Biography: Anafu, Moses. Born in Ghana. Educated at the University of Cambridge, where he received a PhD in 1979. Joined the Commonwealth Secretariat in 1979 as Research Officer in International Affairs Division. Appointed Chief Research Officer, 1987. Assistant Director, Political Affairs Department, 1990-2000. Commonwealth Secretary General’s Special Envoy to South Africa, 1991-94.
SO: Dr Sue Onslow (Interviewer)
MA: Dr Moses Anafu (Respondent)
Transcript Part One:
SO: This is Sue Onslow talking to Dr Moses Anafu in Willesden, London, on Tuesday, 17th June 2014. Moses, thank you very much indeed for agreeing to take part in this project. I wonder if you could begin by saying, please, how did you come to be recruited to the Commonwealth Secretariat?
MA: Well, first of all, I didn’t get there through government, because a lot of my colleagues were seconded from their governments – especially the political offices. I saw an advert for a research officer in what was then the International Affairs Division of the Secretariat – later Political Affairs Division. I applied, was interviewed, and given the job. That’s how I came to be working there.
SO: Before then, you were based in Cambridge?
MA: I was finishing my PhD in Cambridge.
SO: So, you joined in 1979?
MA: In January ‘79.
SO: The hot topic for the Commonwealth at this particular point was, of course, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe.
MA: Yes, it was coming to a projection, I would say, at that point.
SO: Yes. It was anticipated that the Conservative Party, at that particular time, was going to win the UK elections, and it was very much feared that the Conservative Party under Mrs Thatcher would recognise the internal settlement of Bishop Abel Muzorewa. Do you recall the debates in the Commonwealth, in the Secretariat, around this time?
MA: Yes, they were very animated. After the so-called ‘internal settlement’, Secretary General Ramphal got the Secretariat to produce a very critical analysis of the internal settlement, under which Muzorewa and Ian Smith were in harness together [Appendix Two]. I remember that, when the High Commissioners considered the document, everybody supported it.
SO: So, this was a critique of the internal settlement?
MA: Yes, and devastatingly so.
SO: It wasn’t a critique of the political economy of Rhodesia?
MA: No, no – the settlement.
SO: Because there was another very detailed assessment – by two independent consultants – of the political economy of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, and what its needs would be, going forward.
MA: Going forward, yes. It was not that one. This was a purely political document.
SO: I know that Secretary General Ramphal was particularly keen, in the run-up to the Lusaka meeting in August 1979, to ensure that Mrs Thatcher should not be too isolated. He embarked upon a highly deliberate diplomatic campaign around the capitals of the African Commonwealth to solicit their support for gentler treatment of Mrs Thatcher at her first Heads of Government meeting. Were you involved in any of these visits to African capitals?
MA: No, I wasn’t personally involved in that, but I do know that it’s customary, before a CHOGM, for the Secretary General to visit select capitals, especially the ones that would be key to the debates. And, of course, as Rhodesia/Zimbabwe was an Africa issue, he visited all the Front Line States – I know that – and Nigeria. I’m not sure he went to my own [country], Ghana. And, the idea was: A), to point out to them the issues; and also B), to ensure that there was, if you like, a consensus position at the Lusaka meeting – and, significantly, because it was also being held in Zambia, on the border with Zimbabwe, and a leading Front Line State at that. So, KK’s role, President [Kenneth] Kaunda’s role, would have been critical. So would have been that of the other Front Line States, and Nigeria, because in those days, we used to speak of ‘the Front Line States and Nigeria’. Nigeria was an honorary Front Line State, for that purpose.
SO: Mrs Thatcher said, with her logical brain, and I quote, that she “couldn’t quite grasp why Nigeria was an honorary Front Line State.”
MA: I know. Everybody else did. We all did.
SO: Were you part of the advanced party that went down to Lusaka?
MA: I didn’t go to Lusaka. I was involved in preparing the documents for it, but I didn’t go to Lusaka; although, I subsequently struck up a warm friendship with KK on my own.
SO: In what way?
MA: Well, he and I have a common friend, and I asked to see him. By then he’d left office, so I always made it a point to greet him whenever I was in that region.
SO: President Kaunda was, of course, very important behind the scenes at the Lancaster House negotiations between September and December 1979. I know that Secretary General Ramphal was very keen to offer administrative and diplomatic guidance and support to the Zimbabwean liberation movement leaders when they came to London for those negotiations. Were you involved, in any way, in helping to brief or support them?
MA: No, that would have been restricted to [Ramphal] himself, and possibly Moni Malhoutra, and Anyaoku, who was his number two. And it would have been to do with the issues, basically, and how they might be managed at the meeting itself.
SO: So, that suggests that Secretary General Ramphal kept that discussion very, very close, and that it was only in a very tight and trusted team. I know that Chief Emeka had been part of the diplomatic back-up going to the Geneva negotiations in ‘76…
MA: He was then Assistant Secretary General.
SO: Yes. So, by the time of the signature of the Lancaster House Agreement in December 1979, Secretary General Ramphal had made the suggestion of a Commonwealth Observer Mission for the election. At what point did you become involved in this?
MA: The Observer Mission for the elections would have prepared the usual kind of briefing for all the observers, and it would have been an outline of political trends, some appreciation of the personalities, and other peculiarities that we thought were important to be taken note of.
SO: Did you accompany the team?
MA: I didn’t go to Zimbabwe for the elections.
SO: Were you reading the briefing papers coming back at all?
MA: There were no briefing papers coming back, as such. They would have been reporting to Ramphal on the phone, possibly, but I didn’t see them.
SO: Did you go down to Salisbury – as the capital was still known – for the independence celebrations?
SO: Were you involved, in any way, in the post-election push to encourage Governor Soames and the British Government to ramp up British development aid to Zimbabwe?
SO: So, after the success of Zimbabwe, how quickly do you recall that the attention started to shift to Namibia and also South Africa?
MA: Really, once Zimbabwe was out of the way, the focus of the political department of the Secretary General was on South Africa. Maybe it wasn’t really as big a problem as South Africa itself. Namibia, not having been a British colony, which Zimbabwe had been, wasn’t quite as directly our issue, so to speak. We shared it with the UN – the UN was in the driving seat there.
SO: I just wondered, though, because Britain was a core member of the Contact Group, whether the Secretariat tried to use its position in London to press the British Government on a particular stance.
MA: How did Namibia come to be? After the defeat of the Germans, the mandate was given to Britain; and Britain, in turn, gave it to South Africa.
SO: It was a Class C Mandate under the League of Nations, and the administration was awarded to South Africa.
MA: Exactly. So, Britain had co-responsibility, if you see what I mean…
MA: …for resolving that issue. Especially when the South Africans started exporting full-blown apartheid to Namibia, which was regarded as not in keeping with the original spirit of the mandate. That’s how the Commonwealth was able to have an entrée.
SO: So, at the next Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Melbourne in 1981…
MA: I went to Melbourne.
SO: It seemed to me, when I was looking at the briefing papers this morning, that Malcolm Fraser was very determined to push forward ideas of economic development [at this meeting] and that he was eager to link the West-South axis with Australia in collaboration with other key members of the Commonwealth: to set up things like a Common Fund, to support or to modify prices on commodities – to support the whole economic developmental agenda. But how much was South Africa, also, as you say, increasing in importance in the discussions?
MA: Oh, very much, because – first of all – South Africa was the effective occupying power. Two, the position in the Commonwealth was that South Africa was the source of all the problems in that part of the world – the Front Line States’ destabilisation, in particular – and so it was very difficult to discuss Namibia without bringing in South Africa. Are you with me?
SO: I am. Because South Africa was the regional hegemonic power, it had administrative control over Namibia. By this point, it had acquired nuclear weapons; it was militarily present in South West Africa. It was a question of getting South Africa out of Namibia, in political terms.
SO: Did you, in any way, see the Cold War as important?
SO: In what ways?
MA: It was the South Africans who made it an issue. The South Africans projected their regime as anti-communist – they were a bulwark against the coming of communism to Southern Africa. That was the argument they made. And they pointed to Angola, pointed to the MPLA Marxist Government there; they pointed to Mozambique, which had an avowedly Marxist government – FRELIMO didn’t hide it, either. Now, South Africa saw itself as part of the free world – as it put it – and [suggested] that if you are against communism, then you must back them. You must back South Africa. We called it apartheid, they called it ‘South Africa’. So, there wasn’t much of a job to do there, within the Commonwealth. South Africa’s destabilisation campaign was also, by then, overt. They had decided that they would take the battle to the enemy. So, if you can cause as much instability in Zimbabwe, [then you can do the same in] all the Front Line States – minus Tanzania, because Tanzania was far, if you look at the map…Although, Tanzanian soldiers had fought alongside the Patriotic Front inside Zimbabwe. Then, after the end of Ian Smith’s nonsense in Zimbabwe, a decision had to be taken by the Tanzanian Government, which was, “Can we send troops to go and fight alongside the ANC if it comes to that?” And they said, no, they couldn’t. The supply lines would be impossible: it’s too far. So, this limited their support, like the rest of us, to political support for the ANC.
SO: Yes, military intervention and military action was not feasible, hence the importance of making a moral and historic gesture on sanctions. That makes sense, rather than having diplomatic ‘hand-wringing’.
MA: Support sanctions throughout the world: supported in the UN, supported in the Non-Aligned Movement, as well as in the Commonwealth.
SO: Please, could I just ask about the South African destabilisation programme? How much do you recall of the Gukuruhundi campaign – the violence and killings in Matabeleland – that took place from 1982 to 1987? What was the view from the Commonwealth? Was it seen as part of South Africa’s destabilisation programme or, in fact, was there a different view?
MA: There was no official Commonwealth view, as far as I knew. This is the post-independence conflict between Mugabe and Nkomo, that’s what we mean. And the so-called Fifth Brigade, a unit of the Zimbabwe Army…
SO: Trained by the North Korean military instructors.
MA: That’s right. Now, you see, some of us knew that Nkomo had stockpiled weapons in Matabeleland, [and] also that his army, ZIPRA, had not done much fighting. They were in Zambia, but nobody ever saw them fire a shot in anger. The fighting was on the front with Mozambique, because the Rhodesian Government knew that that’s where the real enemy was. Nkomo did not want anything to be resolved by violence. He just wanted Smith to hand over power to him. He didn’t want any kind of mobilisation; no, he didn’t want that. He wanted the kind of neo-colonial settlement that we all got.
SO: But in the February 1980 election, when Mugabe got 57 seats, Nkomo got 20 and Muzorewa got three. In the post-election discussions, Governor Soames encouraged Robert Mugabe to go into coalition with Nkomo and to make him Vice-President. You are saying that you knew that Nkomo and ZIPRA had stockpiled weapons in Matabeleland?
SO: So, you attributed this to a rising of disaffected former fighters who felt that they had lost out in the independence settlement? That Nkomo had triggered it? Or that South Africa was behind it?
MA: Well, Nkomo was himself shocked by the outcome of the election. He had overestimated his support base. Okay, fine. But, initially, he was holding out for more in terms of [political power]. His argument, which was a very technical argument, was that they were all called ‘Patriotic Front’ – that was the name of the alliance. But it was an alliance of two different parties. The parties themselves had not meshed; they hadn’t formed one party, as it were. There was ZAPU for Nkomo and ZANU for Mugabe. And Nkomo, after the election, said, “But we had fought as the Patriotic Front, so it was a common victory.” This is where the ZANU people said, “No, you fought as ZAPU. Your troops were for ZAPU. Ours were ZANU.” So, ZANU, this is where they then put ‘PF’ [in their name]: ZANU-PF. So, it was a ZANU victory, not a Patriotic Front victory, and so, “we must decide who gets what.” Now, that’s when the trouble started. That’s when this trouble in Matabeleland started.
SO: But why was the Commonwealth – why was the Secretariat – so quiet?
MA: What do you think the Secretariat could have done?
SO: Could there have been any statement calling for a moderation of the violence? Calling for political reconciliation between the parties?
MA: What we didn’t know at the time – even now, we still don’t know, I’m sure – was how much was South Africa involved in it, really. And we didn’t know who else might have been involved. I don’t know how to put this to you. Countries freshly arrived at independence tend to be very prickly, and you have to be very careful who you speak to. Because not too long ago, they were refugees; today, they are a sovereign government. You have to find a way of speaking to them and getting things across to them. I would say [that] the other point [is] – and I have no evidence for this, it’s just guessing, what I’m about to tell you – I think, at that point, the position of ZANU was, “Thank you, but we can handle our problem.” That’s my guess.
SO: That’s your view? Well, that’s a very informed take. You made reference, then, to South Africa rising up the critical issue list for the Commonwealth in the 1980s. Opposition to apartheid has been described as the Commonwealth’s ‘grand strategy’. Mrs Thatcher, of course, famously took a different view to the Commonwealth on the issue of economic and financial sanctions. This featured frequently at Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings. Again and again and again, she states her opposition to apartheid: that she’s completely hostile, she loathes it, it’s detestable. However…
MA: But, no sanctions.
SO: But, no sanctions. Were you privy to any of the discussions on how to try to persuade her otherwise?
MA: I didn’t detect any warmth between her and Ramphal from the beginning. I didn’t. Now, when you say “persuade her”, it’s not like she didn’t know what she was doing.
SO: I think she knew perfectly well what she was doing!
MA: Exactly, and she was taking a position which was unalterable against sanctions. But we hoped that the collective influence of her colleagues – as well as those countries closer to the situation – would have some impact.
SO: This obviously was a rising issue at the New Delhi Heads of Government Meeting. It particularly came to the fore in 1985 at the Nassau Meeting.
MA: Yes. Nassau was very important because of the EPG, but how did the EPG arise? It has to do exactly with trying to convince Mrs T. Now, at the meeting, she was going around saying – this is what I learnt – that, “the South Africans are prepared to negotiate, so hold off sanctions.” You understand? “Hold off sanctions, because they are prepared to talk.” Well, how do we test that statement? With an Eminent Persons Group. So, the EPG was [established] in order to deprive Mrs T of the only fig leaf she had: go in and establish whether they are prepared to talk or not.
SO: Were you part of the advanced party that went down to South Africa ahead of the actual EPG mission? I know that Hugh Craft was very involved in going down to Lusaka [and] to Botswana beforehand.
MA: I didn’t go at that time. When Anyaoku took over as SG, I used to go there on my own, even. He would send me alone.
SO: But before then, you – a brilliant Ghanaian – was left to the side!
MA: Yes, and not only that, I had a lot of contacts with the South Africans. Some I had met at university here. Others, I had met in the swim of life. And others, because they knew I was both a Ghanaian and a Nkrumahist, they came to tell me [what was going on]. The South Africans themselves. This is how I met people like Thabo Mbeki. He was very good to me, Thabo Mbeki. Thabo does not easily confide in people. Have you ever met him?
SO: I haven’t had that pleasure, no.
MA: If you can try, he is very, very clever, but his human relations are a different matter. That’s why he wasn’t a success as President.
SO: You do need that common touch – that sense of being able to exploit personal chemistry – to be an inspirational leader: particularly, of course, following Nelson Mandela.
MA: No, he could carry it off. Mandela, that is. Mandela was not very up-to-date with the world when he came out of prison. When I was in Natal, Mandela called me into his office, and he used to call me “Mos”. He said, “Mos, this is the heart of the violence. What is happening [here] is going to ruin everything that my generation has lived and worked for.” The violence in Natal [between the ANC and Inkatha Freedom Party Supporters] was playing straight into the hands of the enemy. “Now, it’s no use telling one of my colleagues. You go and talk to him. You, somebody from the UN, and somebody from the OAU: the representatives of the international community.” So, I asked him, “Madiba, may I speak frankly to you?” He said, “Yes!” I said, “Okay. Yes, we are the international community, as you’ve enumerated. But we speak with different accents. A Commonwealth representative knows what the Commonwealth position is on this issue. The EU, for example – Mrs Thatcher has a representative there, right? Now, if you send a mixed delegation representing the international community there, the message won’t be as sharp as sending one person.” He said, “Okay, then you alone should go.” So, I went. You know, Buthelezi, whenever I’ve been to see him, always received me very well – very, very well – and I even must say that I came to have a certain feeling for him, which, unless you’ve had dealings with him, you won’t know.
SO: You said beforehand that, when you met him, you had a sense of a real hunger in Buthelezi.
MA: Yes, true, [a hunger] for contact with the outside world. His message, such as it was, hadn’t been aired. He had no platform. No African country would host him, other than in secrecy. Maybe Ivory Coast, maybe…Where else? Morocco. But these were peripheral countries, you see, with no impact on the situation.
SO: Did he mention any contacts with Mrs Thatcher? Looking at the British archives, she very much emphasised the particular importance of Buthelezi as head of Inkatha, so I just wondered.
MA: No, he knew what we thought of Mrs Thatcher’s position. But, also, if he allowed us to know openly that he was trying to rely on Conservative politicians here and [in] America to come and put down apartheid for him, it would just expose his position.
SO: Yes. He would seem a ‘stooge’, as you say. So, when did you first meet Mandela?
MA: I first met him when he came to Lusaka – two weeks or so after his release from prison. I went with Ramphal and Anyaoku.
SO: So, that was his first international visit after he’d been let out of jail in February 1990?
MA: Yes. Two weeks after he’d been let out of jail, he came to Lusaka, and the whole world went there to meet him.
SO: And you were part of the world coming to see him.
MA: But you know what? He looked so tired. So, Ramphal said, “Mr Mandela, I will forego my meeting with you out of friendship.” You could see that the man was physically worn out.
SO: Did you hear Mandela’s address to the ANC when he said, “You have to understand how difficult it is for the Afrikaner to negotiate”?
MA: When did he make that?
SO: As I understand it, this was in his first meeting with the ANC in exile, in Lusaka, following his release on 11th February 1990. It may have been a different meeting.
MA: No. You see, it’s not the sort of thing he would have said in the presence of outsiders. I’m sure what you’ve just quoted reflected his general position. Did you see the obituary notice Anyaoku wrote for him?
SO: Yes, I did.
MA: Well, I wrote it.
SO: It was a particularly warm tribute.
MA: Very, very warm.
SO: Sir, how good were your contacts within the ANC in Lusaka at that point? You made reference to Thabo Mbeki. Had you met him back here in the UK?
MA: I first met him in the UK.
SO: In addition to your own contacts, how good were the Secretariat’s contacts with the ANC in exile in Lusaka?
MA: Anyaoku, of course [had good contacts].
SO: At what point did you really start to become more and more involved?
SO: In 1990. So, did you become Anyaoku’s emissary after that meeting in Lusaka? Or did it have to wait until the Harare CHOGM meeting in late October 1991, after which Chief Anyaoku decided to make the big push for Commonwealth assistance to transition in South Africa?
MA: No, I went on my own: quite a number of times.
SO: So, what was the purpose of your visits?
MA: Well, it depends. There was one…Yes, I knew there was to be another summit – was it ‘91?
SO: Yes, in Harare.
MA: Now, when was Mandela released? 1990.
SO: February 1990, yes.
MA: And that’s when the violence also began. Anyaoku wanted Mandela, Buthelezi and De Klerk to attend the CHOGM, and the idea was for Commonwealth leaders to read the riot act to them about the consequences of the violence. His strategy was that, of course, they will be speaking to all three [of the] responsible leaders, but then they would be gunning for Buthelezi. He would be the person [to whom] they will say, “Switch it off”. So, I went. Buthelezi and I flew on the same flight. We took the same flight. He would say, “Oh, but you are coming my way, you didn’t tell me.” I said, “Chief, I didn’t know I would be coming. I have come to collect something here for the office.” He said, “Okay”. Well, I first went and tested this idea on Mandela. I said, “The rise of the violence is now the concern of the Commonwealth. We’ve come this far, and from nowhere this problem has arisen. So, the idea is that the Secretary General wants to invite the three of you to the Heads of Government Meeting, so that the riot act will be read out, but we’ll really be gunning for Buthelezi. He is the one who would need to be convinced and persuaded of the urgency of ending the violence.” You know what he did to me? He said – and I went straight into his office, just the two of us, and I delivered [the message] – he said, “Okay, wait here for me.” He went to the next room and he came back with Thabo and Aziz Pahad, both of whom I knew well. He then said, “Mos, repeat to them what you’ve just told me here.” So, I repeated it. Thabo said, “The ANC policy has been to keep this man as nothing but a local politician. Now you want to give him the international stage! This will make him bigger than he is. No, we will not accept that.”
SO: Did Aziz Pahad have a view?
MA: No, he didn’t say anything. Would you believe, the old man himself also said nothing thereafter.
SO: So, once Thabo Mbeki had made his remark about not wanting to give Buthelezi the platform, [then] that was it?
MA: That was it; no further discussion. But, you see, Mandela’s management technique was to intervene as minimally as need be. He’d been in prison for so long, [during] the course of which the world, Africa and South Africa had changed. He came out into a new world, and he didn’t want to put a foot wrong. This issue is a foreign affairs issue in his eyes. These are his foreign affairs experts, so why should he say anything?
SO: True, and because he didn’t want to expend his political capital, which, after all, was fragile and limited: the difficulty of the reality of Mandela as opposed to Mandela the icon.
MA: The way Thabo spoke also revealed to me the sway he had over the old man.
SO: So, in your discussions with Mandela thereafter, did you make sure that you were also in touch with Thabo Mbeki? Having come to this realisation yourself, did that in any way alter your diplomacy with Mandela and the ANC?
MA: No. I had been working with Thabo for a long time by then, and I knew how his mind worked. I knew that he had a lot of respect – especially among the Presidents of the Front Line States. He wasn’t a warm personality, Thabo. He was almost a machine, in that sense.
SO: Well, you could say it was, in part, the damage of exile.
MA: Partly: the damage of exile and its deprivations. No, that I noticed.
SO: After all, having being an exile – he was not an ‘in-xile’, nor was he in the military command structure – his relationship with other struggle leaders would have been complicated, as well.
So, you were Chief Emeka’s emissary – to try to suggest to Mandela the idea of Buthelezi coming up to the Heads of Government meeting in Harare and having their heads knocked together. How did the Chief respond when you came back and reported?
MA: He said, “Well, if that is the case, fine. We’ll drop it.” We dropped it.
SO: In the run-up to Harare, were you involved in drafting the Harare Declaration? Or was that Max Gaylard and others in the Political Affairs Division?
MA: No, what I did was write the opening speech for the Secretary General in Harare, as well as background briefing papers. But when it came to the Declaration, I think our New Zealand colleague Jeremy Pope, the lawyer, had a lot to do with that.
SO: I know that the British also came forward with their own version.
MA: You know what surprises me? You can answer this. After all these centuries of African experience, it doesn’t show in British policy in Africa. It certainly didn’t play to any useful effect on the Southern African issue. Why?
SO: That was your perception?
SO: Sir Peter Marshall would say that the trouble within the British diplomatic corps at that particular point was an obsession with “Europe, Europe, Europe”, and so Commonwealth issues fell into the shade. So, historical linkages and important ongoing cultural ties with an extra-European world didn’t matter as much. That’s Sir Peter’s view.
MA: Really? Is that all he says?
SO: Well, he said a lot more! But on this particular point, that was his view: “Europe, Europe, Europe”. Just going back, though, to the Harare discussion in 1991, which was Chief Emeka’s first Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting as SG. I am aware that he’d gone into retreat after he was elected Secretary General. Did he in any way communicate with you – to talk about African issues, African governance, democratization?
MA: No. He did say that he wanted the promotion of democracy to be one of his major issues as Secretary General, but he didn’t do anything until he came back from leave.
SO: After the Harare meeting in October, Chief went straight down to South Africa – with the mandate of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting – to talk to De Klerk. Did you accompany him?
SO: Do you remember that first meeting?
MA: Very well.
SO: What was your impression?
MA: Well, I’ll tell you what happened. De Klerk was there, surrounded by his entire cabinet.
SO: That’s interesting.
MA: Yes. And there was me, there was Mary Mackie, I think Stuart Mole, and somebody else.
SO: Not Moni Malhoutra, as he would have left the Secretariat by then – quite apart from the strained relationship between himself and Chief.
MA: No, he wouldn’t have taken Moni anyway. Moni was generally good – a kind of excellent generalist. But I always got the impression that he didn’t have a feel for African affairs. But I don’t blame him for that.
SO: Because he was from a different political and cultural background?
MA: Yes, that’s right. Well, De Klerk welcomed the Chief and his delegation, and then the Chief said, “Look, over these many years, we’ve been speaking at each other across distances. We would have liked to be able to communicate with you the way we are now doing, but the circumstances at the time made that impossible.” He said, “As long as you had a government here that was committed to policies of racial discrimination – apartheid and all that – there was no way that the Commonwealth could have established normal ties with you. But now that you, yourself, have said that you want to change course, our job is to help you. We see it as a primary responsibility of the Commonwealth: to help you move away from Apartheid, and on to genuine democracy. That is what I’m here to do. It’s the beginning of that conversation.” And [did] you know De Klerk smoked? He was a chain-smoker – literally, one cigarette after the other – but he planted a stare at Anyaoku, and then he said, “Yes, I think we can do business.”
SO: Please, can I ask, Moses, how much were you aware of Mrs Thatcher’s attempts to contact the South African Government in the 1980s? And that wasn’t just PW Botha; she was repeatedly saying, “You have to release Mandela, you have to modify apartheid, you have to promote reform.” When De Klerk became President in August of 1989, Mrs Thatcher also had met him, and repeated, “You have to release Mandela; you have to accelerate reform.” The night before De Klerk made his momentous speech in the South African Parliament, he phoned up the British Ambassador Robin Renwick at midnight and said, “Mrs Thatcher is not going to be disappointed.” Now, if she wasn’t important, he wouldn’t have bothered to make that call at midnight, before he stood up in Parliament.
MA: She was important because she was the only major Western power that stood up in support of the regime.
SO: That’s interesting [that] that’s your abiding perception. Because if you look at what she’s saying behind the scenes – captured in the documents available on the Thatcher archive website – she’s not actually saying that.
MA: What was she saying behind the scenes?
SO: Behind the scenes…When she met PW Botha at Chequers in June of 1984, she was saying, “You have to release Mandela; you have to accelerate reform. You have to deconstruct apartheid. Unless you do this, you’re promoting the forces of destabilisation.” In other words, “You have to change.”
MA: Why didn’t she say that in public?
