Murray, who wrote the important Murder in Samarkand, on his stint as the British ambassador for Uzbekistan, highlighting the link with the international opium trade and British and US support for Uzbekistan’s dictatorial regime, has now followed up this book with a prequel, primarily on his time in Ghana.
Murray has had quite some issues with publishing his new book and, besides now managing to get the book listed on Amazon USA in Hardcover, scores of Murray supporters also offer the book as a PDF. Indeed, you can get it for free, right here, in three parts.
I couldn’t find the book as important as Murder in Samarkand, but it’s an entertaining read, focussing on Murray’s time, mostly working as the British High Commissioner to Ghana, roughly from 1998 to 2001, which was publicly characterized by the Arms to Africa affair.
Part of the critique on Murray’s earlier book was the intertwining of spilling political beans with spilling private beans, mostly involving Murray’s sexual escapades. Possibly to poke fun at his critics, it’s his relationship issues he starts the first few paragraphs of this book with.
The book works for Murray’s candid approach both to himself and his experiences. Clearly, what he went through both in Ghana and, more importantly, Uzbekistan, and the emotional breakdown which followed, resulted in him getting to know himself to the fullest. And The Catholic Orangemen…, as a biography or memoir works because Murray is not full of himself. He’s aware of this, touching upon it in the preface, where he points out that contrary to typical biographies, Murder in Samarkand showed the author, warts and all, as opposed to presenting a near perfect image of himself, which autobiographies and memoirs often end up doing.
As far as revelations go, this book’s not nearly as impressive as its predecessor. It’s the small details which make it juicy. Descriptions of warlords, national leaders, politics behind politics and whatnot.
But also, Murray has clearly become a better writer since his previous book, using his tongue-in-cheek style with gusto.
In one example of a minor revelation, Murray makes the point that the Ghanaian Kwameh Nkrumah, post-colonial Africa’s first independent head of state, was also post-colonial Africa’s first dictator and the creator of the model which started the long series of anti-democratic rule with Nkrumah being, in many ways, the model for Mugabe, who both studied in Ghana and met his first wife there.
Murray shows that, besides the West’s dumping of subsidized goods and hurting the local economies, Africans have also destroyed their regional trade for the protection of corrupt private interests. With his interest and knowledge of Ghana, he goes into a bit more detail on J.J. Rawlings, long time dictator and elected president of Ghana (but not since 2000, shortly before I arrived in the country).
Joy FM makes a brief appearance in relation to the 2000 Ghana elections and Murray mentions the (then?) director, Sam Attah Mensah, whom I briefly met when I spent time working at Joy FM in early 2001.
The chapter on the Ghanaian elections of 2000 I found very intriguing, with some very interesting but little reported on details on how the peaceful handover of power to the opposition really happened and nearly wasn’t very peaceful at all.
Champs bar gets another mentioning, which is where we used to play weekly trivia quizzes.
The version of the book I read is a prerelease. This means that there’s still a few small things in it which need to be edited out, but nothing major.
It’s amazing that Tim Spicer has been able to block the publication of the book. He’s by no means a major player in the book and Murray
doesn’t seem to reveal anything out of the ordinary about him shows that Spicer most likely violated UN regulations, by Spicer having had the intent to supply weapons to the conflict in Sierra Leone. With Spicer heading Sandline, in cahoots with Executive Outcomes, both mercenary firms not totally unlike Blackwater, this isn’t too surprising, but could make Spicer eligible for prosecution for breaking a UN embargo.
A supposedly Iranian girl, Adrienne Ramainian also makes an appearance and Murray makes clear she’s extremely beautiful. The Daily Mail published an excerpt of the book with a photo of Murray and a very good looking girl which, in a copied excerpt still carries what I suspect is the original caption, identifying the girl as Ramainian. As Google has no results for the girl’s name but these two pages (and, give it a day, this very page), I also suspect that the name Murray gives the girl is not her real name. And, in fact, judging from the photo, I would not be surprised if she’s actually Indian.
It’s a very enjoyable book, easy and entertaining to read. Not as shocking or revealing as Murder in Samarkand, but more appealing. More personal, if you will. It’s a bit like reading a high profile blog without the pretensions but with the juicy details.
Remarking on most international donors’ relatively new policy of supporting budgets, not projects, Murray points out the administrative inability of African middle management, the more corrupted African governments (that is, more corrupted than Western governments) and the mediocre monitoring by the donors, as reasons for this change of funding being a failure. Money pumped in by donors for a particular line item on the budget means that money originally allocated for that line item can now be pocketed by the high level administrators. Fungibility.
The only way around this, I suppose, is to have donors manage whole areas of developing countries and avoid the intermingling of funds, responsibilities and objectives. However, obviously, creating a shadow state opens up a whole different can of worms.