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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Their Son of a Bitch

[update: the view from the Times, Dominic Lawson in the Indie, and Norm with a horrifying quote from a Sunday Times piece]

In which I begin with a synopsis of part of a documentary that was on German TV the other night. Valérie (presumably not her real name) and her parents moved from their home country in central Africa to Germany when she was a child. She was a model pupil at school, learnt perfect German and came away with the top grade in her Abitur - more than enough to enable her to fulfil her dream of studying medicine. Just one problem: her parents are illegal immigrants, therefore so is she, and so she will remain however long she stays, however German she feels, and however dim the memories of her home country become. And you can't enrol to study medicine without any ID.

Well, so far this doesn't reflect too well on Germany, does it? I certainly don't believe in an open door, but there has to be a bit of flexibility and compassion in cases like this. Especially since, in Valérie's case, the country seems to be depriving itself of a model citizen, lively, intelligent, determined and principled.

But now we shift the focus. It would help Valérie to have a passport - any passport. So she goes to the embassy of her home country. After waiting several hours she's told there's nothing doing. There are nine pieces of paper she would need to produce, notably her old passport - which she doesn't have. The atmosphere is distinctly unfriendly and unhelpful. However, Valérie is given a definite impression that all that could change - for a price. But that's not a game she's prepared to play. So she remains paperless.

The programme ended on a cautiously hopeful note. She's enrolled for a psychology course, for which she needed only to produce her Abitur certificate. So if her luck holds and she doesn't get stopped by the police, she can get her degree. Time enough then to think about tackling the obstacles to actually getting a job.

There we leave Valérie with our best wishes, and turn to the world stage. Because it was those sleazebags in the embassy who came into my mind when I read the mind-boggling news that Zimbabwe has been voted into the chair of the UN's Commission on Sustainable Development. Who chose Zimbabwe? The rest of Africa, that's who - including the country represented by Valérie's diplomatic friends.

The point about the Mugabe regime's record of wrecking the development that sustained Zimbabweans' ability to feed themselves is too obvious to need labouring. So here we have a snapshot of a continent-wide kleptocratic elite that simply doesn't give a monkey's about anything except feathering its own nests and sticking two fingers up at whitey. The plight of their starving subjects matters no more to them than Valérie's - both are merely targets for exploitation, as is anyone naive enough to channel development aid anywhere near these people.
A telling detail in the Beeb report is that Mozambique is finally putting the squeeze on Mugabe. Why? Have they seen the light over his human rights record? Nope, it's just that he's not paying his bills. Doesn't that give you a nice, warm feeling? It's no surprise that neo-Stalinist China is steadily increasing its influence in Africa. China's masters have the measure of their African opposite numbers, and they make deals with no questions asked.

As ever, I don't want to minimize the rich world's contribution to Africa's agony. But the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery is predictably proving to be a bumper year for liberal self-flagellation. And to the extent that this lets the kleptocrats off the hook, it doesn't help the wretched of the earth one jot.

1 comment:

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Oh, Mr Grumpy, you certainly don't take no prisoners ;-)

Still, all true, no matter how sad.