SO: This is what I don’t understand.
MA: This couldn’t have done her any harm.
SO: And she didn’t say it in public, and this is what I’m trying to work out. Why? This is a continued and enduring perception of Mrs Thatcher as a supporter of apartheid, which she was not. I’m trying to work out this paradox.
MA: For a normal or regular politician, it is not surprising that she took a position internally. But [this position was one] of universal popularity, and [she] didn’t air it outside the four corners of the [room]…!
SO: Sir Bernard Ingham, Mrs Thatcher’s Press Secretary, noted that she didn’t make the most of her foreign policy activity in private, and was remarkably diffident. I wonder if, in a bizarre way, Mrs Thatcher felt that – in asserting her opposition to economic and financial sanctions – her parallel message of, “We have to be constructive, we have to engage, we have to support,” was as meaningful in opposing apartheid. So, in her view, it was plain to see, but it became overshadowed by her shrill opposition to sanctions. Also, she was in step with others in the British Government and Foreign Office who were consistent in saying, “We shouldn’t push forward with sanctions.”
MA: Why not?
SO: Because it was felt that sanctions would be fundamentally counterproductive. Mrs Thatcher felt apartheid made economic nonsense, but she also felt that sanctions would fall disproportionately upon the black population – that was her view. She felt that sanctions were a tool of international diplomacy, but they were a tool to be used in parallel with others.
MA: No, but they were busy imposing sanctions on Eastern Bloc countries.
SO: I know.
MA: Cuba: perpetually under sanctions.
SO: There were American sanctions against Cuba – I don’t know about the extent of British measures. There were sanctions against Uganda between ‘72 and ’79, sanctions against the Eastern Bloc, and on the oil/gas pipeline and the transfer of technology to COMECON countries.
MA: She was a great believer in sanctions. You see, I take this view. People say that her husband had a stake in South Africa. Maybe, maybe not. But the point is, surely, that if the regime had known – or had been made to realise – that Britain has worldwide responsibilities and cannot keep on risking its global position in order to protect a doomed system anyway, that might have concentrated the minds of the apartheid leaders.
SO: Did you go to the Kuala Lumpur CHOGM meeting?
MA: Yes, and Mahathir struck me as a confident leader – ambitious for Malaysia’s development and for its place as a major power, especially in the Asian region.
SO: Were you there at the Foreign Minister’s discussion, when Gareth Evans was quite so rude to John Major in the CCFMSA meeting?
MA: I was there. Gareth is a great guy. Whenever we met, he would say, “Have you brought your drafting pen along with you?” Gareth and I got on well as two university men.
SO: In the interview I did with him, he was very forceful in underlining the importance of the contribution made by Australian officials to the book on international financial sanctions. He stated firmly it was international financial sanctions that broke the will of the South African Government and made them accept that they had to accelerate reform and had to release Mandela. He feels passionately that that was the critical issue.
MA: He would say that, because he’s Australian. But, also, we mustn’t forget, the ending of the Cold War in Europe blew the mind of the South Africans, because they thought they could go on forever saying, “We are the bulwark against communism here.” But, of course, we knew better. But even as a piece of symbolism, they were now to be denied that.
SO: We can say it was their self-justificatory rhetoric but, quite honestly, I think they believed it. I think that there is a connection: the end of the Cold War in Europe, the collapse of Soviet-led socialism, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the belief that the South African Communist Party would then be deprived of its external support from Moscow…
MA: It was never much, the South African Communist Party. Its heyday was in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
SO: Ah, okay, because the big debate now among academics is that the South African Communist Party occupied a particular place within the ANC, and certainly within the thinking of the National Party elite. Although the SACP were small in number, they had links to Moscow, which inflated the SACP’s influence.
MA: Moscow had no interest that way. You had individuals – individual South African Communist Party members – who were brilliant.
SO: Indeed, such as Ruth First and Joe Slovo.
MA: Joe Slovo…Most popular. But the South African Communist Party could not, alone, have encompassed the end of apartheid. No way.
SO: No, of course not.
MA: Also, the Africans feel insulted when they say it was the Communist Party that was doing their thinking for them. This issue is so clear-cut. You don’t need to go and read maps to come and debunk it, do you?
SO: No, I agree. After all, the SACP was not involved in drafting the Freedom Charter of 1955 [NB: They did later fully endorse it, i.e. in 1962 programme The Road to South African Freedom]. But how is it that this feeling of the particular contribution of the SACP has endured? Is it because of the terminology of ‘National Democratic Revolution’?
MA: No, because it was easier as a scapegoat to blame. And, of course, it brought in the Americans and all these other unthinking people.
SO: Moses, at the time, what was your understanding of the thinking of the ANC? That it was a movement? That it was a ‘broad church’?
MA: That is a very good definition: a ‘broad church’, in the best Anglican tradition. [Laughter]
SO: Obviously, there was a range of opinion within the ANC – the clandestine ANC inside South Africa, [and] the ANC externally. Did you feel that there was a generational divide that needed to be bridged and assisted? I’m just wondering about your particular perceptions of the ANC. It seems to me that, with the unbanning of the ANC in February 1990, it had to go from being a movement to a political party, which is a huge challenge.
MA: You see, to black South Africans, the ANC was not one among many other competing parties. It was their party.
SO: What of the PAC?
MA: The PAC…Forget about the PAC. The PAC coasted on only one thing: that they had brought about the first mass protest at Sharpeville in 1960. That was all that they had. They had played an important part in organising that. But don’t forget, too, that the ANC goes back to 1912: this is the party where the fathers of Mandela and Buthelezi cut their political teeth. And, what made that so? First of all, the Africans – in the wars with the Boer – had supported the Brits, because the Brits had given them to understand that they would get a better deal under them. Then, nothing came of it. In 1914, the Africans were not really…Hold on; I have to be careful here, because there was some ambiguity as to what role they should play in the war. They were made to carry ammunition and supplies, but they weren’t given guns. In the Second World War, [it was] outright: no! So, they knew that only the ANC was their party. There was no competition with the ANC. From where? Africans didn’t know the Communist Party. For the masses in the veld?
I have to give one little story. I met a very old man in one of the rural parts of Natal, and he asked me where I came from. I said, “I come from Ghana.” He said, “Oh, yes, I remember seeing a man here. Old Aggrey, a Ghanaian, who went there on a Phelps-Stokes Education Project. This Ghanaian, he used to say that if you use the different [piano] keys – black and white…You will play one, you get music of sorts. You play the other one: another sort of music. Play both, and you have harmony.” And that was the school in which the immediate post-WWI generation was raised. The ANC is slightly older than that. So, this idea that black and white can coexist in harmony: that was what was implanted in that generation. The Communist Party was an affair of intellectuals. It couldn’t have had mass African support.
SO: No, it didn’t have resonance within a wider population.
SO: So, how often did you go to South Africa as Chief Emeka’s emissary? I know that you made multiple trips, and that you were working to support the ANC in their negotiations in CODESA I and CODESA II.
MA: Yes, I was there. I was in CODESA throughout.
SO: Were you there as an observer, or were you there actually to provide guidance, support, contacts, facilitation…?
MA: All these things. You see, what was the position of the ANC at CODESA? In fact, the name CODESA – the Convention for a Democratic South Africa – that’s a name that…The word ‘convention’ recurs a lot in South African history. So, it wasn’t a haphazard choice. Now, a democratic South Africa is what the Commonwealth always stood for, so, we could hardly not be there. And we were under instructions to do whatever the conference needed by way of help – to make progress. No problem.
SO: When you say ‘we’, whom do you mean?
MA: Commonwealth representatives.
SO: How many Commonwealth representatives were there?
MA: Well, Max and I were there for a lot of the time.
SO: What were you asked to do by the delegations?
MA: Well…What can I say? For example, they would say, “Look, we want a document. Can you get it for us?”
SO: So, you’d be asked to get the document, or to draft it?
MA: No, to get it. They could do their own drafting! I must say this: the South Africans, at that stage, wanted the role of the outside world to be minimal. This was their thing; they wanted to do it themselves.
SO: They wanted complete control of the negotiating process?
MA: Oh yes, and they made that clear to us.
SO: Absolutely. And their drive to protect minority rights.
MA: Yes. But it’s also, I think, they did not want to be treated as if they were a Lesotho newly coming to independence.
SO: Well, the National Party was a particular group that had, after all, achieved economic and technological dominance on the back of black labour; they had acquired nuclear capability – which they were decommissioning – and so their sense of Afrikaner pride and achievement…
MA: Where did they send it to?
SO: I don’t know where they sent the nuclear fuel, nor the warheads.
MA: Because Castro asked Mandela about it – I think [that] the only occasion Castro went there was during the transition – and Mandela said, “They took it out without telling me. I don’t know where they sent it to.”
SO: I believe – and I don’t know this for sure – that the Americans were pressing the South Africans to decommission their nuclear arsenal. And, in fact, when De Klerk became President in August 1989, Pik Botha had a meeting with him – pretty much the next day – saying, “Mr President, there are two things you need to decide: you need to release Mandela, and we need to decommission nuclear weapons.” And so, I would say, before De Klerk started negotiating seriously, they had decommissioned.
MA: We probably never will know the truth as to why they decommissioned.
SO: I have a friend and colleague in South Africa, Dr Anna-Mart Van Wyk, who has done extensive research on this topic. The suggestion is that the Americans were particularly concerned that if a radical black African government came into power, then there was a possibility of nuclear proliferation and that Colonel Gaddafi may have got hold of nuclear weapons; then, through Libya, the PLO…
MA: No, I know. But, you see, this is what always surprises me: that even those who’ve had contact with Africa – unrestricted, free, and all that – even they can talk like that.
SO: There’s a saying that I have used as a historian: that, ‘facts are facts, but perception is reality.’
MA: ‘Discuss!’ [Laughter]
SO: Yes, exactly! To go back…You and Max Gaylard were there to support the CODESA negotiations. To what extent were you then also brought in as the negotiating team for the ANC?
MA: The ANC would never have allowed it. If they wanted something, they would come and ask us for it: saying, “We want your 1985 communique,” whatever! Or, “Commonwealth Human Rights Declaration.” But drafting – no.
SO: Were you also, in any way, Moses, giving financial support to this negotiating process? Because this was an expensive undertaking…
MA: No, it came from the South African Treasury. That was really internal money –and owed!
SO: So, what were your observations on this process – on CODESA I and CODESA II? There must have been times when you absolutely despaired that any progress would be made.
MA: No, no. The CODESA itself went off well.
SO: But what of the violence which was going on in the background?
MA: The violence was going on in the background, but we were also involved in that as well. You see, if CODESA made progress, they would be able to get on top of the violence – which was our point. Of course, the Commonwealth observers in Natal and in the Transvaal would remain in place; so would the UN observers. The OAU had a small team of observers, as well. What would have endangered the negotiations would have been the violence. But if, on the other hand, the negotiations were seen to be making progress, then the prospect of ending the violence would be apparent to everybody.
SO: But it wasn’t simply the violence between the ANC and Inkatha in Natal. I know Mandela was convinced that radical elements within the South African military and within the South African National party were orchestrating, collaborating, [and] stimulating this violence. There was a new Conservative party, and the right wing of the Afrikaner community was very vocal indeed; and there were speculations of a counter-coup…
MA: But remember when they killed…when they shot the senior ANC leader, Chris Hani? I was in Natal – I was in Durban – and Mandela, at the time, was in his village, Qunu, and a plane was sent to go and bring him. And that was when we all held our breath, because if ever there was a provocative killing – the kind of killing that precipitated the First World War – that was it: Chris Hani’s death. And South Africa held its breath. There was fear in every face I saw around me. Then he came, and I was with some white friends, drinking, and when Mandela arrived, he came out of the plane, and this white lady turned round and said to me, “Our President has come. It will be all right now. Our President is here now.” And when he spoke – on radio, [on] television – the whole country…all the TV stations were crowded, listening to what he was saying. And he said, “No retaliation. These are the enemies of our transition who are causing this in order to provoke a counter-violence. Don’t you react. Don’t respond. Leave it to the authorities; they will handle it.”
SO: Mandela was in a particularly difficult position himself. The murder of Chris Hani was obviously a crisis moment for the whole country, but I have been told by a BBC World journalist who covered the 1990-94 period, that Mandela had tried to calm the violence in Natal, but his ANC colleagues feared that this would adversely affect Mandela’s political capital with the ANC radical youth. After all, there were those in the ANC who felt [that] the violence was being stimulated and manipulated by outside forces, particularly within the government and security services – that there are radical elements in other groups, and the ANC should stay together on this.
MA: I don’t know, but this is a guess I will hazard. People like Nyerere [and] people like Kaunda – with whom Mandela was in regular contact – would have said to him, “Now that you have brought about investigations, you are the ‘last post’, really. The enemies of freedom will try and wreck it. Don’t you be provoked into doing something irresponsible, because you are now playing them down to their last card.”
This reminds me of what Nyerere said to ZANU-PF when they threatened to withdraw from Lancaster House because of land [issues]. He said to them, “Don’t be silly. Land is not a constitutional issue; it’s a policy issue. Get your constitution first, and then you can go and redistribute your land the way you want to distribute it. Nobody can stop you after that. But what you are doing…” So, it’s the same kind of advice, I can imagine, he would have given to Mandela. Don’t rise to this bait.
SO: Moses, what did you do, yourself, to try to ameliorate the violence?
MA: What did I do in that time? That’s where I was based. First of all, I went around to greet as many of the chiefs as I could and to introduce myself and my team. When the Commonwealth Secretary General came to South Africa to propose these international observers, the first person he met was Chief Buthelezi and, actually, I happened to be with him. We met Buthelezi at the airport. He was on his way out; we were on our way in. So, SG Anyaoku said, “Look, Chief, I must tell you something; this is why I have come. I want us to send international observers because, unless you can get on top of the violence, there’s no future.” Buthelezi said, “Yes, send them, please, send them.” Now, I know what you’re going to say: [that] he was not sincere. How much was he his own man? I sometimes wonder.
SO: So, which political constituency within Inkatha was Buthelezi having to assuage, to soothe?
MA: No, no; I mean, Inkatha was his own invention anyway.
SO: So, when you say, “How much was he his own man…”?
MA: In terms of the white government. You see, this is the point I made at the beginning of our conversation: that he’s one of these African politicians – that generation is gone – that had been in the wrong camp for so long, that when it came [time] to leave it, it wasn’t easy. There was nothing that they didn’t know about Buthelezi. Look, they used to organise his rallies, give him helicopters to travel around; [they] made him big, inflated him beyond his size. Now, I dare say that there must have also been others who would have said to him, “Chief Buthelezi, you know, you are the real leader of this country in the future. Don’t listen to these loudmouth communists. There’s you: be constitutional, be correct.”
SO: But Buthelezi refused to take part in the elections, right up until the last minute.
MA: Hold on. But…not taking part in the elections, he would have also realised – or they would have told him – that, “If you, yourself, of your own free will, hold back from the elections, that doesn’t invalidate them.”
SO: True. ‘An empty chair says nothing.’
MA: Exactly. Especially if they have an overwhelming majority on the other side, because your people didn’t turn up at all. You will have no leg to stand on.
SO: Are these words you used to him?
MA: No, he wouldn’t have revealed himself like that. But those who were his confidants – the Anglo American people, the people who used to give him helicopters to ride around [in] and bankroll him – they would have said something like that. And, bear in mind, these are astute, experienced people.
SO: Did you have any contact with the Anglo American people?
SO: So this was Harry Oppenheimer and his colleagues?
MA: His people. They are…No, they said that they were for talks, [that] they were for peace. There was a certain chief who needed some help with a little project, so I went and talked to the executive head of the Tongaat Sugar company. They said, “That’s nothing. Tell him we’ll give him the money.” And they did. It was 5,000 rand or something ridiculous like that, but it’s big in the bush. So, no, I think they were much more sophisticated than that. Certainly, they would also have realised – and I suppose they would have been told by their foreign friends here – that, “Look, boycotting elections, we have realised it’s not a good thing. If you are against elections, what are you for? Violence? What’s the alternative?”
SO: Yes. Was the Commonwealth in any way involved in identifying the Kenyan professor Washington Okumu who was supposed to have flown down at the very last minute and persuaded Buthelezi to take part in the April 1994 elections?
MA: Oh, that man. I have worked with this character over the Sierra Leone crisis, when he was a consultant to International Alert. I have my reservations about him.
MA: He put out that he did [persuade Buthelezi]. I think the forces that led Buthelezi into the election were much bigger.
SO: Well, thank you, because I read this in Allister Sparks’ book and it seriously puzzled me.
MA: Have you heard of International Alert? An NGO working mainly on conflict resolution…
SO: No, I haven’t heard of International Alert.
MA: Yes, it’s here in London somewhere. Anyway, they hired him to help bring the parties to the negotiating table in the Sierra Leone peace talks. I represented the Commonwealth there. International Alert brought this guy from Kenya. I’ve forgotten his name.
[Back to Buthelezi:] Not taking part in the elections is never advisable. It would never have held back anything.
SO: True. So, you were obviously part of the Commonwealth Election Observer mission to South Africa?
MA: I did that as well. Mandela came to our place to vote. He went to the late Albert Luthuli’s village to vote – [Luthuli was] the last president of the ANC before his [Mandela’s] generation took over.
SO: Chief Luthuli had opposed the use of armed struggle.
MA: Now, suppose he had supported the armed struggle. What difference would it have made? He didn’t have an army. He hadn’t any resources. The position he took was the right one…in retrospect, I would say. Wouldn’t you?
SO: Yes. It was the younger generation – within the ANC Youth League – who are thought to have pushed forward the idea of establishing MK [Umkhonto we Sizwe].
MA: MK is for the young. I used to hear Oliver Tambo, the ANC President before he died… You know, you could say these were all reluctant revolutionaries. By nature, they were not revolutionaries. It’s a burden [that] history imposed on this generation, which they accepted.
SO: Moses, please, could I ask you…What was your perception of the ANC’s view of the Commonwealth?
MA: The ANC, I would say, in the end, had to love the Commonwealth, because the Commonwealth had a reach which the OAU didn’t have. They would have wished that the OAU had been half as effective as the Commonwealth. It would have made matters easier for them, because then there’s no question of winning one side over – like the Margaret Thatcher camp – because the OAU spoke with one voice.
SO: Yes, they did. It was through Brigadier Hasim Mbita’s OAU Liberation Committee…
MA: Yes. You see? So, that was [closer] to what they had been used to. But, in the end, they would have realised that a Commonwealth agreement can reach places where the OAU consensus cannot reach. So, they came to value that.
SO: Do you think ANC leaders such as Thabo Mbeki came to value the Commonwealth?
MA: Yes, particularly Thabo Mbeki, because Thabo Mbeki – whatever one may say of him – has got a first class brain. [A] first class political brain. I think, of the younger generation, he is probably the one who came closest to being Mandela’s equal. I mean, this is a bit dicey now, what I’m about to say, but let me illustrate my point by saying that people like me were overawed by the old man – his history, his stature. Not Thabo. Now, how much this has to do with the fact that his father, Govan Mbeki, was an equal of Mandela’s, I don’t know.
SO: How much was it also coming to recognise that the Commonwealth had an international standing? Was there a general recognition – among ANC leaders – that the Commonwealth represented…
SO: …universality, and also that the Commonwealth included important elements of the Non-Aligned Movement? That it represented Afro-Asian ideas? You made express reference to Nkrumah. So, this was drawing on a pan-African heritage that was manifest through the Commonwealth.
MA: The Commonwealth, for its own reasons, normally underplays these things, but we know that its strength is derived from a mixture of these varieties that you’ve enumerated. If the Commonwealth takes a position, [and] if I were the UN Secretary General, I’d pay close attention to it.
SO: So, was the Commonwealth’s implicit appeal linked not only to the diversity of its membership, but also the intellectual traditions, the thought streams, the political philosophies?
MA: The experience, as well. You see, the Commonwealth up to…Well, even up to now…the Commonwealth embodies a degree of experience which very few international organisations can rival – even the UN. Now, if you read [Sir Robert] Menzies…You remember the Commonwealth mission to Egypt in the Suez Crisis of 1956? Chaired by Menzies. Now, that was a disaster, because the man they chose as leader was somebody who was out of sympathy with the emerging third world. He had no experience of dealing with these countries. In fact, in his memoirs, Afternoon Light, he says that places like Singapore and Malaysia were places you saw from the window of your aircraft when you were going to London. Now, that is why, when the Commonwealth tried again to mediate in the Vietnam conflict, they chose Nkrumah to lead it.
SO: But Nkrumah had also made that his initiative at the Belgrade meeting in 1961. He was one of the initiators of this whole idea of ‘non-alignment’. He and Nehru were leading lights…
MA: Oh, they were good friends.
SO: …at that particular point. And in 1965, when Wilson came up with the idea of a Commonwealth mission to Vietnam, Nkrumah was one of the three members of this mediation team. It seemed to completely fizzle out.
MA: Well, it didn’t fizzle. I don’t blame you for losing track of it, because when Nkrumah was on his way to Vietnam on this mission [24 February 1966], the coup [in Accra] took place. Then, of course, he couldn’t go anymore. I think the Commonwealth wanted to substitute somebody, and Ho Chi Minh said no.
SO: I read the minutes for the 1965 Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference, and then the January ‘66 special meeting in Lagos was entirely on the Rhodesia UDI crisis. I didn’t find reference to the Vietnam mission in the September 1966 meeting in London.
MA: Well, according to Arnold Smith, the Vietnamese government wrote a letter to explain why they didn’t want another leader to take Nkrumah’s place. Have another look in Arnold Smith’s papers. After the coup in Ghana, Nkrumah’s enemies deliberately ignored the fact that he was on a Commonwealth mission, and they said it was a personal grandstanding mission. I was in Ghana at the time.
SO: What were President Nkrumah’s views of the Commonwealth, as you understood them?
MA: Well, Nkrumah was a very strong Commonwealth man. He could see that, in a world already divided, it brought together people from all the divisions. There was India, there was emerging Ghana and Nigeria, there was Zambia, coming to independence then. He thought it was a great asset, to be well looked after. After Nkrumah, he was succeeded by…Well, let’s forget about the soldiers. No point wasting our time on them. [Kofi Abrefa] Busia was the next civilian politician after him, but he was hopeless. Totally inadequate. Not only that, but I don’t think he had a feel for external relations – for foreign affairs – and that has to do with anthropology. He studied anthropology, so his horizon wasn’t any wider. And then, after that…Well, there’s nobody to worry about, really.
SO: What about Jerry Rawlings?
MA: Jerry didn’t have that kind of education which would have helped him to appreciate the Commonwealth. Of course, he was a great friend to Castro, and I’ll tell you a little story which, in a way, also sheds a lot of light on Castro’s approach – which is probably the way Thabo Mbeki thinks. On the eve of the Falklands War, Jerry Rawlings sent a Ghanaian delegation to Eastern Europe – to Russia – and it ended up in Cuba, and Castro gave them a lot of time. When they had finished discussing the issue that took them there, Castro asked them, “With this war coming up between Britain and Argentina…” – he was already looking at it as a war – “which side are you going to support?” And, quite frankly, the Ghanaians hadn’t thought about it. They said, “Well, which side will you be supporting, yourself?” And Castro said, “Of course, I’ll support Argentina.” And the Ghanaians said, “Well, in that case, maybe that is the right side. We, too, will support Argentina.” Castro said, “No, it’s not the right side. For you, the right side is Britain.” He said, “I support Argentina because they are my neighbours. Whether I like it or not, I have to live here with them. Your neighbour is Britain.” He says, “You have got a lot of economic problems. Britain is in the World Bank, the IMF. Britain has a say in all these things. Why are you trying to jeopardise your interests through adventurism?” That’s how he described it.
SO: The paradox here is that Ron Sanders – who was then a very junior diplomat for Antigua and Barbuda at the UNO – said exactly the same thing to Caribbean state representatives who were critical of what they saw as British imperialism in the Falklands war. The other diplomats were proposing to vote with Argentina, and he said, “Where do most of your tourists come from? Where are your financial links? Where are your business connections? What language do you speak? Look at it in terms of your national interest. That says, support Britain.”
MA: That’s right. That is the sort of thing you can associate with Thabo. Thabo is like that.
SO: Your point about Castro’s pragmatism is very interesting. Cuba was a leading member of Non-Alignment, but in the late ‘70s – right up to Afghanistan – Castro had sought to argue that the NAM should be leaning towards the Soviet Union as a supporter of the anti-imperialist struggle. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan caused huge problems in the Non-Aligned Movement, as Afghanistan was a NAM member. In contrast to the NAM, the Commonwealth as an association dealt with multiple strands of political thought across the Cold War divide.
MA: As Ramphal showed as Secretary General – and Anyaoku continued like that, as well – the Commonwealth’s strength lies in the fact that it is a truly non-aligned organisation. Individual members may have their alliances, but the institution, as a whole, is not aligned to anybody.
SO: American diplomats in the early ‘80s described it to Peter Marshall as “the English speaking non-aligned movement”, which was remarkably shrewd.
MA: They are not wrong. But, you know what? They’d have spent some time trying to study this peculiar animal.
SO: Well, Mrs Thatcher had to give Ronald Regan a potted history of the Commonwealth and its significance immediately after the New Delhi meeting, because of the crisis caused by the American invasion of Grenada.
Just to end this part of our discussion, you’ve remarked that the Commonwealth’s finest hour was under Ramphal and Chief Emeka?
MA: I would say. Ramphal put it on the map; no doubt about that.
SO: How much do you think that was because Ramphal had two grand strategies for the Commonwealth – which he articulated, and he represented, on South Africa, but also on development?
MA: Yes, I agree. 100%.
SO: Also, that the Commonwealth did things that in no way reflected its limited resources…Did it attract, in any way, the admiration of the UN, which was much larger and more unwieldy?
MA: No, but the UN didn’t like us in the end. Well, between the two of us, they always thought we were being a trumped up, piddling thing.
SO: Chief Emeka describes the Commonwealth as ‘a global subsystem’: [because], although it operated at a slightly lower level, it still had international networks, multiple contacts with heads, international bureaucrats, institutions, as well as…
MA: I preferred it when he used to call it ‘a force for good’. Then you have the moral dimension. You see, it is the kind of institution which, I suppose, only British history could have produced.
