist

Following my last post I’ve been asked about WAWA.
I first heard this expression on a beach one Sunday in Ghana. A group of friends from the British High Commission and I had driven up the coast and thought we’d found the perfect spot for a picnic. A glorious stretch of sparkling white beach with the crashing Atlantic waves breaking before us and a crystal, still lagoon surrounded by palm trees at our backs.
But as we edged onto the beach, our Range Rover sank axle- deep as the seemingly solid surface proved to be just a dry crust over wet sand. We engaged four wheel drive. Lightened the vehicle. Revved. Pushed. Reversed. All to no avail.
An old man in traditional cloth appeared, greeted us, surveyed our predicament in silence for a moment, then quietly offered ‘You know, we can help you with this…’
Machismo, national pride and an unwillingness to cough up the fee this was bound to involve all combined to inform our polite but firm refusal.
‘British engineering,’ the leader of our group and driver replied. ‘Best in the world. We’ll be fine, thanks.’
We weren’t. All our efforts merely made things worse.
‘We had some Germans stuck here last weekend,’ the old man observed. ‘They too put their faith in their engineering. Even ordered a tractor to come and pull them out. They had to pay us to get both unstuck. When you’re ready I’ll be over by that tree.’
After another half an hour, we admitted defeat and agreed the cost of our rescue. The old man whistled and immediately a dozen young dived into the lagoon and swam over to us, two pushing before them what looked like railway sleepers. All of us except the driver were politely ushered away into the shade, the vehicle was rocked energetically from side to side, the sleepers thrust below the wheels and the Range Rover roared free.
And the rest of us realised we were, ever so politely, being held hostage pending payment.
‘You have just seen an example of WAWA,’ the old man said to me with a smile as he counted the notes we handed over.
Satisfied, he shook my hand. ‘West Africa Wins Again. Drive carefully.’

I am ashamed to admit I had no idea who Fuse ODG is but I share the concerns about the long term damage of well-meaning but misguided images of African suffering he expressed in his Guardian piece ‘Why I had to turn down Band Aid.’ It is 30 years since the original drew much needed attention to the famine in Ethiopia. 30 years. Yet even today when I tell a cabdriver taking me to Heathrow that’s where I’m headed, the questions are about starving children. On one occasion I was asked whether I’ll be taking my own food ‘cos it would be wrong for me to take some of theirs whilst I’m out there.
I do of course know who Bob Geldof is. We are contemporaries. I rejoice in the memory of Live Aid and Geldof’s Christ-like exhaustion and anger. The Christmas of Band Aid too: Inspiring examples of clear sighted youth in action. ‘This is simple. Cut the crap, granddad. This is wrong and we can do something about it.’ Glorious, heady days. But Mr Geldof and I are no longer young. There is a world of difference between Africa today and that of the 1980s. Plus Ebola in West Africa is already on the global agenda, unlike that famine of biblical proportions in the Horn. Even using the same basic song lumps the two widely different situations, decades and time zones apart, together. The time, the location and the situation deserve a very different song.
Nigeria’s triumph over Ebola has been too little reported and way too little celebrated. It would seem all the things well-wishers, advisers, donors and development partners have been banging on about for decades have actually come together and delivered: Strong leadership, civil engagement, empowered public services, effective communications strategies and even public-private partnerships. If ever there was an opportunity, no an absolute imperative to stop, shake our heads and cry ‘Wow, WAWA! (West Africa Wins Again) surely this is it. And not just a flash in the pan. Nigeria may be on the verge of Polio eradication too. Now that should be sung about.
What hit home to me in Mr ODG’s article was his comments about dignity. I have seen greater dignity evidenced more often in West Africa than anywhere else I’ve ever been. I was lucky enough to spend a large part of the 1990s in Ghana. I rejoice in his statement ‘Anyone who has experienced Africa in a positive way is a citizen of the New Africa.’ So as a fellow citizen I’ve just gone onto YouTube and watched him perform TINA.
WAWA!

In a novel that is reminiscent of Kipling’s masterly fiction about the Great Game, Dawood Ali McCallum tells an electrifying story about intelligence and counter-espionage in nineteenth century India.

Viking, India

Dawood Ali McCallum could just as well have been a poet. The Lords of Alijah, his 400-page novel, is structured like a giant sonnet. The architectural perfection of his novel on the many facets of the princely state of Gwalior, is a reflection of his own experiences and therefore it comes through as spontaneous, not contrived.

Business India

Bravo! Taz transcends the stereotype and has dimension and integrity as a character. The prose is lively and unpretentious. The characters are sound, and even the minor characters are believable and engaging. Well worth a read.

Dawn, Karachi

McCallum writes well. He knowshow to tell a story and he knows how to flesh out characters.

Sahara Times