SO: But it wasn’t only British history – that was the point we’ve just made: there also themes of non-alignment, of Afro-Asian attitudes….
MA: No, for example, how does it proceed? Consensus. Now, how do you define consensus? I remember one of the clever heads saying, “Well, it’s a decision you may not support, but you can live with it.” [Laughter] That’s brilliant, isn’t it?
[END OF AUDIOFILE PART ONE]
Transcript Part Two:
SO: This is Sue Onslow talking to Dr Moses Anafu in Willesden on Thursday, 3rd July 2014. Moses, thank you very much indeed for agreeing to a second interview for this oral history project. I wonder if you could begin, please, by describing how you came to be involved in the events in Lesotho after the 1994 Army mutiny.
MA: Let me go back first to the return of the King. That’s how I first got involved with Lesotho. The Army had sent Moshoeshoe II into exile [in 1990] and he had then contacted the Secretary General and asked for help to go back. So, I was sent to Lesotho to negotiate his return. The man who was then in charge of the military government was somebody without much education, but he was obviously under the influence of others who were not all soldiers – some of them seasoned and experienced politicians.
SO: So, who were the power brokers in Lesotho? Or were these powerbrokers people from outside the country?
MA: No, these were their own people – I’m talking about the internal situation. Of course, then, at the time, South Africa was also in the middle of the transition, and what I decided to do was to get the military government to accept in principle the return of the King. They hadn’t deposed him – his son was holding the fort for him, as it were. But the son had refused to be crowned King in place of his father. So, it meant that technically the King was still the King, except he was out of the country. He had been driven out by the Army. Another minor detail – which is in a way interesting – was that he was living in the High Commissioner’s residence here.
SO: In the Lesotho High Commissioner’s residence in London?
MA: Yeah. The High Commissioner left his residence and came to another property that was in Willesden, here, to make way for the King to take over his official residence. So, quite clearly, the formalities were maintained. He was King, but not King, if you get the drift of my thought.
MA: But we knew that if he had to go back, he had to go back either as King or not, and my instructions were to ensure his return. I went to Lesotho. When I got there, I went to see General Phisoana Ramaema, but I had only to talk to him for a few minutes to realise that he was only the front man – there must have been more astute people in the background. Anyway, I talked to him and I said, “Look, it’s not good for the health of your country to have the Head of State outside. It’s not as if you’ve deposed him, and don’t forget that he has a Pan-African profile which no politician today in Lesotho has. You will have to make up your mind whether you want peace in Lesotho, because if you are going to depose him, it will split the country down the middle.” Anyway, in the end I drafted a text which was to serve as the basis of his return.
SO: Who were General Ramaema’s chief backers? Did you talk to them as well, or did you focus your attentions and energies on him?
MA: I talked to the politicians; I talked to some of them. I talked to the Church, because Lesotho is a very Catholic country. The Church has a lot of sway, and not one of them said to me we don’t want him to return. So, I was basically narrowing down the basis of the opposition so that I could focus on it; who was sworn against his return.
SO: Yes. Why were they antagonistic towards the King?
MA: They couldn’t tell me.
SO: They couldn’t tell you, or they wouldn’t tell you?
MA: If they could, they would have. But I got the impression that maybe his personality was an issue. But then to say, “We don’t want the King to return” – nobody said that. And even Ramaema – who was the one who supervised his extrusion from the country – couldn’t tell me that. I tended not to attach too much weight to him. He was not educated at all, really, and I don’t think the South African government was involved either.
SO: I was going to ask whether the South African government was involved, because they would have been the previous arbiters…
MA: Their hands were full. Oh yes, they would have been the decision-takers. But no, the South African government by then had its hands full with its own internal situation. In fact, I don’t remember if there was, at the time, a South African Ambassador to Lesotho, but they had somebody in Johannesburg who they didn’t call an Ambassador.
SO: So, what would he have been – the ‘Accredited Diplomatic Representative’? That was the title they used for the Rhodesian representative in Johannesburg when the country was an international pariah.
MA: That’s a heavy word. No, I wish it had been as clear cut as that; then I would know what to do.
SO: But, instead, it was someone who was simply their interest section?
MA: Yes, that’s right. And he was a friend of mine, as it happened. So, when I first met him in Johannesburg, I was very surprised. I said, “You are a very senior man. You were High Commissioner in London and now you’re here.” He said, “Yes, you know, they’re our neighbours whether we like them or not.” Anyway, he couldn’t tell me the case against the King either. So I said, alright. Basically, the memo I would write for the parties to look at would say that the return of…and there’s the other thing. I didn’t know whether I should say ‘King’, so I said His Majesty. I omitted King because, you know, you can be an ex-King and still be called Your Majesty, can’t you?
SO: Yes, I think you can!
MA: Yeah, so, “The return of His Majesty would make for a more united country, especially at a time of considerable change in the region,” and so on. And then I gave it to Ramaena. I said, “You type it for me.” So that, if it leaks…
SO: You’d know exactly where it came from!
MA: So, it was typed and I said, “Take it to your advisors, or the Council – the Military Council – and consider it. Is it an acceptable basis on which he can come back?” He took it, typed it and to their credit, it didn’t leak.
SO: What was the politics of handling the King’s family? Did you have to walk with care?
MA: No, I went to see his son [Bereng Seeiso] who was more or less acting King, without accepting the title. ‘The present King’. A very astute young man: very impressive, educated at Ampleforth. So, the Jesuits did a good job, didn’t they? Then, when I ran through with him the terms on which his father could come back, he didn’t say a thing. He asked me whether I had cleared that with the Military government and I said yes, they had seen it; they typed it for me. And I said, “I’m not asking whether you agree. Can you live with it? That’s what I want to know. Is there anything here that is outrageously unacceptable?” He said, “No.” I said, “Okay, I’m going to run with this.”
SO: Did you have to also talk to elements in the press?
SO: So, you didn’t have to manage the presentation of the story, or anything like that?
MA: No. I couldn’t talk to the press.
SO: This was an entirely below-the-radar, good offices role that you were fulfilling here – as Chief Emeka’s emissary?
MA: Yes. No talking to the press; I avoided them like the plague.
SO: Did South Africans approach you in any way to ask what was going on?
SO: I wondered if there was some concern about a possible flight of refugees across the border, or whether the crisis in Lesotho might have any impact on the fraught politics of transition in South Africa?
MA: No. But [the South Africans] would have known I was there. They didn’t approach me, no. And I couldn’t go there; it would have complicated my work.
SO: Was any other government paying particular attention? Were the British sending you messages of moral support, or the Front Line presidents?
MA: I used to speak to the British High Commissioner in Lesotho then, but basically I had those kind of conversations to see what other useful bits I might pick up on who else is in the mediation. But, anyway, who were those opposed to the King’s return, outside the Army? There was one man…He wasn’t opposed to the King’s return…Evastius Sekhonyana. He’s dead now. He was Finance Minister. I was in close touch with him. Who else? That’s part of the problem with Lesotho politics. These people who don’t come up – they’re always underground, nothing brings them to the surface. Anyway, when I had done the rounds, I think that Moshoeshoe II saw [the draft]. I didn’t give it to him, but he saw a copy of what I had done, and he was anxious to impress upon me that he never wanted to be an executive monarch – which means there were circles that were accusing him of that.
SO: So, was Max having to handle any aspect of this crisis, as head of Political Affairs?
MA: No, Max wasn’t there.
SO: Was Chief Emeka handling the King – here, in London – and addressing his particular sensitivities and determination not to be an executive monarch, but instead a ceremonial one, while you were trying to broker the circumstances to permit his return?
MA: I don’t know that the Chief followed it that closely once I was on the ground, as it were. But, of course, I kept in touch with him and told him [of] the progress or lack of it. But, anyway, in the end, we got to an agreed statement. Have you seen it?
SO: No, I haven’t.
MA: It should be easily accessible, because it’s a public document now. [See Appendix Three] What we said was that we wanted His Majesty…or, [rather], “the nation agreed that His Majesty’s return should be in circumstances that made for greater national unity.”
SO: Excuse me, Moses, that’s a wonderfully imprecise phrase. You must have been proud of your political fudge! [Laughter]
MA: Well, that’s what the traffic could bear at the time. But, in any case, the King could live with it. And then, when he was going back [in July 1992], I accompanied him. And, you know, then I realised…Because, first of all, at the airport in Maseru, the military had prevented some of the lorries full of people who were coming from the remote parts of Lesotho to welcome their King. What they had wanted to do was to keep it low-key.
SO: So, the military didn’t want it to be seen as a triumphant return by His Majesty? Having ousted him in a coup in the first place, I can see why that didn’t fit their agenda.
MA: Didn’t fit the agenda. On the other hand, I was there representing the Commonwealth, and they knew that I would report what I saw and heard. Anyway, to give you an idea of how popular he was, for something like a mile to the palace we had a welcoming guard drawn up of Basuto horse riders. It was spectacular. And two of his sons rode up to welcome him, and they brought out a white horse for him and a Basuto blanket for him to change into, and a Basuto hat. I hadn’t realised what a horseman he was! It was moving, he changed, got onto the horse…Impressive horsemanship. Then I also understood why the Army didn’t want a big crowd at the airport. Are you with me?
MA: I went with Clive Jordan from the Information Department. [There] was a big feast, some tears from his family, but we put him in and, the next morning, went back. They said I should address the assembled crowd and I said, “Well, our job was to return your King. You must now look after him, and looking after him means doing everything that makes for a stable Lesotho – stable and united – especially on the eve of these big changes that are about to take place next door. You’ve always been in the forefront of the Commonwealth effort against Apartheid, and now we’re coming to a resolution. So, we hope that you continue to play a constructive role, beginning from your own domestic situation.” And that was it.
SO: Moses, just as a reflection on this, you have situated these events very much against the backdrop of huge transition in South Africa. How big was the Lesotho Army? Surely this was a relatively small Officer Corps?
MA: Very small.
SO: Was this an attempt by a small cohort of Army officers in Lesotho to keep a degree of control of power, because they saw that change was accelerating in South Africa?
MA: You know, I don’t think so, because there has never been a Republican movement of any significance in that country, in Lesotho. [Also], the Basuto, as you know, is really a collection of refugees from South Africa – the same South Africa.
SO: I just wondered about the extent to which the borders were actually ‘soft’, and so the sense of change in neighbouring South Africa was spilling over into Lesotho.
MA: No. But I should say this, that if South Africa – and I would be very surprised if they didn’t – have their own discreet sympathisers within Lesotho, they didn’t surface. They’re too great to hide, because the Lesotho royal family has never been sympathetic to the white government in South Africa. Never.
SO: No, not at all. But given how isolated they are geographically, being landlocked in the middle of South Africa…
MA: Yes, it didn’t matter.
SO: …it was hugely problematic in how Lesotho manifested this opposition.
MA: You see, what they tried to do in all the neighbouring States was always to have a cell of sympathisers. Zambia, Zimbabwe, [and] the Portuguese colonies were, in any case, extensions of the South African economy – Mozambique, and to a lesser extent Angola, but that’s only because of distance, you see. So, they always had their friends, if you like. But these are friends who would never publically own up to the friendship. That was the problem – or, one of the problems – for that part of South Africa: that all their friends were friends who would not speak up at the critical time.
SO: Yes. What about friends in the neighbourhood? Because I understand that Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle had appealed also to the head of SADC.
MA: He was probably Chairman at the time.
SO: I just wondered if any of your negotiations or fact-finding missions were in collaboration with SADC.
SO: Was there parallel work being done by SADC to try to promote resolution of the crisis?
MA: The return of Moshoeshoe?
MA: No. Not even the UN or the OAU was involved in that. The chronology was: first, the return of the King, then, the mutiny – or, rather, the disturbance within the Army, let’s call it.
SO: So, then you and Max worked to negotiate the ceasefire? I have ‘ceasefire’ written here, but I don’t know if that’s the right word. How did you achieve this?
MA: Well, first of all, when we got there, we could see that something terrible was about to happen. The Army had split into two. You know [that] Max is a former army officer, don’t you?
SO: Yes, I do. You can tell that by the way he walks into a room.
MA: Okay. He got the sword for the best cadet in his year.
SO: Did he? The Sword of Honour?
MA: He hid all that from me until much, much later. Yes, Max is complicated. But anyway, I was really delighted to have him because he could understand the technical side of it, which I couldn’t. The Army split into two, and it had nothing to do with the King; it had to do with their own internal differences. You see, the mechanised section of the Army was the elite side. Then you had the foot soldiers, and the foot soldiers were the numerical majority. So, when we first got there, we said, “Look, let us assemble all of them and talk in general terms so that we can get a feel of their situation.” At that time, they had already been deployed. The mechanised units were on surrounding hills with their guns turned towards the city centre and – I don’t know what you call them in that case – the ‘non-mechanised’ [units] were scared. But I asked the men the same question: I asked, if you are in majority…Because the problem is where the mechanised divisions always had the pick of everything and they, well, they got the dregs of what’s left. But you wear the same uniform, so how do you know the enemy – how do you tell the enemy? They said, “Ah, the Infantry had AK-47s, and the mechanised units had big guns, so you could tell by the weaponry who was on which side.” And they all had an Israeli gun, the Galil. Everybody took that home like their uniform, as it were. Can you believe?
SO: Yes, I can. That’s what they used to do in the Swiss Army: people would take their guns home.
MA: Really? Well, they were doing that there, too. [Laughter] So, what we then decided was we would commute between the two sides. So, we’d go and talk to Group A today, and tomorrow, talk to Group B.
SO: Did they have discernible leaders that you could talk to, each of these sides?
MA: No, they didn’t put forward leaders, no. Everybody spoke for himself, they said. [Laughter] But they had leaders, obviously.
SO: Well, yes, but if there is a discernible leader, it makes negotiating a hell of a lot easier!
MA: Yes, yes! But it also made risks for them. In the event of a failure to reach a settlement, what was going to happen to them?
SO: How big were these groups? I mean, what are we talking about: an army of a thousand men?
MA: If that; couldn’t be more. Maybe 600 even.
SO: Did this stand-off also involve the police?
MA: No police. It was an Army affair.
SO: I’ve always wondered why a small, mountainous kingdom like Lesotho would need an Army; surely they need policing units to keep civil order, but…
MA: Yeah, we’ll come to that. Now, what do they need an Army for? They really did not have an Army until, I think, well after independence. And it wasn’t raised along the lines [that] you would expect an Army to be raised: such as, what are the security considerations, what are the defence needs? And who is the enemy, the potential enemy?
SO: So, was it a job creation scheme?
MA: Yes, you’ve hit the nail on the head. And what made it even worse than that, then, was that the politicians…Everybody was smuggling his [own] people into the Army.
SO: Oh, that’s dangerous.
MA: Yes, extremely dangerous.
SO: So, you have the BCP-led government, with politicians each starting to create their own private militia.
MA: Yeah, but within the national Army; [creating] their following within the Army.
SO: That’s a very dangerous dynamic.
SO: How quickly did you realise this?
MA: When we started, we said we did not want anybody to give us their names; we just wanted them to get up and talk in the room. But in two different rooms; far away. And a number of points emerged. One was that a lot of them had been recruited into the Army by politicians; and two, they felt [that] their promotions were therefore along political lines. Now, it’s significant that they didn’t say, “Well, here we are, Front Line African Army, vis-à-vis the South Africa Army, and we didn’t have proper weapons.” No, that wasn’t an issue. The issue was that promotions were biased and along the lines of favouritism. Fine. Then they said [that] politicians would come to their barracks in the night, and instigate them to change governments. So, in the end, Max and I were very grateful. We said, “Look, clearly you have no differences with each other as soldiers. All the differences come from outside. Now, in that case, what you need is to be a truly national Army. Not a coalition of partisan armies.” That went down very well. And, after that, those were the lines along which our conversation went.
SO: As soon as you’d articulated such an attractive, unifying approach – that of a national, meritocratic Army representing the kingdom of Lesotho and responsible to the Commander in Chief, presumably the King – were you at that point starting to reach outside, thinking about what training they were going to need to achieve this sense of cohesion? Or that was further down the line?
MA: Yes, we were – what Commonwealth technical assistance could be given, yes. We left that with the technical assistance section – TAG.
SO: The Commonwealth – and particularly Britain – had done this before: there had been a BMAT, the British Mission for Army Training, in Zimbabwe post-1980, they’d done it in Uganda, and they were doing it down in South Africa. And there would be a need for it in Lesotho?
MA: But, you see, Lesotho’s geographical position and political position meant that they got left out of these things. What kind of training…Let’s say 1970. The South African regime was still in place, very much so, and very confident. What kind of training can you give [Lesotho] without making South Africa think that something was being planned.
SO: That something was up, yes.
MA: So, that was always a constraining factor. Second, Lesotho itself would not want anything that would arouse suspicions in Pretoria.
SO: No, they needed to stay below the radar.
SO: That this was not a rising, feisty little power…
MA: When it came to sanctions, they had a wonderful formula, the Lesotho people. They said, “Look, we ourselves are in no position to impose any kind of sanctions against South Africa, but we don’t want you to use our vulnerability as the excuse not to impose sanctions.”
[Laughter] Very clever, isn’t it?
SO: That’s seriously smart.
MA: So, “Oh no, we can’t do it. So the rest of you can do it. It’s up to you.”
SO: Yes. “But don’t use us as the excuse.”
MA: Exactly. So, that way, they kept their pan-African credentials clean, [and] their Commonwealth loyalties clean. I’m sure that the regime in Pretoria saw through that anyway.
SO: But it was an important – and not just simply a face-saving – approach by the Lesotho King and his advisors. So, what was the outcome of your and Max’s work to negotiate the ceasefire in the January? Did it fail?
MA: It didn’t fail. Failure would have meant a return to fighting. It would have meant that the return of the King would have been reversed. But none of that happened. There were follow-up missions, but just for two reasons: to let the people of Lesotho and their government know that we have not washed our hands of them – it was important to do that – [and] also, we went to South Africa quite a bit. It’s not far, so we would drop in. But, you see, in one of these periodic upsets in Lesotho – this time after the end of apartheid – the South Africans made a gaucherie. They sent their Minister of Internal Affairs [to Lesotho]. The Basuto said to us, “You see, look at how our neighbours are behaving. We are an independent State.”
SO: “We are not a Bantustan.”
MA: We are not a Bantustan. But they are treating us like a Bantustan.
SO: So, when did things start to calm down, from your perspective, Moses?
MA: Well, the return of the King was a major turning point in calming down things. The ending of apartheid in South Africa was the next thing, because we now had a government next door that was interested in stability. They knew that if there was any trouble, their shaky sovereignty will be exposed for what it is. So, they never took things, if you like, to a risky point.
SO: Moses, on your comment about SADC taking such a back seat…Was this because it was focusing on – as it saw it – the bigger prize, the bigger picture, of South Africa? Or was it because they didn’t have the bureaucratic capability or the institutional backing? Was SADC, at this point, more of a customs union than an organisation that had institutional and diplomatic capabilities?
MA: The Basutos themselves didn’t call in SADC, which is significant. Very significant. Why didn’t they call in their own regional organisation? Well, I now enter the realm of speculation, but anyway, SADC has always been strong on economic co-operation. Its Secretariat, I don’t think, is strong on the political side. And if it came to that, they would probably have then made it an OAU affair.
SO: But there was no hint of the OAU being drawn in?
SO: Thank you. Well, there was certainly the policy space and opportunity for a Commonwealth initiative, as well as an identifiable need.
So, your next role as Chief Emeka’s personal emissary [was in relation to] the whole democratisation process in Zanzibar. In October 1995, the elections in Zanzibar produced a political stand-off between the political party that was predominant on the Tanzanian mainland and the political party within Zanzibar Island, and this stand-off was crippling the economy. So, how was Chief approached to use his good offices?
MA: Chief never let on [who] his sources [were], but he kept his ear very close to the ground; he knew which [places] were the potential trouble spots. In Zanzibar, if you look at the results of the election, there are two parties: the old Afro-Shirazi Party, which was the party of Zanzibari nationalism – I’ll come to that because that’s very critical to understanding it – and you had various parties which were sympathetic to their Sultan. Now, the Afro-Shirazi is not just a name. It was the coalition of Africans and those of Sherazi stock – originally Persians, Iranians.
SO: From the time when Zanzibar was part of the Sultanate of Oman …
SO: …and part of ‘the Swahili coast’, isn’t it?
MA: Yeah. It’s significant that the Shirazis…through India – not with the Africans, and not with the Arabs. Then, they had more or less the same electoral strength; the differences were in fractions. So, some kind of easy coalition was cobbled together. Then, the union with the mainland.
SO: That was brokered after independence, in April 1964 – after the rebellion against the Sultan and the democratically elected government?
MA: You see, two years, I think, after independence, the trouble started. As I say, at the election, they were about equal. And the Arabs – the Afro-Shirazi – made a bid for power. And that, in a way, accelerated the union: the move towards a union. But it was always a tenuous union and remains [so] to this day – tenuous. So, there is the President in Zanzibar and the President in the mainland, in Dar. The one on the island has no international recognition. Every year, they celebrate the revolution in Zanzibar and he invites the President of the mainland to come and they all come and take their seats and he takes his time to come out. I’ve seen it. Sometimes he’s inordinately late in coming out. In the meantime, the union Army is in full array for him to come and inspect. Very complicated.
SO: Indeed. What about the events after the election of October 1995?
MA: So, the same. If you look at the results of the election of 1995, there was hardly any difference in terms of proportionality between the two parties. They had each maintained their electoral strength in the intervening period. But, somehow, the opposition could never see themselves ever getting to power if this situation continued.
SO: Did they have a concept of being a ‘loyal opposition’?
MA: Yes, because they would never have tried force. They call themselves by a new name now: not Afro-Shirazi, [but] the CUF – the Civic United Front. And then you’ve got TANU. So, basically, what I went there to do was to see whether we could get them to work together, i.e., accentuate the commonalities. Anyaoku himself came, and the ruling party agreed that they would give the opposition one or two seats in Parliament. So, that was how we left that. But they never gave them.
SO: They reneged on the deal?
MA: They never gave them and, you see, it embittered the CUF. By the way, they are part of the Liberal International. Now, that is difficult for us to enforce, but you see, I’ll tell you this. There is no sitting President in Dar who will want the record to say that he let go of Zanzibar.
SO: No, I can understand why no President would want to have the stigma that they were responsible for ‘losing’ Zanzibar and everything that would mean for the diminution of Tanzanian sovereign territory. That would come at a very high political and reputational price.
MA: Yes. So, the mainland party doesn’t give instructions to its wing in Zanzibar to say, “This is the agreed settlement. Can you please proceed and implement it.” So, it’s there.
SO: Moses, this crisis seems to have been particularly protracted. You went there after the October 1995 elections, and it seems to have been finally inching towards a degree of settlement by 1999. And yet, there is a May 2000 report from TOMRIC, a Tanzanian news agency, in which you expressed considerable frustration over your mediation in this seemingly endless crisis. You must have had to make multiple trips to…
MA: Not from London. I was actually based there for, I think, two months.
SO: Were you working in collaboration with other people in the diplomatic community? With the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan or…
SO: …with the OAU?
MA: No, I was alone.
SO: Oh, you were alone? Were you sending any reports to New York, to Kofi Annan’s office?
MA: Well, I was reporting to my boss. I wrote regular reports for Emeka. What he did with them, I don’t know, but I doubt that he sent them to anybody.
SO: Did you have any sort of institutional support, any sort of administrative backup?
MA: No, I wrote my reports in longhand and faxed them to London, like that.
SO: In terms of interested regional powers, were you also having to brief the Kenyan President?
MA: Kenya has never really taken an interest. Why do you say Kenya?
SO: Just because it’s the most proximate neighbour to the north. There are aspects of the Swahili cultural engagement with Zanzibar that run up the East African littoral; I just wondered if there was any degree of regionalism which was also part of the diplomatic equation.
MA: No, there wasn’t, and I don’t think that the Tanzanians would have been very happy with me if they had seen me bring in Kenyans.
SO: No, I can understand the diplomatic sensitivities there.
MA: Yes. But, you see, the Swahili thing – which is the common cultural trade between the island – it’s practically non-existent politically. From the beginning, the Zanzibaris looked to the mainland. Yes, they had relatives in Lamu and places like that, but it never then translated itself into a cause, politically.
SO: So, there was no conflicting political affiliation to outside parties. It was, as you say, an entirely domestic scenario within Tanzania.
MA: You see, the CUF is in a difficult position. As far as I can make out, they’re loyal Tanzanians. They don’t look to Oman; they don’t look to Lamu in Kenya. They look to the mainland. And their present leader – I don’t know if he’s still the leader – he was a very senior member of CCM, Chama Cha Mapinduzi, the old TANU. [CCM has] been there for a long time now: since Nyerere’s time. But that was also necessitated by the union – it couldn’t be Tanganyika African National Union anymore, could it? So, the point that I was making is that it’s not in Tanzania’s interest to allow the anger and discontent on the island. My sense of the situation is that they realised the perils to which small states are exposed in the world, and so they welcomed the shield of the mainland. But the mainland would need to make up its mind whether it actually does want the island to manage its own life, as long as it doesn’t imperil national security.
SO: And the disagreements continued, hence your comment to TOMRIC in June of 2000.
MA: You see, it continues because the settlement we brokered has not been implemented.
SO: Yes, as you say, they haven’t allowed for Cabinet representation for Zanzibar in the mainland Cabinet.
MA: Yeah. They didn’t even want Cabinet. They said a seat. They wanted an extra seat in the Island’s legislature.
SO: Oh, so not in the inner sanctum of power?
MA: Yeah. You see the problem. A seat – an extra seat – and it would not have imperilled anything. But, as I say – and this you have to take into account seriously – there is no President, Union President, in Dar es Salaam who would like the historical record to say that Tanzania lost Zanzibar on his watch. That’s important.
SO: It is. So, despite your best negotiating efforts, there remained irreconcilable differences. Could you contrast that, in fact, with the success in Sierra Leone?
MA: But Sierra Leone was different.
MA: Sierra Leone…That’s where we negotiated with the rebels, the RUF. So, the Sierra Leone thing was…Well, I worked with the UN man very closely – Berhanu Dinka.
Berhanu Dinka is a very professional diplomat with formidable skills. Now, he and I hit it off from the word go, and we always exchanged views very freely. There, we got the impression that the RUF was not alone. They had regional backers. They had other backers outside Africa – I mean, outside West Africa, in addition to sympathy in some quarters in West Africa.
SO: Were you able to identify who these people were, or who these forces were?
MA: Well, let me give you an example. In one of our meetings with Foday Sankoh, he said to us, “Me and Charles Taylor trained in the same camp in Libya. He has come back and used the training to gain power. You people” – meaning us, the international representatives – “are standing in my way.” To say this in open court, as it were!
SO: I’m aware of the RUF’s collaboration with Charles Taylor, as well as the Libyan dimension, but were there any other ‘deep pockets’? Because of this question of diamonds, the natural resources that were being…
MA: Well, I can tell you that I don’t know who they were. In the hotel in Abidjan, I shared the same floor with Foday Sankoh and I saw streams of visitors. They were not peasants, coming to see him. So, I said to myself, “Ah, so these talks have, in a way, ended up making it easier for the RUF to remain in contact with their backers.”
SO: Why? Just because in terms of communication, the very fact…
MA: Yeah, there was no communication problem.
SO: So, you were in Abidjan to negotiate the agreement – which was concluded in November of 1996 – but the very fact that Sankoh was in a major West African city facilitated his contact…
MA: With good connections: planes, cars. I saw them, but I cannot say where they came from or who they were because I didn’t talk to them. But I could see streams of visitors, and he was there and in Togo, which was our next visit. Because after we had negotiated the Abidjan agreement, he said he didn’t like that, and in Togo he had a sure footing – more, for some reason, than he had had in Abidjan. The then Togo Foreign Minister did everything to exclude me from the meeting.
SO: So, in addition to your close collaboration with the UN Special Envoy, Berhanu Dinka, I have a note that the other moral guarantors of the Abidjan agreement were the Special Envoy of the OAU, Adwoa Coleman…
MA: Yes, Adwoa Coleman.
SO: …and then you, representing the Secretary General for the Commonwealth, and also the President of Cote d’Ivoire, Henri Konan Bédié.
MA: Konan Bédié was our host. We worked mainly with his Foreign Minister, Amara Essy – a very fine gentleman. But, by then, it was clear to me that the RUF were really not interested in a peaceful settlement. What they wanted was the chaos of war, leading to a handover of power to them. That’s all they were interested in.
SO: Yes. War was extremely profitable.
MA: Too profitable.
SO: So, was this effective collaboration, then, of the Commonwealth – through you – with the structures of ECOWAS?
MA: We didn’t have an ECOWAS representative that I can remember. OAU, yes, but ECOWAS, no.
SO: Okay. In terms of the implementation of the Abidjan agreement, you said that you then had to move on to further negotiations in Togo because Foday Sankoh was defying it.
MA: Now, what I didn’t understand was why the guarantors allowed another round of negotiations.
SO: Did you talk to Dinka about that?
MA: Well, you know, when we went to Togo, the Togolese authorities tried to humiliate me.
SO: What happened?
MA: Well, I went to represent the Commonwealth, as I had done in Abidjan and [in Cote d’Ivoire] nobody had asked for my credentials. There, they did. The Foreign Minister of Togo at the time did, and did it so crudely.
SO: Did he argue that you were not an ‘ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary’?
MA: But nobody there was!
SO: No, okay. So, why did he challenge you?
MA: He asked for my accreditations. I said, “Well, you can ask my colleagues. I have represented the Commonwealth throughout this.” So, I said, “Okay, I’ll get them.” I rang London and they faxed my accreditations. But we never struck it off. He wanted to make life impossible for me.
MA: I believe that the RUF had got to him. It was obvious to me where he and his government stood on the matter.
SO: Okay. Was there a French dimension in any of this?
MA: By French dimension, you mean Paris?
MA: They would have seen Foday Sankoh for what he was: somebody who can only compromise the standing of France in Africa if they gave him their backing. But they didn’t ask the International Alert’s representative for his credentials, but they asked for only mine.
SO: The fighting was still going on while you were trying to broker this agreement?
SO: The appalling brutality, the amputations, the terrorising of the civilian community…
SO: …the death toll was rising. Were the British helpful in these negotiations? I’m thinking particularly of Tony Blair, who later liked to emphasise his particular credentials in bringing peace to Sierra Leone…
MA: He hadn’t come on the scene, then.
SO: Yes, he hadn’t come on the scene by that point, because of course he was not elected till 1997. But I just wondered if there was any particular backing, assistance, or engagement from other elements of the Commonwealth.
MA: The Secretariat.
SO: In addition to the Secretariat, was there any regional dimension, with Nigeria paying particular attention to what was going on because of being the regional hegemon in that part of the world? Or from Ghana: [did they express] any particular desire to resolve this ongoing crisis?
MA: The Ghana Ambassador in Freetown – the High Commissioner – was a soldier. He was very sympathetic to the military regime then in power. And still, I got on very well with him, but I don’t think that I moved him.
SO: Did Chief come out to lend his backing to what you were trying to do in these negotiations?
MA: He didn’t, and I didn’t need it either.
SO: Did you have other Secretarial support behind you?
MA: I was alone.
SO: Moses, excuse me for saying this, but you are remarkably good at flying solo!
MA: Well, you see, the Secretariat then…We did not want to encourage anything that would bring excessive formality into it.
SO: So, this was in fact a classic example of operating ‘below the radar’, the discreet use of good offices…
MA: That’s right. Commonwealth-style.
SO: It’s ‘the quiet word’, the ‘smoothing’, the ‘let’s not bring these differences into the open because then they become more entrenched’?
MA: Let’s suppose Emeka came up from time to time. It would raise the price.
SO: And it would have raised the profile of the discussions, too.
MA: Not only that. You see, if the RUF is given to understand that they can always pull big guns in, [then] filibustering…
SO: They would have started to grandstand even more?
MA: And demand more. So, you can’t give it, but your boss can give it! [Laughter]
SO: So, Chief Emeka’s presence would have undermined your credibility?
MA: Well, it does not undermine it, but it certainly reduces my ability to sell something on my own.
SO: Chief Emeka’s memoirs refer to developing his good offices in this decade, particularly in order to counter violence and military regimes in Africa – I’m going to come to the whole question of Nigeria in a minute – but did this good offices role have a degree of formality, as you understood it? Was there a template in how the Secretariat in London put good offices into play?
MA: No template: let me get that out quickly. But it had official standing as one of the duties of the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, I think. At that point, we’re talking of the Commonwealth [i.e. not just the Secretariat].
SO: But this was the international organisation and bureaucracy of the Commonwealth. So, the Secretariat was responsive, it was not proactive?
MA: It was proactive.
SO: In what way?
MA: Well, how did we hear of this tension in Zanzibar? No government approached us.
SO: But I had understood that the sending of an emissary or a special envoy was only in response to a specific request?
MA: No. I had to go and sell myself!
SO: Ah, okay, so Chief would hear through his phenomenal networks and sources of information …
MA: Yes, that there is trouble brewing at such and such a place, and he would send me or somebody else. That’s how I got involved with all these things. Do you know how we got the RUF?
MA: It is not on the record; I’ll tell you. Emeka had been wondering what to do, so he decided that he would go on BBC World Service. He went on BBC World Service Focus on Africa. He said, “I know you listen to the World Service of the BBC in the bush. I am so and so. I want to help resolve this problem. These are my contact phone numbers, please get in touch.” So, they rang the next day and I took over from there. That’s how we got involved.
SO: That’s remarkable, because it is using all possible means of communication. Circumventing governments and…
MA: When they’re cutting the BBC budget, I grieve. They don’t know…
SO: I think it’s disastrous. This is the most superb source of soft power that Britain has.
MA: Well if you have other contacts, I’ll tell you this. There are African Presidents that I know personally who won’t go to office until they have first listened to the World Service. Do you understand? These are poor countries; they have no way of getting information other than that in the public domain, and which public domain is better than the BBC?
SO: Indeed. Well, I was talking to one BBC World man – who, in fact, worked on BBC Africa for the World Service – and he told me a tale that, in India, an insult used to be that if someone was pontificating, [you would say], “Who do you think you are, the BBC?” [Laughter]
MA: That’s right. I don’t know whether France International has the same impact on other Francophone countries; I would be surprised if it doesn’t.
SO: So, the Chief reached out to the RUF via his interview on the BBC World Service. How long was that negotiation process?
MA: What we did next was [this]: I was sent out to Freetown with Chris Child, a colleague from the department, and two policemen who operate gadgets – radio operators. So, the four of us went out and they went and set up the phone link with the RUF in the bush.
SO: So, where were these radio operators from?
MA: Now that I think of it, I don’t think they came from Scotland Yard. They came from a much more complicated outfit.
SO: I didn’t think Scotland Yard had radio operators that were quite that sophisticated, but I could be wrong!
MA: But in the bush, too.
SO: No, but they may well have been communications people from the SAS, military intelligence, or perhaps Special Branch?
MA: At that stage?
SO: Anyway, it would be highly skilled technical personnel.
MA: Yes, but how can you take some gadget into Sierra Leone, and where do you direct the thing…which part of the bush?
SO: Don’t ask me.
MA: Sue, you must have some…
SO: Well, I’m certainly not going to say it on tape if I do!
MA: Anyway, these radio communications people went to Freetown and were able to get the contact of the RUF based out in the bush. It worked.
SO: Were you liaising particularly with the Foreign Office on this?
MA: I just liaised with my boss. If he then liaised with them…
SO: Okay, so Chief Emeka would have his own contacts in the British government.
MA: Yes, as with other Commonwealth governments.
SO: So, this must have been a protracted process – to establish the necessary trust with the RUF in the bush.
MA: Well, from there they said to me, “One of our people” – RUF people – “will be in Accra next week. Can you be there?” I said, “Yes, I can be there.” So, I went and we talked. I said, “Look, this is what the Secretary General wants to do. He wants to help you resolve this problem, so you’ll be given a full opportunity to state your case, raise your issues, tell us what your grievances are, and we’ll do our best to help.” Well, shortly after that, he was sacked from the RUF – or, he left. But Foday Sankoh didn’t like me from the word ‘go’. We never got on, and we’d never met before that, of course. But I kept my cool and I said to him – I called him Chief – I said, “Chief, you know, you are like this tree, the Orinoco tree: very, very tall. And when you get to the top of [the tree]…It takes a lot of effort to get to the top, but the proverb says [that], when you finally get to the top, fetch as much firewood as you can.”
SO: Why does the proverb say that?
MA: Because the tree in question is so difficult to climb, so, if you persevere and get to the top, make the most of the opportunity and bring down as much of the firewood. So, I said, “You are to me an Orinoco tree. It’s very difficult to get to you, so if sometimes I seem to be repeating myself, do please forgive me because I want to make sure that I hear you correctly, I understand you correctly, and we can do business together.” He said, “Okay.” But I think somebody else had got onto him. You see, we in the Commonwealth – then, and still now, why not – we in the Commonwealth take this commitment to democracy seriously. I can’t speak for other organisations. And that is difficult.
SO: Yes, if you’re not all working for the same ultimate end goal.
MA: How else can an African government rig Foday Sankoh out in expensive clothes? You understand? He became a changed man. Okay, you can be generous and say, yes, it’s to make him comfortable so that he can negotiate properly and so on. But they never said to the negotiating parties, “Look, we are happy to host you, we are honoured to host you, and we’re hosting you not on our own behalf but in the name of the rest of Africa. That’s what Africa needs: peace, stability. So, if any of you, once you’ve entered into a commitment, dare to withdraw from it – for whatever reason – or undermine it, we will denounce you.” If they had said that, it would have been legitimate in that context; it would have helped a great deal. But they either could not – and certainly did not – say that.
SO: In fact, the way they then treated Foday Sankoh, giving him legitimacy, [that] would have made him more obdurate; it would have reinforced his sense of entitlement.
MA: At the signing of the second agreement, the Lomé Peace Accord, [Ahmad Tejan] Kabbah – God rest his soul – came with, I think, maybe a two year old baby, maybe less, with an amputated arm, into the signing room. He brought this child into the hall. Some of us were in tears. How can you look at that and still not want peace? You know what Foday Sankoh said? He said, “Oh yeah, we can all bring people who have been hurt in this war: our side, too. We have got people who have had…” [Claps hands] Can you believe this?
SO: I’m revolted.
MA: Yeah. But this was the man that they were extending courtesies to. ‘Criminal’ is not enough of a word to convey what the RUF was.
SO: Moses, I’m going to ask you…As a very moral man, how did you negotiate with such – you can’t even call it delusion – with such evil?
MA: Well, I realised that they had total control over the RUF. I’m sure Gaddafi gave some of the money that was channelled to him. He could not be entertaining them in his military training camps and not give them money. He kept control like that. And so, there was no likelihood of a revolt within his own group and producing another, more acceptable leader. So, we had to be very careful. We had to actually just sit on our consciences in order to avert a more unacceptable leader – anything more unacceptable.
SO: True, I suppose that, if the RUF had fragmented, you would have had to negotiate with someone else, or multiple other rebel leaders.
MA: If it had fragmented…
SO: Or, in your view, was the RUF a rabble army, with Foday Sankoh as only a nominal leader? Was that in large part the problem?
MA: No, he wasn’t a nominal leader. His word went. There was a medical officer…this is one of the surprises…
SO: Oh, that is even more disgusting.
MA: …who was with him and, you know, he was in it only for the money, I’m sure. But anyway, in the end they fell out.
SO: Moses, as a highly intelligent observer, did you ever try to reflect on what had produced this appalling violence?
MA: I have tried. Not easy. But let me finish the story. He fell out with Foday Sankoh in the bush. And you know what he did to him? He literally stripped him naked and left him like that in the camp, so he was walking about naked. Almost like a mad man. His wife told me this.
SO: So, he was demeaned, he was nothing…
MA: In fact, if only he could have escaped, but…You see there’s something else I must tell you. Foday Sankoh, not being an educated man, used to blurt out certain things. He said, for example, that he wasn’t working alone and it was not only those in the bush with him who were working with him. He said, “Where do we get our information from?” He says, “From Freetown.” He said, “But today is not the day and this is not a place for me to reveal names. But when the day comes, we will.” And you know what confirmed it for me? A principal Secretary – the Secretary to the President, no less…To cut a long story short…I could tell you other things about him. But, you know, when they made their push into Freetown and they were driven back, but only just, this Secretary to the President went with them. He followed them into the bush.
SO: So, they already had their spies within the opposing camp – within the Presidential inner circle?
MA: His name is Sheku Bayoh. This is somebody [who], when I was going in to see Kabbah on one occasion, he said, “Please, can you tell him [to] reinforce my position here for me?” I said, “But you are Secretary to the President, Head of the Cabinet.” He said, “Yes, but you are his personal friend and you are not a Sierra Leonean; he will take you more seriously.” So, that war lasted so long partly because of the informants from the inside. There was another one I suspected, but I have no evidence on him. This is an old diamond trader.
SO: It’s wicked. Because, it seems to me, it was driven by personal greed.
MA: What else? But how much food can one person eat? How many clothes at a time?
SO: Exactly. But going back to my question about how you can come to try to grasp what produced this appalling violence…?
MA: How…What produced the Nazis?
SO: Ah, “the path to Auschwitz was taken one step at a time”…
MA: If you understand that, you understand what happened in Sierra Leone. You see, Sierra Leone was never a well-integrated country, but somehow it had muddled through. The Creoles gave up in their ambitions for political power because of their numbers. But they were strong in the bureaucracy, in the professions and so on. But I always got the impression that there was a residual lack of respect for the ‘up-country boys’, as they called them. Did they throw their lot in with the new Sierra Leone? Yes, by and large, but there were always people who didn’t. Now, Sheku Bayoh…You can see from the name he’s not a Creole. But the Creoles never took an interest in making sure that the up-country boys didn’t get to excesses, even if there were signs of it. And to that extent, they didn’t throw in their whole lot with Sierra Leone.
SO: No, so they didn’t make a nation?
MA: Now, I come from a country where the long-established, coastal professional middle had their prejudices against the up-country people, but they were very careful to hide them.
SO: Is that because of Nkrumah – because of his emphasis on the Ghana nation, and his Pan-Africanism?
MA: Yes, that’s only because of Nkrumah. Nkrumah, whatever mistakes he made and he must have made a lot – you can’t be in power for so long and not make mistakes – was by and large the founder and saviour of Ghana from a dangerous retrograde tribalism.
SO: I would argue, in the same way, that Julius Nyerere played that role in Tanzania, in his extraordinary contribution to ‘making’ the Tanzanian nation from so many different ethnicities and linguistic groups.
MA: Okay. Julius. I went to see him, and do you know what he said? During my Zanzibar negotiations, you could see [that] he was very unhappy with Salmin Amour. But you know what? He took the position that the country has now got new leaders. “My job is to stand behind those leaders, and if they need to send the Army” – this is what he said to me – “to Zanzibar, it’s for them to decide.” He didn’t like what Salmin was doing.
SO: No, but he wasn’t going to be a Margaret Thatcher-like ‘backseat driver’, as she famously said that she was going to be for John Major when he became British Prime Minister in 1990.
MA: Julius really was very moral that way. And the other thing: you know, like me he collected books [from] all over the world, and then came the time for him to leave State House. He didn’t have a house, by the way.
SO: No, like President Kaunda when he left State House in Lusaka.
MA: Like Kaunda, who’s another friend; I always go and see him when I’m in Zambia. The State offered to build Julius a house. He said, “Is this what you are going to do for every Tanzanian?” They said, “Well, we can’t do that for every Tanzanian.” He said, “Why are you doing it for me? Unless you can do it for every Tanzanian, don’t do it.”
SO: He wasn’t asking for special treatment.
MA: You know how they eventually got around that? The Army Commander of Tanzania went and said, “Mwalimu, whether you like it or not, you have been our Commander-in-Chief for a long time and we’re not going to allow our Commander-in-Chief to live in a house like this. We will take money from our vote and build you a house.” That’s how they got around it. He stayed in it for four weeks and [then] died.
SO: But the courtesies on both sides were observed. He didn’t ask for special treatment, and they said, “There is no way we’re treating you like everybody else”!
MA: They got around it wondrously.
SO: Just to go back to Sierra Leone…Did you continue to follow the politics of what was going on there after the signing of the Lomé Peace Accord? Did you have the same sense of disquiet and frustration that was running parallel to your…
MA: But Lomé made no difference, did it?
SO: No, it didn’t.
MA: And, in the end, it showed Foday Sankoh for what he was. He was going to make use of the training he had received in Libya to get to power.
SO: Were you aware of any other Commonwealth African leaders or diplomats trying to exert pressure on Sierra Leone for a settlement?
MA: Sue, you see, when you send an Ambassador to a situation, it’s very difficult to ignore the Ambassador completely – what he comes back to report – and [to] ensure that we’re all reporting honestly when the situation is real. I will just mention this story but I won’t name names, because it’s too dangerous. One of those who was also [going to Sierra Leone] – incidentally, he used to go periodically – I heard him say to his Head of State, his Head of Government, that while he’s heard of bodies lying on the street, he never saw any.
SO: He never saw any of the bodies on the street?
MA: Yeah. He never saw any. I did.
SO: Yes. How could you not?
MA: He did. But, you know this old problem with Diplomats – you read your President or Prime Minister or whatever.
SO: You tell him what you think he wants to hear?
MA: That’s right. You read him; you know where his sympathies are.
SO: And so you pander to them?
SO: Moses, please, if I could take a slight step back to ask you about Nigeria. Obviously, there was the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Auckland in 1995, the backdrop of which was the approaching execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the eight Ogoni political dissidents in Nigeria. Personal pleas for clemency had been put to President Sani Abacha. Abacha publicly defied these appeals on the very eve of the CHOGM. Had you been involved, in any way, in any approaches to Sani Abacha before that point?
MA: No. But that would have been something that the Chief would have played very close to his chest.
SO: Because of the fact of him being Nigerian?
MA: Because of his being Nigerian.
SO: Did you and Max go to the Auckland meeting?
SO: You did? So, had you been working with Max Gaylard in the run up to Auckland on the idea of a contact group, of a Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group? These ideas didn’t emerge suddenly at the Auckland meeting – they had been brewing, gestating, beforehand. So, where had these ideas come from? How had they been elaborated before you got down to New Zealand?
MA: When was CMAG set up?
SO: CMAG was set up after the Queenstown retreat, and you went back to Auckland in November of 1995.
MA: So, it begins from Auckland?
SO: It began from Auckland with the Millbrook Declaration. When I spoke to him, Max indicated that there had been ideas of a contact group certainly within the British government, and Max had said that these ideas had also been going around the Secretariat. I don’t know whether in Political Affairs, whether in Chief’s Office, whether Stewart Mole had been working closely on this idea, whether you had been involved. I’m just wondering where the ideas of CMAG had emerged, before they were put to Heads at the Auckland CHOGM.
MA: That would have been largely Emeka’s own thing, you see, because he always kept his ear close to the ground. He always wanted to intervene. But, in the best Commonwealth tradition, you know, [he] goes with the grain, as it were: don’t intervene in the way which questions sovereignty, or gets people’s backs up. So, in a way, CMAG was a typical Commonwealth thing. Only the Commonwealth could have set that up, really. Now, did it deal with Abacha?
SO: It tried to. Well, it didn’t expressly deal with Abacha. The creation of CMAG and Nigeria’s immediate suspension from the Commonwealth were separate. Mandela had put in his own personal plea for clemency for Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other dissidents, and so had a sense of moral affront when the nine of them were executed on the eve of the Auckland meeting. Mandela had certainly gone into the retreat with the Prime Minister of New Zealand – Jim Bolger, whom I’ve also interviewed – with both of them arguing [that] something had to be done. They identified two resisters: one was Dr Mahathir of Malaysia, and the other was Robert Mugabe. Individually, they each spoke to Mahathir and Mugabe – as people whom they perceived would be opposing the idea of a Commonwealth response. So, there was condemnation of the Abacha government, and Nigeria was immediately suspended from the Commonwealth. Then, separately, was the CMAG decision.
MA: Okay, alright. The CMAG mission was something that was very carefully deployed whenever it went into action, for the simple reason [that], one, there is the question of sovereignty, and people or governments that are not interested in our involvement in their internal affairs can always throw that at us. Up to that point, there had been declarations. So, CMAG would have given teeth to any course of action that the Commonwealth agreed on. It’s a shame it didn’t work in Nigeria’s case, but…
SO: Well, indeed. It seems President Abacha just refused to see any of the deputations from CMAG. Dr Mahathir was writing to President Bill Clinton the following year saying, “Look we’ve come up with this particular mechanism to deal with military governments, but they can’t even get through the door because he’s refusing to let them in.”
MA: This has as much to do with Abacha’s own personality. He came across to me as somebody who really didn’t set too much store in what the others all thought or said of him. He didn’t want The Times or whatever – The Observer or The Guardian – to have a glowing article on him. It meant nothing to him.
SO: When did you meet him?
MA: I’ve never met him on one to one. But I’ve been in a room – in a meeting – with him.
SO: Where was this?
MA: An informal occasion, mind you. I’ve been in a room with him and others, through my Nigerian friends. Because I’m from Northern Ghana, they would regard me as a brother. I always got the impression at that encounter…I said nothing, I just listened. But he didn’t set much store in what the Commonwealth thought of him, and if Nigeria had been thrown out of the Commonwealth, it would have made no difference to him – at all. On the other hand, you know, when the coup happened in Sierra Leone – the first coup against Kabbah – I had a detailed briefing from Kabbah on this, because I wrote all his speeches. I wrote the speech he delivered at ECOWAS; I wrote the speech he delivered to the UN; I wrote the speech he delivered to Commonwealth Heads of Government. Such was our relationship. When the coup happened, Abacha sent a plane. He sent a plane to Freetown, and he said the plane was to stay there until it could bring him out – by which time he’d already crossed into Liberia. Now, he was prepared to stand by Kabbah – and I must get this right – because he said the plane should stay there until it could bring him either to Nigeria or back into power immediately. Although the Commonwealth was also engaged in wanting to settle Kabbah’s problem, he worked on his own. I don’t remember any kind of crossing of wires. And, in a way, he didn’t know much about the importance of international cooperation. He didn’t care for diplomacy, I don’t think.
SO: So, as far as there was any degree of Commonwealth sanction – being suspended from the Commonwealth – that would have made absolutely no difference to him…
MA: Water off a duck’s back.
SO: Hence, the approaches from CMAG saying, “You need to correct the political complexion of your government”, would have produced a shrug of his shoulders. So, it had no leverage whatsoever?
MA: Nothing. There was no entry point for us with him.
SO: Was Chief also trying to use you, because of his delicate position as a Nigerian?
MA: He handled this himself.
SO: Yes, but he was in a particularly sensitive position as a Nigerian Commonwealth Secretary General. Was there any private mutterings that, if this continued, this might make his position untenable?
MA: Yes, but not at the level of Heads – that I heard. But I would imagine that quite a number of them would have said, “Okay, well, you’ve been an exemplary Secretary General. Continue.” I think he would have been asked to continue, irrespective of whether Nigeria was there or not. Because, after Abacha, it could come back.
SO: Well, indeed, and let’s face it, that’s exactly what had happened to Chief in the late 1960s. I’ve read the letter from the Permanent Secretary of the Nigerian Civil Service, written to Arnold Smith, demanding that Emeka was removed from the Secretariat. And Arnold Smith was remarkably adept at protecting Emeka.
MA: How did he protect him?
SO: He sent him off to the Gibraltar referendum, and then he also dispatched him to deal with the Anguilla constitutional issues. Smith made sure that, even though Chief had made, I think, a couple of trips back to Nigeria – and had used his information network particularly among Ibadan University former colleagues to give Smith information…I know that Chief Emeka’s house in London was also used as a point for Nigerians and also for people from Biafra coming through…But Arnold Smith was highly deliberate in trying to insulate him as much as possible.
MA: He spent time in Tanzania, did you know that?
SO: I didn’t.
MA: During that period. He was very close to Mwalimu. He had his friends, and he regarded Africa – Commonwealth Africa – as his constituency. And he got on very well with KK, very, very well with Mwalimu…Who were the others there? The Kenyans never took an interest in anything he did. He never got involved with anything there.
SO: He implied as much when I interviewed him. In Uganda, there was the problem of Idi Amin in the 1970s. But then, did Chief form a particularly close and supportive relationship with Museveni once he achieved power in 1986?
MA: He was very close to Obote, that I know. Museveni is…Was he close to Museveni? Museveni came in January ’86, didn’t he. Then he had an election…was it ‘92?
SO: That I can’t remember. I was in Nairobi when Museveni came to power, and then I left in 1987, so I’m afraid I don’t know the cycle of elections in Uganda.
MA: No. Kenya has no international profile…do you notice?
SO: No, it doesn’t. It’s completely dropped below the news radar again.
MA: Consequently they have no influence.
SO: Although I’m afraid that the only time they do seem to have any particular press profile is when there is violence there, in the country. But political profile, no.
MA: No, but then their nationalism has always been different, anyway.
SO: Once Sani Abacha had died in those dubious circumstances, there was a new military …
MA: Why are they dubious? [Laughter]
SO: It’s true – those entirely respectable circumstances! [Laughter] The new military leader was Abdulsalami Abubakar. So, Chief made a visit to Abuja…
MA: I’m sure he did.
SO: Okay, again, but you were not involved?
MA: No, I wasn’t involved. But he wouldn’t have to take a Ghanaian with him for that!
SO: I’ve got two other questions, one of which concerns the African Commonwealth Heads Round Table in 1997. In what way were you involved in setting this up – in the diplomacy to get it together? What was your particular reflection and judgement on its value?
MA: Now, where was it and when was it, first of all?
SO: It was in 1997, in Botswana.
MA: Yes, that was restricted to African leaders. It was [designed] to enable African leaders to exchange their respective challenges with democracy and to suggest solutions. But he [Chief Emeka] also wanted a forum where African leaders could speak, [where they] would feel free and actually say the things that were bothering them. And you know how it was organised, don’t you? Well, first of all, there was one meeting of the representatives of political parties – opposition and ruling – and then, the next day, there was a meeting of heads of government. And, you know, what came out of that meeting was quite interesting.
SO: In what way?
MA: Well, a number of the opposition party leaders got up and said [that] this was the first time they were meeting face to face in the same room with their opposite number. Yes, Cameroon said that; I remember that. Uganda…See, you had multi-party systems, but the spirit wasn’t that, and the ruling parties tended to hog [power]. Some of them thanked Emeka very profusely and said, “Look, it’s a shame that we’ve had to come all this way in order for me to talk to my brother across the room.”
SO: So, it was reflective, in fact, of sharply divided political cultures.
SO: Again, does this go back to the question of the problematic concept of a ‘loyal opposition’? Emeka made that point…
MA: Well, he says that; he always said that. The concept, the reality, of a loyal opposition, accepting the opposite side – that, if they win a fair election and come to power, [then] they have every right to rule. The following day [of the Botswana Roundtable], I sat in on both – the Heads and the parties. You know what, the intolerance that was directed against NGOs…Unbelievable.
MA: They made a number of accusations against NGOs. They said, first of all, they were really manned by failed politicians – politicians who had been defeated in an open contest and were trying to come in through a back door. Second, [that] they were more or less making themselves the referees to donor governments – that if a donor government wanted to give aid, they would consult the NGO on the dependability of the government. So, in this way, the defeated were enabled to sit in judgment of the elected government for its suitability.
SO: Well, there were obviously issues of budgetary transparency and accountability kicking in there – to explain why there might be external donor contact with NGOs and the need to channel funds with NGOs, if there was an external perception of a degree of graft, corruption, or lack of human skill capacity [in the government]. I’m trying to be devil’s advocate here…
MA: No, I have no problems understanding it myself. But Museveni…Yes, he was there. But the ones who led the opposition to NGOs were Mugabe and Kenya’s Arap Moi, and they said that NGO employees lived even better than Ministers – they went around in 4x4s…
SO: But it’s true though! Let’s face it: the funds that were channelled into expatriates who did not pay income tax, who had access to the perks of…
MA: Almost like diplomats.
SO: Yes, indeed. And, in fact, they seemed to set up parallel structures, because if there was a demand for budgetary accountability that would put extra strains on government resources. There’s also the aspect of if NGO salary packets were more attractive than working for the Civil Service…
MA: It’s a general animus against NGOs.
SO: Had you identified that before?
MA: Independently, no. But I was quite surprised at the strength of the hostility towards NGOs. But, of course, some of the NGOs invigilate governments don’t they? Let’s be honest about it. And they don’t want to be invigilated, do they? So, that’s really the crux of it.
SO: Well, no, this is a totally understandable attitude of governments: “We have the mandate, we have the political constituencies. You’re representing a non-elected pressure group that’s dependent on external financing and support projects which may not be in line with government strategies.”
MA: I think it’s quite widespread, actually.
SO: This idea that NGOs are accountable to external factors and forces….
MA: Yeah, the donors.
SO: …who have a different agenda.
MA: But, you see, who would they be accountable to? There are the people who give them the money, but there ought to be, in my view, a joint Board of the donors and the beneficiaries, who should then meet and get a clear picture of what’s happened to the money.
SO: Yes, I agree.
MA: But if you say that the recipients, alone – or those who run the NGOs, alone – should account for it, we know how they’ll do it, don’t we?
SO: Yes. Moses, was this Round Table conceived as a one-off meeting…
SO: Was there any idea or discussion that it would be repeated?
MA: No. Also, I’m not sure that a non-African Secretary General could convene such a small meeting. They will ask you, “Is it a common worldwide practice, and so will you go to Asia after this? Will you go to the Caribbean, or is it just us?”
SO: Moses, please, if I could ask you about Zimbabwe in the 1990s. How far was Robert Mugabe a pillar of the Commonwealth in the ‘90s?
MA: Well, I think that the role that Sonny played at Lancaster House – behind the scenes – could hardly have failed to command his admiration and even gratitude. Why not?
SO: Indeed. Sonny helped provide administrative backup, advice, constant diplomatic support; he helped to broker the land fudge and the US/UK financial deal. His ‘outer’ diplomacy at Lancaster House was remarkable.
MA: I remember that Sonny used to have meetings in Marlborough House at the end of each negotiating session, where he and Joshua Nkomo would come and brief the High Commissioners. But that was valuable. They would tell them what progress they had made, where the snags are, and how the Commonwealth could help. I’m not sure that Britain welcomed it enthusiastically.
SO: No, no. Carrington was intensely resentful of what he felt was Ramphal’s interference. He wanted to run the negotiations as a ‘British show’.
MA: It was a British show: nobody said it wasn’t. [It was] nobody else’s show.
SO: I think that Carrington was not at all appreciative of Ramphal’s criticism of his negotiating style and the process by which Carrington was trying to move the negotiations forward.
MA: I think they wanted Nkomo to win.
SO: They did.
SO: They wanted Nkomo to win. Or that there should be a coalition with Nkomo and Bishop Muzorewa.
MA: You know who came to the Botswana Round Table meeting in 1998? Muzorewa. Nobody invited him. He heard of it, and he came. And the Chief deputed me to talk to him and keep him company. He said, “I’m going to take you out to lunch though.” He was in faded clothes; you could see the strings of his trousers and tears on his jacket. [He had] fallen on very, very tough times. So, I said, “But how, where are your white backers?” He smiled and said nothing. It was sad.
SO: Yes, that would have been very sad indeed. Because, for all his faults – and as you say, a leader in power has many – he was a moderate Rhodesian nationalist.
MA: But what does that mean – moderate?
SO: Well, in the climate of the Cold War, of course, it meant that he wouldn’t be embarking upon any radical socialist ideas – that it would be reformation, rather than revolution, of the political economy.
MA: Muzorewa…He never went anywhere to collect dangerous ideas anyway!
SO: No, I know he didn’t, he stayed put. He accepted the presence of white economic dominance of the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe political economy.
MA: Yeah, so it’s not that he was moderate…[Laughter]
SO: He just hadn’t been exposed to any dangerous ideas? He had insulated himself by staying in Rhodesia in the 70s, so he hadn’t picked up any dangerous external ideas!
MA: All he did was to eat endless ugali in the bush! But why can’t they ever choose intelligent collaborators? Sue, tell me…It’s the history of Africa, isn’t it?
SO: It certainly is. On this question of Robert Mugabe and his contribution to the Commonwealth in the 1990s…What I don’t want to do is to slide into any false conflation of [this with] Robert Mugabe as problematic leader of Zimbabwe, because I feel that his social transformation of the country – the focus on healthcare and education in Zimbabwe in the early-mid ‘80s – was admirable. The Harare Declaration of 1991, with its emphasis on good government rather than good governance, had been signed in his capital. But at what point do you feel you can identify a progressively embattled leader? Was he still a pillar for the Commonwealth by the mid-1990s?
MA: It’s not the Commonwealth, I don’t think. It’s Britain. And he is not one of these Africans who had studied abroad. If you go through the history of Southern Africa, the Commonwealth in which Menzies and that lot had sway was not sympathetic to our aspirations. That is the kind of Commonwealth – the image of the Commonwealth – that Mugabe would have known when he was growing up. Then he comes to Lancaster House, and the Commonwealth cooperates – works together as a team – to bring about a fair and just settlement. You know, he came to Marlborough House with Nkomo. At one of these briefing sessions – I must tell you this – he made Nkomo speak on their behalf, which is interesting. Nkomo rose to the occasion – he was marvellous: much more experienced politically than Mugabe. Now, this threat to break up the conference if they didn’t get what they wanted over the land issue…
SO: Yes, in October.
MA: Now, you’ve heard of Nyerere’s intervention?
MA: It would have been the kind of language that Nkomo would have spoken if he had been on his own. “Let’s get our independence; let’s get our constitution first…”
SO: “Let’s get power.”
MA: “Let’s get power first. Land is a policy issue; it’s not a constitutional issue.” You see it? Nkomo would have spoken like that. Mugabe might have said, “No, we either get what we want or we don’t.” But, on the two of them as leaders, I must say something else. Nkomo had a broader African constituency. Africans had seen and heard him…You understand? From way back. He was in Ghana for the 1958 conference. He had a higher profile. Mugabe didn’t have any profile then. But what we didn’t know was how much the tribal thing would play. We didn’t.
SO: Even though it was common knowledge that twenty per cent of the population spoke Ndebele, and eighty per cent chiShona?
MA: When did that become common knowledge?
SO: Okay. I suppose as a historian I’ve always known this. I have interviewed former members of the Rhodesian police and security forces, and I’ve also read Rhodesian Information Department reports from the mid-70s, giving linguistic and ethnic breakdowns of the various groupings inside Rhodesia/Zimbabwe.
MA: You and I have always known it, but we’re not talking about us. The masses didn’t know it.
SO: But what of the sub groups, the regionalism, that existed within the country at the time?
MA: Now, do you know what helped to obscure it further? The racist policies of the regime: it didn’t distinguish between Ndebeles and Shonas. So, it obscured the picture for us as to, you know, how the country would vote.
SO: You know there’s an irony there, because the Rhodesian government – and I’ve looked at files from Ian Smith’s office that were smuggled down to Rhodes University in Grahamstown…
MA: How were they taken down?
SO: They were flown down in two Dakotas which landed on the playing fields during the university holidays, and they were taken into the library. It was called ‘Operation Geraldine’.
MA: This is important. How interesting.
SO: In these papers, there were files from the Ministry of Information which listed the ethnic and linguistic breakdown of Zimbabwean communities, as well as details on support for African nationalism within the territory of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. And I remember thinking this was actually quite sophisticated.
MA: Did you make a copy?
SO: I’ve got a copy of it somewhere.
MA: You must let me have a look.
SO: Because I was thinking that they did understand the extent to which the principal divide between Shona and Ndebele was important.
MA: Okay. They did.
SO: They thought Muzorewa would triumph in the Shona vote. But I’m going to suggest, Moses, that anything that the Smith/Muzorewa government put out would have automatically been dismissed by the Secretariat, because of your conviction in the repugnance of the racial regime.
MA: I think Ian Smith and his inner circle would have known how this would play out. I have no doubt about that. Look, they can’t have this kind of information and not know that. Okay. Two, that’s why Mugabe was saying, “No, no, we’ll stand as ZAPU and ZANU.” You understand? “If, after that, we want to come together, that’s different. But we can’t say we are a Patriotic Front. The Front was for fighting. This is not fighting anymore.” So, he knew what the outcome would be.
SO: Were you involved in any of the briefings around the edges of what Sonny was doing?
MA: Where? To the High Commissioners?
SO: To ZAPU and ZANU delegates at Lancaster House. Because, after all, you had joined the Secretariat in 1979…
MA: I used to keep the record.
SO: You were the one taking the notes at the meetings?
MA: Yeah. I must say that the British were a bit uncomfortable at the meeting.
SO: Indeed. Who was the British representative?
MA: Antony Duff came sometimes.
SO: But it was also Johnny Graham, wasn’t it?
MA: Yes. Antony Duff was really avuncular – in a nice, dignified way, mind you – but then he dropped out. He was senior, wasn’t he?
SO: Very. He was the second in command at the British Foreign Office, as Deputy Under-Secretary. He was Carrington’s number two – after Michael Palliser, who was the top civil servant at the Foreign Office. Duff was the second.
After independence, Mugabe’s engagement and commitment to the Commonwealth was remarkable. But by the 1990s, the land question was starting to raise its head again. Was the Commonwealth in any way helpful – was the Secretariat useful – in trying to support a land audit, in trying to support what the John Major government was trying to do before 1997?
MA: No, there was no entry point for the Commonwealth in the land issue, and I don’t think Mugabe was in a hurry to do that either. You see, don’t forget that by then, I think, the ZANU Central Committee had taken a decision on that.
SO: I know that by 1992 there had been two bad droughts in Zimbabwe. Mugabe had certainly approached the National Farmers Union in Zimbabwe with the hope that there could be an acceleration of the land transfer programme, but the National Farmers Union had been remarkably resistant and had in fact appealed to the international community to support the continuation of private property rights. I think that they really missed a trick there, seriously, for an accelerated, managed land transfer programme. I just wondered: was the Secretariat forming any opinion on this issue? I appreciate that the principal focus was on South Africa at that particular point.
MA: Yes. At that point we had already…
SO: I’ve also heard that Mugabe, at that point, held back from pushing ahead with an accelerated land transfer programme, precisely because of the delicate and sensitive nature of what was going on in South Africa. So, there was concern for the regional context.
MA: That’s what Emeka said to Mugabe. What he said to him was, “The South African issue is coming to a head, and if you proceed with this drastic land reform it will complicate the situation for us. So, you wait. Let’s get South Africa out of the way, and then you can do your reforms.” That’s what I heard Emeka say.
SO: So, you heard him say it, or he was repeating…?
MA: Yes, I heard him say it. Yes, that’s what he told Robert.
SO: And he was saying this at the Harare meeting?
MA: No, no. He said it to me.
SO: Okay. So, do you remember the time and context of him making this remark?
MA: Oh, long after the land reform.
SO: Okay. So, he was reflecting and looking back. It’s just that Robert Mugabe has made the comment that he’d always found dealing with Conservative governments much easier than dealing with Labour governments…
MA: Not only Mugabe. Other African leaders have said the same.
SO: Truly? Did they explain why they found it easier to deal [with Conservative governments]?
MA: Because the Conservatives are more self-assured. They do not have to look over their shoulder.
SO: So, they speak with a greater degree of confidence?
MA: Oh yes. And the Africans caught on to that very early on.
SO: That’s interesting. Tony Blair came into office in the 1997 election with a sizeable majority and an extraordinary mandate for political change. This was a sea change in British politics, in terms of the political constituency of support – within British political culture – for New Labour. And you are saying that this didn’t come across in a positive way towards Africa?
MA: But that was recent. I’m talking during the colonial days. You see, the Conservatives, when they came to speak…When did we begin to have Labour governments here anyway? Not until Clement Attlee in 1945. And then they went back into opposition until Wilson [in 1964]. So, it’s the Tories who did the decolonising – most of it, anyway. And they always spoke much more confidently. You always got the impression that Labour…Not only did Labour look over its shoulder, but they didn’t have the same wealth of experience for dealing with Africans. Now, there were some Labour politicians who had encountered Africans here as students, you understand, but they hadn’t encountered them in government. Like Stafford Cripps’ daughter married a Ghanaian here…Things like that.
SO Moses, how much do you feel that African issues dominated the Secretariat’s work or the Commonwealth’s work and attitudes in the 1990s? And, in fact, that it eclipsed other tensions and pressures elsewhere within the Commonwealth?
MA: No. As soon as Ghana became independent and Nkrumah started attending Commonwealth summits, the African issues started to dominate. You only have to look at Robert Menzies’ memoirs – Afternoon Light, or something like that? Now, the very detailed letters he used to write to Verwoerd, coaching him on scientific racism. Long, long letters on how he is doing it with his…I don’t what he called it, but anyway. But he says, for example…After independence, Nkrumah wrote to the South African government saying, “Look, we are all Africans. I’d like to exchange Ambassadors with you.” And one of Verwoerd’s complaints was, “Well, where do we put them? Because all the blacks have to live somewhere in reservations. How can we put the Ghanaian blacks…” You read it. Read the book: Afternoon Light. It’s a very important book.
SO: Moses, it strikes me, though, that the Commonwealth may be a unique institution. For all its diversity – the talk of its sovereign elephants and the sovereign mice, suggestions of its links with the Non-Aligned Movement and Afro-Asian ideas of solidarity and development – in reality, it has proved to be an African problem-solving institution.
MA: No. Most of the problems that came before it were African, that’s all. There’s no mystery about it. But, this ‘sovereign mice’…it’s an academic’s…
SO: It is, and I wish I could remember who said it. Ron Sanders quoted it recently…
MA: It was Dennis Austin, I think. Another friend I have. Is he alive, do you know? He’s a friend I’ve lost touch with – Dennis Austin. He’s a very good example of an English academic who would vote Labour here and support Tories in Ghana.
SO: It’s like the comment the Americans made to Ted Heath: that, if they were in America, the Tories would be the Democrats and Labour would be the Democrats!
MA: Yes! Nyerere famously said that the American system is really a one-party system, but, being American, they have to have two.
SO: That’s very good. Moses, I’m going to stop there. Thank you very much indeed for a fascinating and detailed interview.
[END OF AUDIOFILE PART TWO]
Transcript Part Three:
SO: This is Dr Sue Onslow talking to Dr Moses Anafu in London on 19th November 2014. Dr Anafu, I would like to talk to you about your work in the Commonwealth Secretariat. Please, if you could begin by elaborating on the Zimbabwe side of the Commonwealth story, I would be very grateful.
MA: Okay. Well, when I joined the Secretariat in 1979, there was something called the Commonwealth Committee on Southern Africa. The committee was mandated to deal with the political situation in Southern Africa as a whole, but quite clearly Zimbabwe and South Africa were at the centre of it; they were the priorities. By then, the Zimbabwean liberation movement (ZANLA) was already operating from Mozambique and making incursions into those farms in Zimbabwe, closest to Mozambique.
SO: In Tete Province, yes.
MA: Tete was the name. And the Rhodesian army was making reprisals into Mozambique. The issue before the committee then was, first, to deal with the root cause of the problem, which was namely that there had been a minority regime established in 1965 in Rhodesia, which represented only a fraction of the people of Zimbabwe. The whole point was to bring about a legitimate, majority-elected government, freely chosen by the people of Zimbabwe. That was the Commonwealth’s remit, and it hoped that by international pressure, including sanctions – although at that stage there had been no organised effort on the part of the Commonwealth to impose sanctions on the regime – a peaceful settlement could be reached.
SO: Excuse me Moses, but mandatory UN sanctions had been approved in 1966 and were made all-embracing in 1968. The British Parliament voted on sanctions every year, in November.
MA: Yes, that was at the level of the United Nations. I’m talking of a specific Commonwealth effort. Now, the Lancaster House Conference… If that had not resulted in agreement and a way forward – meaning a constitutional conference involving all the parties and leading to democratically-recognised elections – then there would have been, I’m sure, a separate Commonwealth effort to add to the international pressure which the UN had initiated, and that would have been different.
SO: In 1979, the incoming Thatcher government had suggested in their Conservative Party manifesto that they would recognise Bishop Abel Muzorewa’s government of national unity. It was thus likely that the Conservative Party would vote to lift sanctions in the November of 1979. So, Britain would have found itself at odds with the Commonwealth.
MA: But Britain didn’t lift the sanctions, did they?
SO: No, they didn’t, because they went into all-party negotiations in September.
SO: You joined the Secretariat in January of 1979. You’ve made reference to the fact that Rhodesia/Zimbabwe was of top priority in the Commonwealth at that particular time. South Africa was the bigger prize, but the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe was of immediate priority. What was your awareness and involvement in supporting the Patriotic Front delegations of ZANU and ZAPU in London in the autumn of 1979?
MA: What the Commonwealth did was to arrange for the Patriotic Front party, represented by the two leaders, to come in and brief Commonwealth High Commissioners. At the end of each session, the committee would meet – I think it was about once a week by then – to review what had been agreed or what hadn’t been agreed and why, and what could be done. So, it was basically a facilitating role, but I think this focus [from] the Commonwealth sent out signals that it was following this process very closely, and that it would not allow the integrity of the process to be undermined. By integrity, I mean that the two wings of the Patriotic Front, representing the African majority there, were not to be driven out of the conference through some trick or provocation.
SO: I’ve done a fair amount of research on the Lancaster House discussions. I’ve looked at the documents on the High Commissioners committee meetings. I’ve also looked at it from the British government’s side. I’ve interviewed all of Carrington’s team who are alive and I’ve also talked at length to Sir Sonny Ramphal about his ‘outer diplomacy’. My two interviews with him lasted, I think, a total of six hours.
MA: Did he come here or did you go there?
SO: I did these interviews when Sir Sonny was in London in 2006, for the Institute of Contemporary British History interview programme. But I’m curious to know the extent to which Sir Sonny was, in fact, holding his part in the negotiations very close to his chest within the Office of the Secretary General, or whether Political Affairs was involved in any way?
MA: PAD was closely involved.
SO: Okay. In what way?
MA: Well, first of all, we serviced the meetings. We prepared briefs for him, the Secretary General, and the Deputy Secretary General, and we liaised with the Patriotic Front officials.
SO: When you say you ‘liaised’, were you talking through policy options? Were you helping to make counter-drafts during the discussions about the constitution…
SO: …particularly on land, discussions about transitional arrangements, discussions about the ceasefire?
MA: No, you’re jumping ahead of the story. First of all, when they arrived in London, we relied on them to tell us the position on the ground. We had no way of knowing that. We needed to know from them what their concerns were – what was of particular concern to them, as a Patriotic Front delegation. Now, I don’t know who took care of the Muzorewa lot, but they were not part of the people we liaised with.
SO: So, you were liaising with Joshua Nkomo’s team and also, separately, with Robert Mugabe’s team? But this was a nominally united political front, the Patriotic Front…
MA: Yeah, and it went there as one united front.
SO: The Patriotic Front went into the Lancaster House negotiations with two national liberation political leaders: Joshua Nkomo and his delegates, and Robert Mugabe and his team.
MA: That’s right.
SO: And although this was a political front, they were fighting on two different military fronts, in the country and outside.
MA: Yes, one from the Zambian side, you mean, and the other from the Mozambique side. I don’t know that the other side did much fighting, you know. [Laughter]
SO: ZIPRA? No, they didn’t. They kept their best troops back in camps in Zambia.
SO: They did indeed. They had a different strategy, Operation Zero Hour, configured around conventional warfare.
MA: You could never get any news from them as to how the struggle was going on the ground.
SO: So, what did they tell you about the struggle on the ground when you first met them?
MA: No. When we met them, they told us about the common position, which was what was really of interest to us, as well. We did not want any fragmentation. It would have been disastrous. And on that they were at one. We worked for the Patriotic Front.
SO: What were your lasting impressions of the Patriotic Front delegation? It was not simply comprised of Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe: there was Josiah Tongogara…
MA: Josiah Chinamano.
SO: Okay, but there was also Josiah Tongogara, was there?
MA: He was there, but I never met him. But I remember Josiah very well.
SO: Josiah Chinamano left a lasting impression on you?
MA: Yes, well, Josiah was an old politician and his part in the struggle must have begun way [back] in the 1950s. The sort of people who came to Ghana were him, Nkomo… Mugabe was already in Ghana then, at the beginning of the 1960s, teaching. Right – that’s where Mugabe met his wife, Sally. So, we knew basically where they stood, but the other ones, no.
SO: That you can recall, how well prepared did the Zimbabwean liberation leaders seem going into these discussions with the ‘wily’ British?
MA: Good question. Nkomo was very impressive, you know; very experienced.
SO: Yes. A former trade union leader.
MA: I didn’t think they would be able to run any trick past him – this is me speaking, now. Also, he came with immense prestige from the rest of Africa. When Mugabe was still teaching in Ghana, we heard of Nkomo, and in fact, people came to associate the struggle more with Nkomo. Mugabe was a surprise figure.
SO: Yes, I’ve heard elsewhere that Nkomo was regarded – and regarded himself – as the father of the nation.
MA: Yes. Josiah Chinamano was in a different position. He was from Mugabe’s tribe, and in their eyes [he had] defected to Nkomo’s side, which is a different…I’m trying to remember the ethnic groups now. That’s important. [Pause] Shona.
SO: He’s Shona, but the Shona have sub-groups.
MA: Now, Mugabe is Shona, isn’t he?
SO: Yes, he is. He is from the Zezuru clan.
MA: Now, what is Nkomo? I’ve forgotten.
SO: He’s Ndebele.
MA: Ndebele – that’s right. Zulu side. So, Josiah was seen by his people, the Shonas, as having defected to the enemy side.
SO: Really? That’s ironic.
MA: Why? Not the Ian Smith side…!
SO: No, no.
MA: I’m talking about tribal politics.
SO: Absolutely. The communal, clan and generational tensions that existed within the liberation movements were important.
MA: You mentioned the Nkomo people earlier – Nkomo’s group, the Ndebele. I hadn’t realised how little they had lost of their Zulu background until I was in the plane with the man who became ceremonial president, and later went to prison.
SO: Canaan Banana?
MA: Canaan. He was speaking in his language, whatever it is – Ndebele – to Zulus in the plane. I was very surprised. So, after all, when did the Zulus come up into the land of Zimbabwe? In the 1820as, the 1830s? Something like that. But anyway, Nkomo did regard himself as the father of Zimbabwe.
SO: Indeed. So, you were impressed by him, particularly.
MA: I was impressed by his political skills. He had a lot of experience, [and it] was on display.
SO: Yes. Did you have the sense during those discussions that he was prepared to do a deal at any point that might isolate Mugabe?
MA: No. When they came to Marlborough House, it was usually Nkomo who spoke on behalf of the team, not Mugabe.
MA: And I could understand that, looking back on everything. He had a greater facility with that kind of communication. Robert is an intellectual, and has all the usual inhibitions of somebody who is over-read – like you. [Laughter]
SO: I’m leaving now! [Laughter]
MA: You understand?
SO: I totally understand. He did not want to take a political position because there’s always another side…
MA: That’s right. On the one hand, Nkomo came prepared and was admirably fluent. He had plausibility – the word I use. He spoke in a way that revealed that this is someone who [had] been around. He’s been around this track quite a few times. In the 1950s, he came to Ghana to represent Zimbabwe at the first All-African Conference. By that time, Robert was probably somewhere teaching.
SO: Yes, okay. So, as you say, Nkomo was a long-standing, nationalist liberation fighter. Mugabe didn’t have quite the same standing, although…
MA: No, we didn’t know Mugabe. He only began to appear in the 70s. Now, I haven’t seen his…He’s got an autobiography floating somewhere, hasn’t he?
SO: I’ve seen many biographies on Mugabe; I haven’t seen an autobiography.
MA: Well, what did they say? Did they [identify] a point when he got into this struggle?
SO: They often make reference to him becoming General Secretary of ZANU back in 1963.
MA: ZAPU or ZANU? The Sithole ZANU?
SO: Yes, [they say] that he was of that political side. But then, with the in-fighting that happened after the revolt in Zambia in the early 70s, after ZANLA moved down into Mozambique, Mugabe emerged in 1975-76 as the political leader – not the military leader, the political leader – of ZANU. But of course, there were ongoing tensions with ZANLA military commanders. The position was altogether different within ZANU/ZANLA from that within ZAPU/ZIPRA, but I don’t know if that came across at all with you.
MA: No. The military side of things emerged later, [didn’t] it? That came up much, much later. You see, it begins taking prominence really after Mozambique’s independence. They could open a base and…
SO: Rear bases and military training camps, yes.
MA: Now, I always suspected Nkomo was a reluctant revolutionary.
SO: He did like the finer things in life, supported by Tiny Rowland and others.
MA: But beyond that, I think he was of the old school. His generation in West Africa and elsewhere – in Kenya and places – had negotiated successfully and got independence. I think that was his preference. If only he could make Ian Smith see that. The ‘armed struggle’ wasn’t his thing.
SO: No, and in 1978, in fact, he nearly came to a deal with Smith and Muzorewa.
MA: We sensed that.
SO: Yes. It was the British Foreign Secretary’s, David Owen’s, secret diplomacy – to try to enlarge the internal settlement to include Nkomo.
MA: As what?
SO: That I don’t know.
MA: You see, Nkomo would never – and this is now me speaking – he would never have accepted a position other than the Number One position. There’s no way he could have been Smith’s Number Two. That would have ruined him in the rest of Africa.
SO: Yes. And you know, during the Lancaster House Conference, there was an idea among Carrington’s team that they would do a separate deal with Nkomo to split the Patriotic Front. Two ministers – Ian Gilmour and Richard Luce – said that they would resign if the British government tried to do that.
MA: It wouldn’t have worked.
SO: It wouldn’t have worked, but it’s interesting that they said, “No, we will resign. We will go public. We don’t approve of this.”
MA: Do you think they could have carried it off?
SO: I don’t think they could have, and it certainly wouldn’t have meant the end of the war. That was the issue, because Robert Mugabe was determined to go on fighting in the belief that he could win or that ZANLA/ZANU would win.
Were you privy to any of the discussions around the land settlement in Political Affairs?
MA: Yes, it came up in the committee. What I remember, to cut it short, was that the message from Nyerere to the Patriotic Front was, “Look, land is important but it is not a constitutional issue. It’s a policy issue. So, why don’t you put that aside, negotiate the political settlement, and when you get your independence you can come and do whatever you want with the land?” That was what Nyerere told them. You must have heard this somewhere else, right?
SO: Yes, I have.
MA: And in a way, it saved the conference, in my view – that formula, that, “No, don’t let this land issue block progress.”
SO: Were you aware of Sir Sonny Ramphal’s contacts with Kingman Brewster, the American Ambassador, to try to get the Americans to come forward with extra money…
SO: …for a land development fund?
MA: Did they agree to that? I don’t know.
SO: President Carter and Secretary Cyrus Vance gave their agreement in principle, but they wouldn’t give a specific figure for fear that they would ‘frighten the socks off’ Congress.
MA: I didn’t know that. But, you see, the Southern African issues were quite distant to the Americans, weren’t they?
SO: Not at that time, no. They…
MA: Because of the Cubans in Angola or what?
SO: No, no. Carter spent more time on Rhodesia while he was in the White House than he did on any other issue.
MA: Where’s the evidence for that?
SO: In the Carter Library and in the archives in College Park. One of my colleagues, Professor Nancy Mitchell, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is writing on Jimmy Carter and race in Southern Africa. There is a phenomenal amount of material…
SO: …in his papers, in the discussion points, in the mem-coms, and in Cyrus Vance’s diary as well. Carter’s preoccupation with what was going on in Southern Africa – also in Namibia, but primarily Rhodesia – at this particular time was really very striking.
MA: Hmm. It’s news to me. But it didn’t feed through into the Secretariat, unless the Private Office was handling this.
SO: Yes, well, Sir Sonny would have had a key understanding in that the American Ambassador, Kingman Brewster, was a friend of his, and the speed with which Carter said, “Okay, yes, I back the idea of a substantial development fund,” building upon Kissinger’s idea of the development fund, which had been US $10m… An integral part of the Owen/Vance proposal had also been a ‘development fund’, which Lord Owen described to me as a euphemism for financing land restitution.
MA: Would it have done the trick?
SO: Would it have done the trick? I don’t know. The Reagan Administration then came in and the Republicans said that they wanted to be part of a more multilateral approach to development. So, when there was that Zimbabwe multilateral aid conference after independence – ZIMCORD – it was the Brits and the Canadians that were expressly saying, “We give money for land restitution.” The Americans didn’t lock into that particular pattern of giving.
MA: How much were the Americans dependent on Canada for their knowledge of African issues?
SO: I think Carter was well-informed, but he certainly had Stephen Low as his designated point man in the area. Andrew Young made frequent visits before he was fired, and Carter, of course, was particularly beholden to Andrew Young because of the black vote within American politics. Carter himself made it his business to follow affairs in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe very closely. I can’t quite say what the CIA sources or the State Department sources were other than those, but they genuinely made it their business to be much better informed than, say, the previous Ford administration, with Kissinger as Secretary of State. It’s interesting that you had no sense of this.
MA: No. I’m not sure that they actually influenced the situation materially. Do you think they did?
SO: Influence it materially… I think coming up with, “We’ll back a substantial sum for a land deal…” Sir Sonny believes that that was critical in helping to move the discussion on. The crisis over land was the first enormous hurdle in the conference in mid-October.
MA: No, but they didn’t say to the parties that, “After an agreement and a settlement, we’ll give you so much…”
SO: No, they didn’t. They didn’t want to make that political commitment to a fixed sum, quite deliberately. Also because Carter was facing in Congress a very vocal minority led by Senator Jesse Helms, which was arguing…
MA: Oh, I remember him.
SO: …for recognition – immediate recognition – of the Muzorewa settlement. And Muzorewa had gone to Washington in July of 1979 to argue that there should be…
MA: You mean somebody did the argument for him and he just sat there, or was he…?
SO: No, Muzorewa went himself. He met Carter.
MA: There is no ‘self’ to Muzorewa.
SO: What do you mean by that?
MA: This guy cannot speak to a Sunday crowd to save his life.
SO: He’s a Methodist minister; he should have had experience with that.
MA: He should. He doesn’t.
SO: Okay. So, you’re saying he was a poor communicator, or that he had no opinions of his own?
MA: Not only a poor communicator… The world was strange to him. I don’t think he even knew South Africa well, which you would expect to be his natural hunting ground given the sort of man he was. As for the rest of Africa, forget it. So, he just had no entry; no access. So, within the country, his constituency was Ian Smith’s constituency, really. Wasn’t it? The two had no black following to speak of.
SO: Unless people were voting for him because the Patriotic Front deliberately did not take part in that April 1979 election.
MA: You don’t call that an election!
SO: What was it then?
MA: It was a joke! [Laughter] A practical joke. You’re not going to write that there was an election, would you?
SO: Well, since I wasn’t there, how can I say it was or wasn’t an election?
MA: Now, how would you describe it?
SO: If the Patriotic Front chose not to take part in that election in 1979… This is what I don’t know. Were they barred from participating? Or did they choose…
MA: Oh, the so-called internal settlement. That was the only election that Muzorewa…
SO: Yes, took part in. Or were you talking about the response to the Pearce Commission in 1974? Is that what you were talking about?
MA: Was there an election after Pearce…?
SO: No, there wasn’t, but after the Pearce Commission, Bishop Muzorewa went around the country soliciting opinion and orchestrating opposition…
MA: He was out there; I remember him. I remember the opposition to it. But, you see, the oxygen for that came from the two leaders, especially Nkomo. Now, I don’t think Muzorewa had a constituency to speak of.
SO: Well, that was your impression and that’s important. There are those within Rhodesia – as it then was – that convinced themselves that he did [have a constituency] in 1979.
MA: I have spent time talking to the guy.
SO: He obviously didn’t strike you as a charismatic politician.
MA: No. I don’t even know how he preaches in his church, never mind politics. But this has been our problem in Africa: when the white man is looking for his stooge, he chooses the most stupid people – the people without credibility.
SO: Why? Because they’re perceived to be malleable?
MA: You have to go and ask them that question. [Laughter] I don’t know. But look, I went to Zululand – I get on extremely well with Nkosi Buthelezi. When we went there, he assembled his so-called cabinet in Ulundi to receive us. It was a laugh; it was a laugh. Then, later, I got to know them individually – when I was there leading the Commonwealth Observation Mission in Natal, today’s KwaZulu-Natal.
SO: Not impressive?
MA: [Sound of disapproval]
SO: Just to go back to Lancaster House… You were servicing the committee of High Commissioners on Southern Africa.
MA: Well, the Commonwealth Committee on Southern Africa; that was it. But it sat informally.
SO: Please, could you comment on Fernando Honwana, the emissary from Samora Machel, President of Mozambique? I understand that he was of key importance. Sir Sonny indicated to me that he actually sat in on those meetings.
MA: No, he didn’t. I would have known, because I would have seen him. I was there. Sonny’s memory is probably…
SO: Well, I may be misremembering Sonny, so I don’t want to blame him here! Do you recall meeting Honwara?
SO: Or having any dealings with him?
MA: No. Armando Panguene – who later became the first High Commissioner of Mozambique here – I got to know well, but that’s after.
SO: Did you meet Kenneth Kaunda when he came up to London, because of his acute concern of how the discussions were going?
MA: No. He didn’t come to any of the committees. He wasn’t invited, as far as I know, to any of the committee meetings. I got to know him personally afterwards and in my own right.
SO: Okay. Were you surprised by the overall success or the outcome of the Lancaster House discussions?
MA: Yes, but only because it came close to breaking down on a number of occasions.
SO: Yes, it frequently looked as if it would breakdown.
MA: Yes. So, eventually, a settlement was reached. That was very, very pleasing and heartening.
SO: What was the view within the Secretariat of Carrington and his team’s negotiating style during that conference?
MA: I’m not sure that there was a Secretariat view.
SO: I just wondered about the view ‘within the Secretariat’. I didn’t say it was a ‘Secretariat view’. Those are two different things.
MA: Yeah, okay. Alright. You see, by then, those of us who were involved knew that he had advisors. He didn’t necessarily say things that he himself believed in or knew independently. It comes back to the point I was making: why, in all of these things, when Britain has had so much experience, why [did] Lord Carrington seem to lean hard on the Patriotic Front?
SO: Why were you surprised by that?
MA: Because, as I say, Britain has had experience in decolonising other countries.
SO: Okay, but here is Britain as the decolonising power…
SO: …but with no power – formal responsibility, but with little hard power – which is arbitrating between warring factions in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. So, Carrington was having to corral… Muzorewa was pressured into stepping down as Prime Minister.
MA: He should never have existed.
SO: But he did. And he was pressured into stepping down. That was a big thing.
MA: That didn’t take too much doing…
SO: Well, that’s your view. Carrington said that, in fact, that was a big thing for him to do.
MA: What was so difficult about it?
SO: What was so difficult about it? If Muzorewa believed that he had the hard power of the Rhodesian security forces behind him, he could have gone on fighting.
MA: Listen, you think these Rhodesian security forces would have resolved the problem?
SO: No, of course they wouldn’t have.
MA: And Britain knew better than anybody else.
SO: This is why the South Africans were also intensely interested in the outcome of the Lancaster House discussions. They were backing the Rhodesian security forces to the tune of R$1 million a day. They also wanted peace, but they wanted Muzorewa to win. So, my point is that Carrington actually had to deal with a number of diplomatic actors in this hurting stalemate. He was hardly going to say to the Patriotic Front, “You know what? You’re absolutely right.” What were the British trying to do? They were trying to hand [power] over – they believed – to a viable state that was going to keep white skills in the country, in terms of reconstructing a war economy into a peacetime economy. You need skill capacity for that.
MA: Hmm. But that skill capacity didn’t depend on Muzorewa.
SO: No, it didn’t depend on… Well, it was connected with Muzorewa.
SO: In terms of him being seen as a moderate, black, nationalist leader. I’m not saying that he was a successful one, in any way. I’m talking about perception and what purpose he served within elements of the economic elite – the economy was still very much in white hands – and also elements within the small white community.
MA: Look, let me ask you, how much of the running of Zimbabwe did Muzorewa know?
SO: I shouldn’t think he knew very much at all, and that’s the point. But if there was, in his view, a belief that a government of national unity would achieve the end of the war – which evidently it didn’t, because the war accelerated in brutality in 1979, and it was a very bitter civil war, I know that – but if, also, the British government was thinking there needed to be a transition, a managed transition, to black majority rule and a transition from a war economy to a peacetime economy, and that it had to be successful because of the example that it set with the bigger prize of South Africa… All these elements were part of Carrington’s calculations.
MA: Now, I think South Africa would have been a bigger consideration in Carrington’s thinking than Muzorewa or what he thought or felt. Have you ever met Muzorewa?
SO: No, I haven’t. Never.
MA: It’s a shame, because there’s nothing like seeing the real thing. I’m not surprised that they wanted a stooge, but you know, take a plausible stooge. This guy… No. It would never have worked – from day one.
SO: Okay. If the Patriotic Front had taken power through the barrel of a gun, the economic planning in their Manpower Planning Survey involved seizing the power of the state – its economic as well as political power. The MPS meant seizing the productive forces of the state: so, land, of course, was one, association with the agriculture sector two, manufacturing three, [and] finance four. This is the time of the Cold War, as well. So, if there was to be massive state nationalisation, this would not suit the Conservative government’s ideological agenda, you could say, at home. And they certainly weren’t going to encourage a socialist state in Southern Africa. I’m just wondering…You’re just laughing at me!
MA: No, I’m not!
MA: I’m not! [Laughter] No, but you see, I think South Africa…
SO: Moses, you were coming at it from such a different perspective.
MA: Is it?
MA: Really? What is that perspective?
SO: That of a successful, confident, Ghanaian nationalist.
MA: No. You see, when you go to Southern Africa – especially Zimbabwe and South Africa – the scale of the dereliction is terrible. I mean, [the] social dereliction. Now the South Africans are busy doing something about their schools – okay.
MA: Finally. Now, look…
SO: The challenges facing Robert Mugabe when he became president were enormous: the need to address the gap in provision of healthcare, the gap in provision of education, the gap in provision of housing and access to land; the question of how to create jobs for returning fighters, how to keep an environment that was attractive to capital, how to rebuild an economy, while at the same time Zimbabwe was very much the frontline in the contest against racial injustice in South Africa.
SO: It was an enormous challenge.
MA: The South African situation was always in the background. In fact, I will say that it shaped a lot of things. I mean, “If we do this, it will undermine future negotiations in South Africa.” “If we scare the whites out of Zimbabwe, it will have a negative effect on South Africa.” You know, South Africa was always in the background, and there [was] an enormous presence in the sense that, if South Africa went wrong, it would set back the rest of Africa – certainly sub-Saharan Africa. If not North Africa, [then] certainly sub-Sahara Africa – by a long way. Instability in South Africa would have affected the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. So, because of that, there was a wider interest – a heightened interest, even – in a peaceful settlement in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is smaller compared to South Africa, and if they don’t get that right, what chance is there of getting the real issue right?
SO: No, I agree.
MA: And it concentrated minds, in a way. It also made for a positive outcome, because if…
SO: But you’ve just answered your question about why Britain didn’t roll over and agree to everything, and why Carrington was so hard on the Patriotic Front.
MA: No, no. You see, it’s not that. There are ways in which you can say something – you understand? – which will tell one side in a negotiation not to be unduly obstructive.
SO: So, it was Carrington’s style of diplomacy that he didn’t understand? Not the purpose of the diplomacy.
MA: No, the purpose – I’m very clear on that. Style.
SO: Okay. Because when you say, “He was very hard,” I’m thinking, “Well, I can understand why he was hard…”
MA: Also, the whole of Africa would have been behind him – one hundred per cent – if the style had been different. If he had said things like, “This has been a long-running injustice and gross immorality: a scar on twentieth century civilisation; a scar on mankind’s conscience….” If he had [said], “So, it’s in our interest – all sides – to end it…” That kind of language. It wouldn’t have cost him anything.
SO: I’m not disputing that that would have been effective, Mr. Africa…
SO: However, was there also – that you were aware of – a deadline? Because Carrington started negotiating in early September…
MA: Yes, and in December we were still at it.
SO: You were still at it in December, but sanctions were going to go to a vote in the House of Commons…
MA: In November.
SO: …in the November. So, he had a very short time frame.
MA: You could have postponed it. Sure. You could have gone before the House and [requested to] postpone it, and give reasons.
SO: I think that was, in fact, more to do with the dynamics within the Conservative Party – that the government didn’t feel that it had sufficient standing to be able to push that further down the line. Of course, Robin Renwick at the FCO was arguing that sanctions did not simply depend on the British Parliament, but that there were other international legal constraints.
MA: You know what I would’ve done?
MA: I would have dramatised it even more, if I had been in Carrington’s position. I would have gone to Dar es-Salaam and spoken to Nyerere, man to man. I would have gone to Zambia and spoken to Kaunda, and I would have gone to Nigeria. That would have covered the field. [I would have] said, “Look, we are in this thing for an honorable outcome. Don’t believe anything that’s contrary to what I’ve just said. We are all partners in this, and that’s why I’ve taken time to come and brief you personally. Because I want you to hear from me what [the] British policy objectives are in all of this. They’re going to be different from yours – [you], who have a bigger stake in it, because this is your continent, your neck of the woods.” If he had done something like that, I can imagine him carrying African support as a result of such a direct approach.
SO: Now, that’s what I don’t know – the extent to which Carrington’s tight team at the Foreign Office was, in fact, in constant communication with Dar and also with Lusaka. I suspect they were, but I don’t know.
SO: I don’t know. I know that Leonard Allinson, who was the British High Commissioner in Lusaka, felt that he didn’t have excellent contacts with State House, and in fact that’s why the Commonwealth High Commissioners network was very useful for him in terms of feed information and getting information about the thinking within the Zambian government. I also know that because the British High Commission was attacked by a crowd, he was withdrawn. So, I don’t know who was representing British interests down in Lusaka at that particular time.
MA: Which year was that?
MA: The High Commissioner was withdrawn? That must have escaped me at the time; I’m surprised.
SO: Given the importance of Nyerere in these discussions, I don’t know what the contacts were between the British government and Nyerere.
MA: Well, he had a big influence.
SO: Yes, he did.
MA: From his distance.
SO: Exactly. But I don’t know what the contacts between the British government and Dar es-Salaam were, and particularly with the Office of the President and the President himself.
MA: In diplomacy, there comes a point when a bit of drama helps things, provided you don’t go too far. [Laughter] But a bit of drama helps.
SO: Well, I think Carrington’s version of drama was a little different from yours. You’re saying that his style of diplomacy was harsh. I know that he would hand over documents and say, “Please consider them,” and then the next morning he’d say, “Right, what have you considered? You haven’t agreed? Well, we’re moving on with this.” So, he was certainly pushing it through. There was a sense of driving and pushing the momentum of the conference.
MA: One of his aides has published his memoirs.
SO: Oh, Miles Hudson has published his memoirs.
MA: I haven’t seen that. An earlier one?
SO: It’s called Triumph or Tragedy? Rhodesia to Zimbabwe [(London: H Hamilton, 1981)]. Robin Renwick has also published his memoirs, Unconventional Diplomacy in Southern Africa [(Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997)].
MA: Oh, again, I haven’t seen that.
SO: Now, whom else? Christopher Soames has not published his memoirs. Carrington has published his own memoirs, but he doesn’t go into exhaustive detail on the Rhodesian issue.
MA: There was another one, who went on to be Ambassador in Washington, I think.
SO: You’re thinking of Robin Renwick: he was Ambassador in Washington and he also became British Ambassador down in South Africa. I think that’s the one you’re thinking of.
Have we covered every aspect, do you think, of your perception of the Lancaster House discussions?
MA: Yeah. One of the constructive contributions of the Secretariat was to have these weekly meetings between the two representatives of the Patriotic Front and the High Commissioners – for us to hear what had been discussed, what the problems were, and for the High Commissioners and British FO officials to make constructive suggestions to the negotiating teams.
SO: How useful – that you could see – was that committee as a source of advice for the Patriotic Front?
MA: Very. You see, it was important for the Patriotic Front to know that they had continuing Commonwealth material and moral support. That was important. Equally important was for them to know that any party that was seen to be breaking up the conference would be regarded in a poor light. Everybody was tired of the Zimbabwe issue; they wanted an end to it so they could move on to other things. Throughout the Zimbabwe thing, South Africa was almost frozen, so to speak. There was no initiative on South Africa.
SO: No, nor on Namibia, either.
MA: Nor Namibia. But as soon as there was a breakthrough in Zimbabwe, look at the effect.
SO: Yes. In your view, how important was Mozambique?
MA: Mozambique was important in an unacknowledged way. And we couldn’t acknowledge it: that was necessary, because the Mugabe Patriotic Front was a fighting Patriotic Front. It could not be in Zambia; Zambia was too vulnerable to Rhodesian military pressure. Mozambique was different. In Mozambique, you had a very politically-educated army – which Zambia didn’t have – and I think [that] through the Mozambicans, the Patriotic Front knew, let’s say, the limits of military action. Not the how, but the limits of that weapon – what it can do and what it cannot do. And I suspect that Samora Machel would have himself been – when the need arose, whenever – a moderating influence. I don’t know whether that’s what you’ve come across or not?
SO: No, very much so. He actually told Robert Mugabe that if he pulled out of the negotiations…
MA: He would have to leave his country.
SO: …he would have to pull his fighters out of Mozambique.
MA: There’s something else I should say about Mozambique.
MA: Now, when the Falklands War was coming up… Have I told you this story before?
MA: This is just to shed light on the general situation. A Ghanaian delegation, on separate business, went to see Fidel Castro…
SO: Oh, you did mention this in your earlier interview. Fidel was telling them that they should support the British government.
MA: That’s right. He would have been giving the same kind of practical advice to the Patriotic Front.
SO: He did, indeed. I know that at the Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Havana in September 1979, the Patriotic Front had been encouraged to take part in the constitutional discussions in London. Also, when it was put to them that the Patriotic Front didn’t agree in any way, shape or form with the proposed land settlement, the message coming back from Fidel Castro was, “So, you’re saying that I should continue to support the struggle because a paragraph is missing?” In other words, that Cuba should militarily engage – at great cost in terms of blood and treasure – because a paragraph on land was missing from the proposed constitution.
MA: Of course, I’ve never met him, but everything I’ve heard suggests a real practical thinker – Fidel. And he would… No, but there was also a rumour [that] I heard: that Samora Machel was speaking in a similar language to the Patriotic Front. So, “Look, make sure this talk succeeds. Otherwise I won’t let you back.” That sort of thing.
SO: Well, certainly Samora Machel was encouraging the Patriotic Front to keep white skills in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. “Don’t do what we did. Don’t throw the whites out.”
MA: You see, it’s a shame that they came to associate the importance of skills, generally, with colour – skin colour. I wouldn’t have put it like that, no. Obviously, these are Zimbabweans. They’ve never known any other country – most of them, anyway, except those who went there after the Second World War. [They were] born there, bred there and they happen to have skills that the country needs desperately. Is it a colour issue now?
SO: For some in ZANU-PF now, it is a colour issue. But I’m talking in the climate of the time: in the late 1970s.
MA: Yeah, I know. I know what you are saying. In the climate of the time, I think the issue was mis-phrased.
SO: Indeed. You needed the skills. They happened to be white.
MA: Yeah, yeah. So, it’s subsidiary to all you need. Although I don’t know that people like Nkomo would have put it like that. If you go to South Africa and you go to the rural areas – farming areas, that’s what I mean – then look how whites speak the local tribal languages.
SO: Yes, they do. Indeed.
MA: They’ve grown up together. They know each other, and those kinds of whites wouldn’t enjoy living in the UK, for example.
SO: No, indeed.
MA: At all.
SO: But Moses, I’m trying to take it back to the climate of the time in the late 1970s. Was there a racial attachment to skills that you remember? Was it talked about in terms of ‘African versus white’ skill capacity?
MA: Yes, yes. There was.
SO: But let’s face it: that was also a function of limited delivery of education. But the incoming Zimbabwean government had how many PhDs and other degrees?
MA: The exiles. Well, they studied outside, but you see… Look, the Cuban experts that are sent all over the world, they are of mixed colours. [Laughter] Zebra nations!
SO: Rainbow nations! Zebras? [Laughter] Zebras kick.
MA: [Laughter] No, but you see, these are the sort of humorous points that should have been put!
MA: It helps, you know? Especially when the negotiations get tense, as they tended to get from time to time.
SO: Very much so.
MA: But reading these memoirs of Ian Smith… They are interesting.
SO: The whole tone of Bitter Harvest [(London: John Blake, 2008)] is, “We were robbed.” Yet this was a man who genuinely believed that he was not a racist. He was paternalistic. He stayed in Zimbabwe and his farm was never taken, interestingly.
MA: But there was never any chance that his farm would be taken. He knew that. He must have known that.
SO: Of course he did; that’s one of the reasons he stayed. He was a Zimbabwean.
MA: But it’s interesting in the sense that he was a local boy, too – a local African.
SO: Most of the Rhodesian Front Cabinet had been born in ‘Rhodesia’, as they saw it.
SO: As you say, they were local boys, but from…
MA: He went to university in Rhodes – in Grahamstown. That’s right. What a shame. It would have paid off if he’d come here [the UK] and mixed with…
SO: He would have had a very different world view had he done that.
MA: I think so.
SO: Just going back to Mozambique, then. After Zimbabwe’s independence, to what extent was Political Affairs continuing to do what it could to support Mozambique in terms of technical assistance and political support?
MA: I think there was a fund – a Mozambique Fund. But what I’m interested in – because that was my job – was the idea of Mozambique joining the Commonwealth.
SO: When did that first raise its head, do you recall?
MA: The soundings were made by Joaquim Chissano, Machel’s successor. He’d obviously thought through the whole issue. He said, “Our colonialism was Portuguese only in form: its content was British.” That’s how he put it, word for word. In fact, he said [it was] “English”. And then we asked him to explain, and he said, “Well, our railways – the railways from Rhodesia to our part – were owned by British interest.” He said, “Our farms – the big commercial farms in Mozambique – were owned by English-speakers.” As a result, he said, “A number of English words have crept into our tribal languages.” Then he went on and said [that] ever since he’d become President, he’d spoken at many, many international conferences. All but two speeches were in English.
SO: So, there was a strong English influence from Zimbabwe, and also coming up from South Africa?
MA: More from Rhodesia/Zimbabwe.
SO: Okay, yes, because of course the trade links went down to Lourenço Marques, as it then was.
MA: That’s right. In fact, the port of Beira was the port of Zimbabwe – of old Rhodesia.
SO: Yes, okay. So, the proposal for Mozambique to join the Commonwealth then came up in Chief Anyaoku’s time. How was it handled?
MA: Oh, positively – very positively. I suspect they came through the Zambians and the South Africans.
SO: Were you involved in any of these discussions?
MA: I was.
SO: So, if it was handled very positively, were there key criteria? Were you thinking, “Is this a one-off?” Or, in fact, “Is this going to be the first of a number of other African countries that may wish to…?”
SO: This was unique, in your view?
MA: Well, it was an individual case. I’m not sure that there were other candidates. Angola couldn’t join; they had no link with us. But in the case of Mozambique, I suspect they came through the Tanzanians and the Zimbabweans and maybe the Zambians. But they would have had to be supported by an existing member country.
SO: Yes, and it was obviously of critical importance that other Commonwealth Front Line states were going to support it. So, how was this managed? Was there a decision to make this proposal to heads?
MA: Yes. It was discussed at the heads… Which one was that? 1991 was…I used to remember them like that.
MA: Harare, that’s right. 1991 was Harare and 1994 was where?
SO: 1993 was Limassol.
MA: There, yes. 1993, Limassol. Yeah, Zimbabwe was very successful there – it was very popular with the Cypriots. At Limassol, Mugabe openly called for sanctions in the Commonwealth style against Turkey. This made him the darling of the Cypriots. [He] was one of the opening speakers, and he said, “The Commonwealth has a lot of experience in dismantling settler regimes.” [Laughter]
SO: [Laughter] Well, that would have appealed to the Cypriots!
MA: “Why are we not applying the same thing here, in the case of Cyprus?” And you know, after that, they would ask you, “Are you from Zimbabwe? Come and have a drink.”
SO: [Laughter] So, you became an honorary Zimbabwean, did you Moses?
MA: [Laughter] Robert’s very popular there.
SO: So, the discussion over Mozambique took place in 1993 in Limassol. The 1995 meeting was down in New Zealand, in Auckland.
MA: Yeah, that’s where it was endorsed. Mandela attended that.
SO: Yes, he did; he did indeed. So, was it a formality that Mozambique was being invited to join the Commonwealth…
MA: Oh, yes.
SO: …or was it an application that was then endorsed?
MA: No, you’re right. They had already written, but then the Secretariat would write back and say, “These are the usual things that Commonwealth membership [requires]: democratisation…” What do you call it? The Harare Declaration. That became an important document. “You must have an elected government, you must have periodic elections…” That sort of stuff.
SO: Okay, so this was used as the template [to decide] if you were going to satisfy new membership criteria.
MA: The Harare Principles. That’s what was applied.
SO: Was the fact that the language is Portuguese ever considered problematic, or…?
MA: No, language has never been an issue in the Commonwealth anyway. In any case, because of exile, many Mozambicans speak fluent English.
SO: No, I realise that, but because the Commonwealth is overwhelmingly Anglophone, here is a country that…
MA: But Mozambique will move away from Portuguese anyway.
SO: You think so?
MA: Oh, yes. You see, as Chissano said, where would Portuguese take them outside Portugal and Latin America? They don’t have much to do with Latin America, unless under President Dilma Rousseff Brazil suddenly becomes an economic superpower there.
SO: Well, that’s faltering at the moment, I’m afraid.
MA: Exactly. No, Mozambique really was a Commonwealth country manqué.
SO: So, when was the idea of Cameroon joining first mooted? Do you remember?
MA: Ah, Cameroon. Cameroon started out even earlier. You see, Cameroon has got an English-speaking side: Bamenda. Anyaoku was invited when he became Secretary General – that must have been 1991, I think – to Cameroon. I didn’t go with him, but when he came back I asked him and he said he was given a rousing and emotional welcome. So, it was “lancing a boil” – that’s how he put it. And of course, the government, for its own reasons, wanted to be part of the Commonwealth, because that would have met the demands of the English-speaking side of Cameroon. But I don’t think that Biya really cares himself, one way or the other. Once he’s in the Commonwealth, it resolved an internal problem. I don’t even think he attends many Commonwealth meetings.
SO: So, were there any issues for the Cameroon government as to whether they join the Commonwealth or La Francophonie?
MA: They were already in La Francophonie. Oh, they came to us from La Francophonie, and I don’t think the Francophonie liked it very much.
SO: I shouldn’t think they did!
MA: But find out from the Foreign Office people; they will tell you.
SO: So, that you remember, it wasn’t particularly contentious?
SO: It was a question of endorsing the expressed wish of a government…
MA: Yeah, which is committed to Harare.
SO: …which is committed to the Harare Principles, and which already has the English-speaking Cameroon. Within an association which enables multiple identities, this, then, was not problematic?
MA: Yeah, it was fine. In a way, I suspect the Canadians had something to do with it as well, but I’m not sure.
SO: Okay. Why do you think, particularly, that Cameroon wanted to join the Commonwealth?
MA: Internal pressure from the English-speaking side of the country.
SO: Yes, but what was in it for them, particularly?
MA: Now, what’s in it for them is that, one, it means that they can continue coming to English-speaking institutions; [they can] continue coming here for education. Two, it linked them with the wider West Africa – to Nigeria next door, Ghana… With the Francophone thing, they were taken out of circulation with us. They wanted those old links re-established. I will tell you an experience. At one of the Commonwealth meetings – we should have had this interview years ago – after the Commonwealth heads of government had agreed in principle to the application, subject to acceptance of Harare Principles… Now, I would translate that as a ‘Conditional Offer’. The guy who was sent to be present was Francis…something. A Cameroonian official. He wrote a fulsome letter to his president to congratulate him on Cameroon’s accession to Commonwealth membership, making no mention of the qualification. It opened my eyes to what civil servants can be up to – how a point can be stretched.
SO: How manipulative they can be.
MA: He didn’t say, “I have come, presented the case and this is the outcome.”
SO: Ah. [Laughter] He swept the qualifications, the conditionality, off the table and said, “Not an issue. Here you are.”
MA: Yes. “Congratulations, Mr. President.”
SO: And so the President would turn to him and say, “Congratulations, Francis!”
MA: I don’t think they gave him anything though.
SO: Oh, I’m just wondering if the Cameroon President would say, “Fantastic. This is an unconditional offer.”
MA: That would have been the reason for him doing that.
SO: Of course, yes.
MA: He showed the letter to me. That’s how I know.
SO: Were you able to stop it?
MA: It was not my business to stop it.
SO: So, the invitation from the Commonwealth went forward, unconditionally.
MA: In his terms, yes.
SO: So, what happened?
MA: It was written in the communiqué; look through the communiqués.
SO: What happened, then, if there was a discrepancy between the communiqué and the letter?
MA: No, they would have then written back to say, “Oh, subscribe to democratic principles, good governance, etc., etc.”
SO: And the President could say, “Okay, I’ll do that.”
MA: Yeah. It’s a formality. He would have played it down…down, down, down.
SO: Moses, I want to ask you… At this point, the Commonwealth was changing from its earlier guise, pre-Harare Principles. It was now acquiring codes of conduct. It was acquiring principles of good government, where member countries had to have democratic institutions…
MA: Like an independent judiciary…
SO: An independent judiciary, freedom of speech… These had to be embedded and accepted and honoured Commonwealth practices and values – Commonwealth institutions. But this was not the Commonwealth of yore, and increasingly governments were finding themselves part of a ‘club’ which suddenly had an increasing number of rules. Now, that could be tricky.
MA: Why tricky?
SO: Well, if they felt that the Commonwealth they’d originally signed up to had developed into a very different…
MA: Alright. Why has it developed like that? That’s the question you should ask. Why has the Commonwealth developed along these lines? My take on it is as follows. One, the Commonwealth must move with the times. Rule of law, you know; respect for human rights, democratic and credible elections. If the Commonwealth doesn’t have these things, it would have no credibility in the various countries. So, that was more or less going with the times. When Cameroon applied – and this is very important – we had a delegation from the region, what used to be French Equatorial Africa. That’s Cameroon itself, Congo-Brazzaville, and the Central African Republic. They sent a team to us, and you know what they said? They were sent by the Bar Associations of their respective countries to come – in their own words – “to support and reinforce Cameroon’s application.”
[That was] the first time I’ve heard this for Commonwealth membership. So, I had the meeting with them, with Amitav Banerji. As Head of Africa, I did most of the talking. I asked them, “Why? Why is it important to you? Why is Commonwealth membership so important to all of you?” And you know what? They put it very colourfully. They said, “Moses, we know that the Commonwealth is serious about human rights. France doesn’t give a damn about human rights.” They said, “In our countries, any head who tramples on his people but is on good terms with France, protects French capital and investments, is a good man. He stays there forever. That is why we want Cameroon to join the Commonwealth, because Cameroon joining the Commonwealth is a big plus for human rights in our region.”
Then, one of them added [that], “France invests more in Nigeria – neighbouring Nigeria – but it harvests more out of our countries.” That’s his sentence: “France invests more in Nigeria, but harvests more out of our countries.” You see the grievance? Popular sentiment towards the Commonwealth in member countries is in the opposite direction.
So, in a way, I think the Commonwealth saw the trend and moved in the direction of credibility and popular endorsement. As an association of governments, it’s got no weight, whereas as an association of peoples… And this is why, up to now, the Commonwealth has been able to go and observe elections [and] was able to play a role in South Africa: because they knew that it was not a ritualistic commitment to majority rule, but at the bottom of it would be human rights, popular government and so on. So, it was good [that] the Commonwealth went that way. Now, La Francophonie is not like that. Francophonie countries don’t have the same consciousness of their being a member of an association which can speak of itself in the language of family, which the Commonwealth can actually do. It says it’s a real family. The UN is not like that.
SO: No, not at all.
MA: It’s an association of governments.
SO: Yes. Moses, how much do you think that sense of an association of family, though, is now breaking down?
MA: I’ve now been out of it for a long time. All the same, I don’t think that it will break down. You know why it won’t break down easily? It’s already become part of the institutional structure of member countries. You’ve got meetings of lawyers, of bar associations… You’ve got too many professional networks. You understand? Which, in a way, takes the Commonwealth right down to families.
SO: It does, indeed. It’s unique in that – in its networks and its associations.
MA: And that’s why we must – all of us – do whatever we can to protect the old association.
SO: What of Nigeria in the 1990s? Before we started recording, you mentioned that you felt Chief Emeka had focused on Nigeria, particularly, after the challenge of Sani Abacha, his military regime and the execution – which you’ve mentioned in the earlier interview – of Ken Saro-Wiwa. What of the push towards CMAG and the attempt to bring Nigeria back into the fold of the Commonwealth?
MA: The Commonwealth is the only institution with a CMAG.
SO: Yes, it is; indeed.
MA: The UN hasn’t got one. Neither has the OAU.
SO: So, was the OAU or the United Nations in any way trying to ameliorate the Sani Abacha regime?
MA: From what I know – and my information is from second-hand [and] third-hand sources – Sani Abacha didn’t really give a damn about international institutions. I never discussed this with him, but I suspect that it was a particularly difficult time for Emeka. For most of his career, he had been a Commonwealth servant and had developed a certain strong feeling for the association – which is not to say that Sonny Ramphal didn’t have a strong feeling, but his childhood thing, as it were…Okay. And, if it had come to it, Emeka would have offered to resign.
SO: You think so?
MA: Yes. But – and this is important – the Commonwealth leaders wouldn’t have let him. They would have drawn a line.
SO: Were there any grumblings that you picked up on?
MA: It didn’t get that far. But if Abacha hadn’t died and hadn’t been carted out… No. Abacha’s death made the whole thing unnecessary. But of course, he – Emeka himself – in honour bound, would have submitted his resignation.
SO: After Abacha’s death, how quickly did you in Political Affairs or Chief Emeka and people from within his office open up again the links with Abuja?
MA: The links with Abuja were never broken. Don’t forget [that] Abacha didn’t pull out of the Commonwealth.
SO: No. The Abacha government was suspended.
MA: Yes. The government was suspended, but this is again the interesting thing about Commonwealth membership. Yes, a government brings a country into membership, but somehow there is something in the system which makes it a ‘nation to nation’ association. You understand?
SO: So, the complexion of the government may change, but the link with the country stays the same, and the country and the people.
MA: That’s what I mean, yeah. Now, if Abacha had tried, say, to pull Nigeria out of the Commonwealth because he felt or sensed it coming, he would have had it tough. He would have had to justify it, and could he have said, “Oh, they’re throwing us out because they’re calling me a dictator”?
SO: But do you recall how quickly the Secretariat tried to resume links with other elements within…?
MA: Well, those links were never tampered with. That’s what I’m saying.
SO: No, but you must have had to reach out to Abacha’s successors who became, after all, the new heads of that military regime.
MA: Yeah. The usual letter would have been written to say that, “On your assumption of office I thought I should write, first of all, to congratulate you, and also to let you know that as you undertake these onerous responsibilities, the entire Commonwealth resources are at your disposal.” That kind of letter would have been sent out from the Private office.
SO: Okay, thank you. In terms of other issues for CMAG, Nigeria was not the only country on the CMAG agenda. Gambia was also an issue in the 1990s.
MA: It’s gone out now, hasn’t it?
SO: Yes. President Yahya Jammeh pulled Gambia out of the Commonwealth in October 2013.
MA: I went to the Gambia with Kris Srinivasan, who was DSG then. Oh, it must have been 1998 or 1999. He is an unpleasant piece of work, Jammeh. There was a big hall. He was having a meeting there with his people, and we were invited. In the course of his speech, he said that Anyaoku used to come to the Gambia to play golf with Dawda Jawara. When he finished, I put my hand up. I said, “Mr President, as you know, we’re here to represent the Commonwealth. I would like first to thank you for the warm welcome we’ve received since our arrival” – which we hadn’t received, but anyway, that’s neither here nor there.
SO: That’s diplomatic niceties, yes.
MA: Then I went on, “Actually, I have been working with Emeka Anyaoku since 1979. It’s a long enough time to get to know somebody, and Mr President, I’ve also been with him to the Gambia. We had a good time here; we walked around and… And I know he doesn’t know how to play golf. He’s a friend of the Gambia, yes, of course, but he doesn’t know how to play golf. He’s never held a golf stick in his hand.”
SO: Excuse me, but it’s quite a funny thought. The Chief playing golf!
MA: Exactly! So, I said, “No. That’s not him.” I put my life in my hands and I got up and I made the statement. I said, “Mr President, he doesn’t know how to play golf. He’s never played golf.”
SO: And what was the reception of your words?
MA: Jammeh said, “I used to guard them when they played golf, and I remember guarding him.” I said, “Well, look. As I say, he has never played it in his life. I don’t know what other games he plays, but not golf.”
SO: “You’re mistaking him for another leader.”
MA: Yes. I thought I had to put the record straight. But you see, it says a lot about how insecure that regime is. Years after Jawara, he was still trying to lay the ghost. Now, the last time I saw Jawara [was] in Johannesburg. Sue, he looked wan. W-a-n. Totally crushed, and all the old confidence gone – without a trace. I said, “No! This is the father of Gambia!”
SO: And one of the first supporters of human rights.
MA: Oh, yes. And his country had a good record on human rights.
SO: Yes, they did.
MA: But this guy, Jammeh, is an animal, Sue.
SO: So, you only had one encounter with President Jammeh?
MA: Yes – one too many!
SO: It sounds to me this was a dialogue of the deaf. There you are, trying to encourage him to…
MA: Oh, he wasn’t interested. No, no, no. You see, do you know the economy of the Gambia?
SO: No, but I know how small a country it is.
MA: Okay. Well, that’s the beginning, but it exists on the basis of an entrepôt economy. In other words, it depends largely on Senegal.
SO: Yes, which completely envelopes it.
MA: Yeah, it’s a little enclave. So, if it keeps on good terms with the Senegalese, and if the Senegalese economy doesn’t explode, he’s reasonably safe. Okay. Now, they live off tourism and the entrepôt economy. Therefore, this particular dictator doesn’t feel that he needs to get his wider diplomatic relations right. That’s my sense of it.
SO: Did you only go the once with DSG Srinivasan?
MA: The once. I’ll tell you a little story, which one of the retired Vice Presidents told me. I think [in] June 1980, Senegal was celebrating twenty years of independence, and the then-President Senghor invited President Jawara to the celebrations. Now, you know, all they have to do is just to take a boat across. So, when they took the boat across, Jawara expected a suitable reception – that even if the president himself couldn’t be there because of the preparations for the celebrations, he would send a minister, at least, to receive another head of state. Instead, he sent a junior official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
SO: That’s insulting!
MA: So, when Jawara subsequently met the Senegalese President, he raised the issue with him in the following terms: “My brother, you have done me the honour of inviting me to come for these celebrations, and even though I have been busy, there’s no way I could have not come. But when we crossed, I didn’t see a minister or somebody representing you there to receive me. So, it makes me wonder whether we have done something wrong – something that upset you.” And Senghor said to Jawara, “Well, if I were a cynical person, I would have said a lot. I would have…” He said, “Gambia, Gambia: that’s part of us!” So, Jawara panicked. When he got back, he sent a minister to Ahmed Sékou Touré in Guinea and said to Sékou Touré, “Look, we’re now beginning to hear a different tone from our brothers across the water here. They’re talking of running, taking us over, and this is the first time we are hearing this kind of language.” Sékou Touré, who was a very tough guy, said to the minister, “Okay, you go back to your guest house. Let us meet” – I think he said at 6pm – “in my office.” In the meantime, Sékou Touré told all his generals to come to the meeting with maps – war maps. And [when] they arrived, they could see that something important was about to happen, so they asked Jawara’s representative to repeat to the meeting what he had told him. So, he repeated, and Sékou Touré asked his generals, “Can you look into your maps and tell me which is the shortest crossing point between here and Senegal?” They told him. “Okay, what do you need to make that crossing?” They told him. “How long will it take?” They told him. “How long do you need for war readiness?” They told him: “We can go into action immediately.” Okay. He turned to the Gambian visitor. He said, “Well, you have heard yourself. Go back and tell my brother Jawara to sleep in peace. Know that he should have no worries, and tell him that if Senegal is so stupid as to invade you, he will have to reckon with my army. He has a parade army. I have a war army.”
SO: That trumped the ace of Senegal, without a doubt.
MA: “We maintain a combat army in this country. It’s not like a parade army.”
SO: “This army is not for internal policing duties.”
Can we move on to another troubling Commonwealth issue? Zimbabwe in the 1990s. You mentioned that Robert Mugabe was particularly popular when he went to Cyprus and said, “The Commonwealth has a lot of experience in undoing settler minority regimes. Why is that experience not drawn on to dismantle the settler regime in Northern Cyprus?”
Following the structural adjustment programme, the Zimbabwean economy was under strain. There was the whole issue of land, and political tensions with the rise of an opposition, MDC, the National Constituent Assembly, that emerged by 1999. At what point, as you remember it, did Zimbabwe start to rise up the levels of concern in the Secretariat? Or was it only after the election of 2000?
MA: You talk of the land: the way they managed the land issue…
SO: The farm invasions were already starting by the late ‘90s. The political opposition to ZANU-PF’s dominance was also starting to erode with the emergence of MDC and the demands for constitutional change.
MA: I don’t remember the Secretariat doing anything specific. Anyway, I’m not sure that Sonny and Mugabe had an easy relationship. Nkomo is avuncular; he’s got an ease of manner, which Robert doesn’t have. Sonny was, of course, against any internal settlement, but I rather suspect that his social relations with Nkomo were easier. And I’m not sure that Mugabe would have allowed any kind of interference.
SO: Okay. That said, I just wondered how far you, in Political Affairs… In the late 1990s, it was the end of Jon Sheppard’s time as Director and the beginning of Matthew Neuhaus…?
MA: No, I wasn’t there for Neuhaus. Sheppard was just deadwood.
SO: He was certainly a very different Australian from Max Gaylard, and very different from Hugh Craft.
MA: Max was the best of the lot, by a very long chalk!
MA: Oh, no. Intellectually, socially, Max was streets ahead of them. In fact, he was an outstanding Director of PAD. You had to respect Max.
SO: Oh, without a doubt. And he’s an extremely pleasant man to deal with.
MA: Yeah. The other guy, Sheppard, I didn’t know whether they couldn’t find a slot for him at home, so they gave him to us. He knew nothing. Now, Neuhaus, I never met. Hold on. So, that has become an Australian slot?
SO: Absolutely, yes. I’ve interviewed four Australians who occupied the Director of International Affairs/Political Affairs Division. In the same way, it has to be said that Special Assistant to the Secretary General was a New Zealand slot. There was Gerald Hensley, there was David McDowell…
MA: It was never a New Zealand slot.
SO: Well, there was Gerald Hensley and David McDowell; there was another New Zealander, David Caffin, and then there was Chris Laidlaw. So, there were four.
MA: Chris Laidlaw, I remember. The others must have come after my time in the Secretariat.
SO: But yes, there was a pattern of Australian headship of PAD.
MA: Yes, obviously. I see… What were the Canadians? DSG, I suppose.
SO: They seem to have taken a particular role in…
SO: Economic, but also CFTC.
MA: Yeah, well, that’s the same thing, really. And the Brits? DSG Political.
SO: Humphrey Maud would have been there in your time.
MA: He was indolent.
SO: You know, others have said that he was very good. Interesting that you have a different view.
MA: Indolent. I’m not saying he wasn’t good.
SO: Okay. Perhaps he cultivated a certain relaxed demeanour but actually worked quite hard underneath.
SO: That’s a British, political/cultural thing.
SO: Yes, among men of a certain generation and from a certain educational background. You mustn’t be seen to be trying too hard: everything has to be effortless. It all has to be so easy. It has to be seen as a joke when actually…
MA: I didn’t see it in Cambridge when I was there.
SO: I said among men of a certain generation and a certain time.
MA: There were old men there when I was there. You know what? It’s typical: just mystification, isn’t it?
SO: Of course it is. Smoke and mirrors. Anyway, going back to Zimbabwe. You don’t think the Secretary General did anything? 2000 was the presidential election and also the vote on the constitution.
MA: I think I had left by then.
SO: Okay. And then, after the Parliamentary elections in 2002 and the Commonwealth observer mission’s report, things spiraled down – between Zimbabwe and the Commonwealth, as well as in the Zimbabwean economy.
MA: You know, they said I was Mugabe’s friend. The press said that.
SO: Moses, what could you do against such a lie?
MA: Where do you begin tackling it?
SO: Exactly. Where do you begin?
MA: Ridiculous things. Anyway, subsequently, I met Mugabe and I said, “Mr President, I have been told that I am your friend, so I’ve come for us to sort out the friendship properly.” He laughed. [Laughter]
SO: Where did you meet him?
MA: In Zimbabwe. I went to see somebody there… Martin-something: a British journalist. He’s dead now, but he was amazing. So, [Mugabe] said, “Yes, well, anybody they don’t like is my friend, so it’s alright. You’re in good company.” But you see, the Zimbabwe issue, it could have been handled differently. I think Anyaoku had also left by then.
SO: Yes, he had.
MA: He left. Okay.
SO: Yes. Don McKinnon came in as Secretary General in April 2000.
MA: Okay. You see, one of Emeka’s strengths was the ability to look at the various countries and intuit where there’s likely to be trouble. So, whenever he travelled and met heads, he tried to find out, “How is your region? What’s happening?” That way, he got a sense of what was happening or likely to happen in various places.
SO: Others have said what a phenomenal information network he had – the extent to which he had his ear to the ground. He had an alternative intelligence network, almost.
MA: Oh, first class. So, he knew how to head off a problem before it arrived on his doorstep.
SO: How did he like to do it? Did he like to do it in person? Was he a great telephone operator? Were there letters?
MA: It depended on the nature of the developing situation. In some cases he sent someone like me to do the preliminary assessment. If the situation later required his personal intervention, he would then decide how best to approach it. Then, he would normally know ministers who would come in to say, “Hello, have a drink,” and he will say, “Tell me this, didn’t I read about such and such a place. Is it here, in the press, or is it more complicated?” And then he will get information. With somebody like KK or Nyerere, I mean, he had a direct entry.
SO: Wait, but Kenneth Kaunda left in 1991, and Nyerere had stepped down by then, so…
MA: But listen. Nyerere stepped down, but Nyerere was father of the nation, and anybody who succeeded him did so because he had his support. I myself have benefitted from it.
SO: In what way?
MA: Well, when I was negotiating in Zanzibar, we had a problem. If you know Zanzibar, the strength of the two parties is about the same, and it’s been like that since the beginning. Okay. But the local CCM, which is the ruling party on the island, derives its strength in part from the mainland CCM. So, it came down to this. [At] the last election that I was involved in – and I went back as a special envoy – the electoral strength of the two parties was nearly the same, and in that kind of situation, in British constitutional practice, parties ask for a coalition. But Salmin Amour was not interested in that, and Emeka said to him, “Look, in that case, why don’t you give them an extra seat in the house?” He agreed to do that but didn’t do it.
SO: They reneged on the deal. I remember you saying in the other interview.
MA: Okay. I remember Salmin Amour… Listen to this. He had two pictures in his sitting room: one of Nyerere, and one of Abeid Karume, the founder of Zanzibar – the one who led the revolution in 1960, I think, which drove out the Arabs. And you know what he said to me? He pointed to Karume and said, “This is the founder of Zanzibar. This other one is there for African unity.” Isn’t that interesting?
SO: Yes, it is.
MA: This one is the founder of Zanzibar; this one of African unity.
SO: Moses, if I could just go back to your view of Chief Emeka’s particular strengths as Secretary General. You’ve talked about him being phenomenally well-informed: having his ear to the ground, his political antenna out, his great intelligence networks. What other characteristics did he bring to the position?
MA: Emollience. He is, by nature, somebody who likes conciliation. He’s not an aggressive personality, and he’s able to get his interlocutor to see that very quickly. So, you find heads confiding in him very easily – well, certainly in Africa.
SO: Yes. Well, one of his great strengths was as an African Secretary General.
MA: Well, but also in other places. Except in Bangladesh.
SO: Bangladesh. Yes, he talks about that a lot in his memoirs, The Inside Story of the Modern Commonwealth [(London: Evan Brothers, 2004)].
MA: Now, we did, I think, nearly fifty days in Bangladesh: me, Sir Ninian Stephen – the former Governor-General of Australia – and Chris Child. We did all the negotiating back then, and in the end… You know the one who is Prime Minister now? The daughter of Sheikh Mujib? She said to us, “Look, we will get what we want. We know these people” – meaning the ruling party. And I looked at her and said to myself, “I wouldn’t want to cross this woman. She’s a street fighter. She has learnt nothing of the arts of compromise.” And it will be very difficult to prise the government out of her grip. Bangladesh: I just foresee more trouble there.
SO: So, it was the particular structure and focus of the government on this one, very strong-minded, female head that was a large part of the problem?
MA: The Prime Minister then was also a woman, but she was ready to compromise. The present Prime Minister is not a woman for compromise, and whoever is Secretary General ought to begin focusing on it before too long.
SO: You were there for fifty days. You must have become aware of her intransigence very quickly and, as you say, noted that she was a street fighter. Did it take you time to get in to talk to her?
MA: Well, she didn’t… These sorts of things come up only when you’ve pushed them to a corner and you’ve taken away all their negotiating cards. You can’t pretend anymore. So, if it’s power they want, then they have to come out with it, and that’s what she did. We reached all sorts of compromises, but what she really wanted was this other lady to stand down and for her to take over. That’s what it ultimately came down to, and now she is PM.
SO: Oh, so it really was a power struggle between two women.
MA: Yes, a real power struggle.
SO: Between two women.
MA: Between two women. And I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
SO: Indeed. Which of the local diplomatic corps were helpful to you?
MA: There? Well, I don’t think the Australians had a High Commission there at the time. There was a British High Commissioner: I’ve forgotten his name now. The Indians cut off, I think, because Sheikh Mujib – the current Prime Minister, her father – was more aligned to the Indian National Congress. And this other woman, her husband had made a coup some years back that she more or less inherited. So, she’s not educated either. None of them are – hardly any English.
SO: But well-versed in the rough-and-tumble of Bangladeshi politics!
MA: She is. The other one was a housewife propelled into the situation. Mujibur Rahman’s daughter – Sheikh Hasina, she calls herself – Sheikh Hasina is a street fighter.
SO: So, you were there for fifty days?
MA: Yes, at least.
SO: That’s a very long time. At what point were you sending messages back saying, “This diplomatic mission is going nowhere?”
MA: Whenever we met, we reported back. Quite honestly, there never was much of a hope.
SO: Where was your leverage?
MA: We had none. We couldn’t recruit a local influential force.
SO: No, especially if the Indians were standing back.
MA: But this is where civil society comes in. If you’ve got a very vibrant civil society that takes an interest in the issues and the discussion, then that can help you, because at a press conference you can say, “Well, so-and-so has considered this, considered that.” From the other side, we are still waiting. You don’t say they haven’t considered, obviously – even if they haven’t. But, “Today we met so-and-so and got A, B, C, D”; or, “Yesterday we met X and got nothing.” You can use the press like that imaginatively to put pressure on the parties. Not there.
SO: So, you didn’t have a particular representation of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, or the Commonwealth Business Council? There were no Commonwealth cards that you could play?
MA: Quite a primitive country.
SO: What of Sri Lanka?
MA: Sri Lanka… I told you what happened? The representative of the Tamil Tigers came to Marlborough House, and Emeka decided to send me and Stuart Mole [to Sri Lanka]. Now, it was going to be a very complicated operation. We would go to Colombo. We would arrive in Colombo, meet with the government, talk and get their position. Then [we would] go from there by road – from Colombo, by road – to the limits of government control. [There], we would be handed over to the Tigers and they would take us to their leaders. We would talk to them and then see where we can begin the negotiations.
SO: Okay. Were you present when the original deputation from the Tigers came to Marlborough House?
MA: Their representative in Paris came.
SO: So, the representative of the LTTE in Paris came to meet Chief Emeka.
SO: Were you present at that meeting?
MA: Yes. I took the record. It was a very complicated meeting.
SO: In what way?
MA: Well, first of all, the issues they, the guy – it was one guy – were raising sounded like a lecture hall discussion. He talked about the lack of parity between the languages – that the language of the Tamils was not given the same status as the language of the Sinhalese. In fact, at the end of the day, on the basis of that meeting, there was nothing to get my teeth into, politically. And that’s when I began to have doubts about any possibility of a breakthrough.
SO: Because there were no concrete issues on which you might try to see compromise?
MA: Well, there were no concrete issues on which to compromise, but I also thought he was holding back. I don’t know if he was holding back in order to feel his way, or he was holding back because he didn’t want to exceed his brief. It’s difficult to tell. And the fact that he wasn’t based here but in Paris meant a follow-up was not going to be easy. Strange. But to be based in Paris, isn’t that a strange location for a representative of the Tigers to be based? In contrast with the representatives of African political parties…
SO: Did you ask yourselves that at the time? “Why is he based in Paris? Why is he not in London?” Let’s face it: London has a very well-established track record of being the centre and base for opposition movements – from Commonwealth countries, especially.
MA: And their people are here. They’re not in Paris. The Sinhalese are here.
SO: Did you receive any Canadian encouragement, because of the size of the Tamil community in Canada?
MA: It hadn’t got to that stage. But if it had, I suppose we would have had to talk to the High Commissioner here seriously, and also find out what their take on the issue was. But the guy [from Paris] was the wrong man to send to Marlborough House. He didn’t speak like a politician.
SO: No, you said he spoke like an academic. So, were both you and Stuart concerned at this idea that you weren’t being properly briefed as to the agenda of the LTTE?
MA: It just fizzled out. I think Emeka would have read the minutes and said, “Look, this guy is wasting time.” But also, sometimes people don’t open up because they’re not sure of their ground. How much of their mind was on a military solution, and how much on a diplomatic solution? Now, I think, probably – this is now me – at that stage they didn’t think that they would lose a military contest. The problem with this particular envoy was his failure to set out the issues in concrete language – in a manner which would facilitate negotiation.
SO: Did you contact the British government about any of this, or had you decided…?
MA: No. It would have been premature, anyway, at that stage.
SO: Okay. So, the idea of you flying to Colombo and then driving to the outer edges of government control, being handed over… I think Stuart Mole mentioned the Red Cross was also involved…
SO: …and he said that it came down to the fact that there was no written guarantee.
MA: Of what?
SO: From the LTTE to the Red Cross ensuring safe passage for everybody. Or perhaps the Red Cross was insisting on written confirmation. I need to look at my notes…
MA: Stuart is always worried about safety. He came to South Africa when I was about to hold one of my most dangerous rallies, and there was talk of violence. I asked Stuart, “Will you come with me?” He said, “No.” I said, “Why? You’ve come from London. Do you want to come and witness how we work here?” He said, “No, no.” He’s heard that it could be unpleasant.
SO: He is different from Max!
MA: Oh, Max would have.
SO: Max described being in the middle of a football stadium pitch with ANC supporters at one end and Inkatha supporters at the other.
MA: Max was born for that sort of stuff. Anyway, we went and some of my own team were a bit scared. But nothing happened. True, they came with so-called traditional weapons…
SO: The assegai.
MA: Yeah, but there was no violence. You see, somehow they had come to trust the Commonwealth.
SO: Excuse me, Moses, did you have an advantage, being a Ghanaian?
MA: The fact that I was an African who was prepared to trust Inkatha and to give them a fair opportunity to state their case – this was part of the reason for the confidence in the Commonwealth.
SO: Moses, you had a very, very dangerous job. Given the suspicions of the time, given the infiltration of government spies and informers, given the violence that was meted out to people that the ANC felt it couldn’t trust.
MA: I used to go to the Inkatha warlords’ houses in the night. One of them got killed not long after. Anyway, their wives would cook and we would eat and chat and drink and I would drive back – no problem – because they knew that there was no way I could be partisan.
SO: But Moses, with respect, somebody could have mistaken you.
MA: Yeah. Well, that can’t be helped.
SO: Of course, but I think that your guardian angels – this not the work of one guardian angel, this needed at least two – were working overtime.
MA: I think so too.
SO: Seriously, this was a highly fraught time, with so much violence in KwaZulu Natal between Inkatha in the rural areas and the ANC township youth. What was the casualty rate? 20,000? 30,000?
MA: You see, this is where Mandela first heard of me – that there was this Ghanaian who had managed to open up KwaZulu for us, the ANC, to be able to go and campaign and meet with Inkatha. Early on, when I used to address rallies, I made two points. One was to say who I was and what the Commonwealth was about, and to say, “We are here not because we, off our own back, think that we should come here and do good, [but because] your leaders have asked us to come. The first of your leaders who approved the coming of the Commonwealth was Nkosi Buthelezi himself.” [I would say], “I came here with my boss, Chief Emeka; we met [Buthelezi] at the airport. He was on his way out of the country. So, my boss said, ‘Oh, I’m coming to have this important conversation with Buthelezi and he’s leaving.’ So, Buthelezi said, ‘Okay, I’ll delay my going.’ He sat down. My boss briefed him about sending observers and Buthelezi was the first South African leader who said, ‘Send them. They will help us a lot.’” So, that usually disarmed the local Inkatha people.
SO: You’re underlining a hierarchical power structure there – that surely, if you got the endorsement from the top, it would filter down.
MA: So, this is how the Inkatha people began. Then I would go and see Buthelezi and he would make sure it appears on telly. He was that desperate for publicity. And I told you the other day how Mandela sent me, didn’t I?
SO: Yes, you did.
MA: When he discovered that I had entrée to Chief Buthelezi, he was very happy, because it added to those forces wanting a peaceful settlement. So, the UN didn’t like us, because the Commonwealth, in their view, was a piddling little organisation [Laughter] which was stealing the limelight. I was in particular ‘bad odour’ with the UN.
SO: Did UN officials try to contact you? Did they try to use your…?
MA: Yes. What they said [was] that, whenever we arrange a rally, we should let their man lead: somebody from somewhere – Tanzania. So I said, “But if we arrange the thing and they come because we’ve asked them to come, and then hand it over to you, how would it look?” Their idea was that we would eventually emerge in the public eye [and] that I was just one of their flunkies. Obviously we could not allow any blurring of the Commonwealth’s image in so important an arena.
SO: Okay, but who in the UN? Where in the UN? Was this the Secretary General’s office? Was this…?
MA: The local representative there, I don’t know. It was a woman. But there was also a Tanzanian, who was their local representative in Natal. I used to remember his name…
SO: What about the OAU? How were you regarded by the OAU?
MA: The OAU’s presence was damp squib, really. The OAU had no profile there, although they should have had one. They should have had a higher profile than the UN and the Commonwealth, because the South African issue was first and foremost an African issue.
SO: Now, was that lack of funds, lack of interest, lack of…?
MA: They had the funds; they had the personnel. It’s just that they sent bureaucrats. This is a job that [is] slightly risky. You need someone who’s not scared to take a risk.
SO: As a risk-taking diplomat at the sharp end of Commonwealth diplomacy in the 1990s, what – in your opinion – was the value of the Queen as head of the Commonwealth? In terms of a symbol, cement?
MA: You know who you should have asked this question? Sonny Ramphal.
SO: No, I have. I’ve talked to him about this.
MA: Because he has got the best take on that. No, really. Anyaoku was also very successful with her, but not in the same way as Sonny.
SO: My understanding is that Sonny Ramphal’s qualities included being very personable, charismatic, courteous, courtly, mischievous and fun. Chief Emeka has other qualities. Now…
MA: No, they match each other well for work. I think the two qualities are different, and both served the Commonwealth very well. Now, [as for] the Queen, I’d take the Sonny line on it: I don’t think anybody can do better. You know, at CHOGM, she receives each head separately and they are supposed to be formal calls. You go and call on the Queen and so on, but I rather suspect that if she judges, if she assesses, an individual to have a lot that is of interest or importance, she will spend more time with that person and may even want a one-on-one with that person. Now, in which organisation in the world do you have that degree of engagement? Not in the UN. In the UN, they don’t even communicate. They go and read speeches at each other and go away.
SO: Did you go to any of these UN General Assembly meetings?
SO: So, this is all part of the Commonwealth’s observer status?
MA: Yeah, representation. The Vatican man used to sit next to me.
SO: And did the PLO sit on the other side?
MA: Hold on… I don’t remember seeing the PLO down there!
SO: Well, Peter Marshall said that you were a very select group! It was the Holy See, the PLO and the Commonwealth having observer status.
MA: They’ve gone up, haven’t they? PLO.
SO: Yes, they have.
MA: I think they are full members of the General Assembly or something like that? Something recently happened there.
SO: I believe so, Moses.
Now, I have to ask you, what do you think for the future of the Commonwealth, going forward? Was it successful because it operated below the radar? It achieved phenomenal things on very limited resources, because of the particular context of the time. That context has now changed.
MA: But also, don’t forget that, especially in the early days, you had people who knew each other. Either they had been students here [in the UK] together, or they had been colleagues in the liberation struggle and so on. There were a lot of ‘commonalities’, to use a word beloved of Sonny. Those links, more or less, are no more. There’s no bush war anywhere for people to congregate over a fire and become friends. [Laughter] Is there?
SO: I don’t think the Commonwealth needs a bush war to get it going again.
MA: Well, it benefitted from one in Southern Africa.
SO: It did, and it had to resolve it too.
MA: Going forward, on what can it draw? What does it need to re-invent? I think that the informality of the consultations is one of its strengths. The Retreats, where Secretariat officials don’t go with them [the heads of government], and they have informal conversation: no record, except the basic things, noting only the outcomes. Now, I hope that doesn’t fall by the wayside, because that is one of the great facilities of the Commonwealth.
SO: Was the amount of time set aside for a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting getting shorter during your time at the Secretariat?
MA: Yes, yes. The summits were contracting. The Retreats? Overnight affairs, and nothing more than that. I always regretted that at the time – especially, as I say, [because] the occasion for people to have known each other in a close and informal setting doesn’t exist, or it’s diminishing.
SO: Well, also, in the early period post-independence, it was the time of particularly long-lived leaders in office.
MA: Yes. ‘Presidents-for-life’.
SO: In a way – and this is the paradox – it could be said that democracy and the changing of the guard has, in fact, helped to break down the friendship bonds…
MA: Well, I suppose that is the price of democracy!
SO: Democracy hasn’t been good for the Commonwealth?
MA: It has given credibility to the institution with its national constituencies. But you see, at the leadership level, once you come to a CHOGM, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be given at least two days – in short-sleeves and so on – to get to know each other. Over golf…you know. That is important. Now, addressing each other by first names? Only in the Commonwealth. In the UN, it’s “His Excellency so-and-so…” In the Commonwealth, nobody’s an “Excellency”. So, that side of things should be reinforced and protected. That’s one. Two: the smaller member states. I think the Commonwealth is probably the only institution that caters for its small member countries in a special way. I think it should continue to look upon that as a special charge.
SO: But it can’t only be a small states organisation.
MA: No. Within the organisation, there must be room to pay special attention to its smaller member states. Look at the Pacific Islands. Very far away from everywhere – apart from Australia and New Zealand – and yet the Commonwealth spirit is very strong there. Very, very strong there.
SO: I know, from living in Fiji.
MA: There you are. Who takes care of countries like Fiji and so on? Who has special responsibility for them in today’s world?
SO: Australia and New Zealand have a particular interest; far less so Britain. Fiji’s representation here in London is a High Commissioner and one diplomatic staff member. Their biggest overseas representation is in Beijing, where they have an embassy of twenty people.
MA: Really? Why? That’s interesting.
SO: Because of Chinese investment and the possibility of Chinese trade.
MA: I see. But after the Chinese have come and built a bridge here or a railway line there, they go. They move on. The non-tangible, if you like – the non-material side of things – is just as important. Now, I’m talking on the wider issue you’ve asked me, [that] you’ve raised, of keeping the Commonwealth going into the future. Whenever I read about the high-handed way in which some of these countries are treated by the powerful and the mighty… Icily! The sort of Kissinger thing: “Ah, we don’t need to please so-and-so; we don’t need to…” That kind of tone: “They don’t count.” Now, it’s only the Commonwealth that doesn’t do that.
First of all, you’ve got to sit with people – and this is again one of the imaginative devices, strengthening the binding links through informality. They used to rotate the seating; I don’t know about now. If you sit next to me, tomorrow you will sit next to different people. So, you get to know each other. And then they would encourage the use of first names. This is not a trivial detail. It meant that it made it difficult for people to come and read speeches at each other, and the Secretariat enforced that by saying, “If you bring along a written text, we’ll collect it from you, make copies, circulate them and ask you to speak to it.” That way, people come out as they really are – as they feel, as they think.
Now, I have had a lot of free education from Lee Kuan Yew – free and valuable, thanks to the Commonwealth. Other leaders, I’m sure – apart from Lee – attending the meeting must go away with something valuable. For example, in the days of rampant military coups, one of the discussions was, “How do you make it impossible for a military coup? How do you make it impracticable for a military coup?” The upshot was the decision to exclude a non-elected, unconstitutional regime. That decision is now one of the core Commonwealth values. Now, it’s only in the Commonwealth that you know that if you make a coup, there’s nothing guaranteed about your acceptance either in the councils of the association or in functional co-operation.
SO: You’re not thrown out of the UN, for instance.
MA: Oh, no. They wouldn’t even notice it. That’s it – that’s the whole point. They wouldn’t notice it. [Laughter] So, the Commonwealth has a lot going for it. If only we can sit down and think it through periodically, every so often.
SO: Moses, to what extent did the Cold War give the Commonwealth a particular alternative focus and agenda? Neville Linton said this morning that it was the Cold War and the Secretary General, Sonny Ramphal, who determinedly pursued a non-Cold War, developmental agenda. Ramphal made sure he was on all major international commissions that were dealing with critical issues that got stuck in other international institutions because of the Cold War dynamic. That was Neville’s argument.
The Commonwealth was also giving particular focus to its other grand strategy: that of ending apartheid in South Africa. Now, once those two things were out of the way – the Cold War and apartheid South Africa – did the Commonwealth start to lose its clarity of focus and its energy? Promoting democratisation is a long agenda: a messy, partial and imperfect process that rolls out.
MA: But it’s for the Commonwealth to periodically take a long, hard look at itself and to decide on the realisable objectives it can set itself.
SO: Okay. My other impression is that the international system has changed radically and civil society has become more important as a diplomatic actor. The role of the heads of government meeting has altered because of a contracting timeline, given all those other international meetings that compete for a political leader’s time, and with heads changing more often. The Commonwealth now seems to me to be more like a four-legged stool with the Secretariat, heads, civil society, and professional organisations as the pillars of support. So, the Commonwealth is having to adjust itself to a very different world.
MA: It can adjust; it’s not a problem. Why can’t it adjust?
SO: So, why does it constantly go through these crises of, “What’s the Commonwealth for? It’s going to fizzle, it’s going to die!”
MA: That’s a discussion you hear only here, in Britain. In my time at the Secretariat, it was always accepted that the Commonwealth has to run fast to keep still. Member countries were never taken for granted and staff were always encouraged to keep rethinking established agendas and to come out with new ones.
SO: That’s interesting.
MA: Yeah. You hear that [i.e. the idea of the Commonwealth in crisis] nowhere else. Quote me on it – any day, anywhere.
SO: So, why do we only hear it here, when Britain seems to attach such little importance to the Commonwealth?
MA: Well, some of the Tories, for example, don’t quite appreciate its importance, but you will not hear anybody in Ghana or Nigeria question the Commonwealth. “Why are we in the Commonwealth?” No. You will hear in South Africa, for example, that Francois Mitterrand, at the time that South Africa was celebrating the ending of apartheid, actually offered La Francophonie membership to Mandela.
SO: This is rather like Castro asking if he could join the Commonwealth.
MA: Well, he would be useful!
SO: Well, indeed. He would have stirred things up.
MA: No, I don’t think he’s a stirrer. You know what? He’s got passion.
SO: Oh, that’s what I mean about stirring things up.
MA: No, but his passion is preceded by or mixed with logic. I told you the other story about him telling off the Ghanaian delegation, didn’t I?
SO: Yes, you did.
MA: “Eastern Europe? They’ve got nothing to offer you. You should have come to me first, because I have experience which may be of use and value to you.”
SO: It was notable that after Hurricane Katrina in the United States, Cuba offered emergency humanitarian assistance to the state government in Louisiana. The Americans turned it down flat because they thought it was a diplomatic ploy, and I was thinking, “They’re mad! Cuba knows how to deal with hurricanes and their aftermath!
MA: Of course.
SO: They are into disaster management. Cuba has sent more medical personnel to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia because of the Ebola outbreak than, in fact, America and the United Kingdom put together.
MA: See, the question you asked – “Why is the future of the Commonwealth always raised here in negative terms?” – I think is based on people who themselves haven’t taken the trouble to look at what the evolving Commonwealth is about and what has been achieved. I was going to say “new Commonwealth” but it’s gone beyond that now, [in] what it is and what it does. They see it as, “Ah, these are people who are dragging us back. You know, we’ve left all this behind us.” You never leave things like that behind you. Never. Now, why should Mitterrand want Mandela in La Francophonie rather than the Commonwealth?
MA: But what did they do to help when Mandela was in trouble? Nothing. And South Africans don’t know anything about France. Nothing. They don’t go that way. [Laughter]
SO: So, you feel that there’s a vibrancy and a viability for the Commonwealth going forward, and that it’s just here in England that we wring our hands and say, “The Commonwealth is going to hell in a hand cart” – this is a particularly British disease.
MA: The pessimism about the Commonwealth and its future is particularly evident in Britain and nowhere else.
SO: But do you think that perhaps the role of the Secretariat is also going through a time of crisis, and that it is now reverting to being more of a conference organisation, as originally envisaged in 1965?
MA: A lot of that depends upon who is at the top, who is the Secretary General. A powerful, imaginative Secretary General always makes a difference, as Sonny’s time has shown. A caring Secretary General – caring about stability in member countries [and] about their interests, like Emeka did. Emeka took trouble to find out how countries were faring. “Is there any trouble brewing, and what can we do to help?” Yes, that side of things must continue. If we don’t continue that side of things, we will become like the Organisation of American States. What is the use of the OAS? Well, I’ve never heard of any initiative. Have you?
But no, seriously… International organisations tend not to penetrate the consciousness of the citizens of member countries, by and large. [So, if] your country is a member of the OAU – fine; finished. Now, my country is a member of the Commonwealth, which is active in Southern Africa, which is concerned about environmental change [and], you know, women’s issues. When the Commonwealth was agitating these issues – indeed, providing leadership on developmental issues in general – no other comparable organisation was similarly engaged. The others are not yet joining the action. That sort of leadership: I hope we don’t lose it. And we can only keep it if we have a very professionally-strong Secretariat.
SO: Yes, exactly, that recruits excellent staff.
SO: What about the leadership issue around the head of the Commonwealth? After the Queen inevitably passes on, do you think there will be value in it passing to the next British monarch? Or, in fact, in your view, is there no need, given that there is a Secretary General? Or should there be a rotating, formal head?
MA: No, rotating the ceremonial leadership will be its ruin. I think we should just leave it as it is. Why not? Unless there is demonstrable merit in rotation, all adventurism should be avoided.
SO: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”?
MA: Quite! It’s a ‘plus plus’ thing, so why bother?
SO: It’s also free to the Commonwealth.
MA: Well, yes, of course it’s free, if that’s what you mean. But I think this fad of saying, “Oh, we must rotate this”… You ask, “Why?” There’s no reason; just rotating for rotating’s sake.
SO: Everyone would have a turn?
MA: No, but this is where your troubles begin, because when you start to rotate, then somebody jumps up one day and says, “We weren’t rotating, but since we have now agreed on rotation, the institution must provide us the wherewithal to make rotation effective.” We can try rotation, but I am sure we will find it unworkable.
SO: So, if there was to be rotation around the small states – the majority of Commonwealth members – it could be Vanuatu versus St Kitts?
MA: It would be a laugh. You go to Vanuatu to see the head of the Commonwealth, only to find him busy in a canoe!
MA: Or more likely fishing for the day’s meal! [Laughter]
SO: Moses, I’m going to stop there. Thank you very much indeed.
[END OF AUDIOFILE PART THREE]