Harare Diary: Tom Burgis On Five Days In Mugabe’s Crumbling Regime

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Harare Diary: Tom Burgis on five days in Mugabe’s crumbling regime

Zimbabwe has the feeling of a country tentatively starting to say unsayable things

Sir Nigel has become one of the chief chroniclers of whatever it is that is awakening in Zimbabwe, but his wife is not pleased.

An accountant by training, four years ago he took to tweeting about his country’s poisonous politics. For his Twitter handle, he dropped his surname (Mugamu) and adopted the honorific (a nickname coined years earlier by some Australian university friends who considered his taste in smart trousers so haughty it was worthy of the British upper echelons).

Sir Nigel’s observations resonated, so he set up 263Chat, borrowing Zimbabwe’s dialling code for the name. The social media outlet now has 130,000 followers on Twitter and 40,000 Facebook likes. It occupies the middle ground, a zone long abandoned by the Herald, the mouthpiece of Robert Mugabe’s government, and the country’s scarcely less tendentious opposition papers.

Beside the manicured lawn of a colonial-era venue in uptown Harare on a blissfully warm spring morning, Sir Nigel tells me he now has half a dozen staff handling newsgathering, editorial and advertising. 263’s posts chronicle the street protests and ruling-party infighting that are challenging Mugabe’s authority to a degree rarely seen since he took power in 1980.

As “chief storyteller”, Sir Nigel works all hours. “Admit it,” his wife recently admonished, “you’d rather be married to 263.” Sir Nigel is trying to make breakfast more often.

I’ve come to Harare to give a talk about my book. Given that it is called The Looting Machine, and that the chapter on Zimbabwe recounts how the regime has used a combination of violence and offshore secrecy to pillage the country’s diamonds, I spent a restless flight wondering how much to censor myself.

Zimbabwe is not North Korea. But everyone I talk to assumes the audience will include an informant for Mugabe’s secret police. The Central Intelligence Organisation reports directly to the president, a man who once declared he had “degrees in violence”. Critics have a way of vanishing. Either that, or their cars “crash” in improbable ways. A local journalist tells me about a call he recently received from what Zimbabweans call “The System”. By that, he means the shadow state comprising the presidency, the ruling party, the security forces and the CIO — precisely the people looting the diamonds. The voice warned the journalist that a “tragedy” might befall his family if he carried on writing critical articles. He has no intention of desisting. But his face wears a troubled expression as he remembers the call. “It plants a seed,” he says.

Hot Springs looks tepid. The low-hanging stones in the scrubland have been plucked. Most of the miners have departed, along with the prostitutes and smugglers.

In the end, after hearing tales of what Zimbabweans have endured in order to tell the truth to power, I blurt it all out. I’m ashamed of having hesitated but comprehend a little more clearly how such regimes muzzle dissent.

We reach Christmas Pass after dark. I’ve made the trip before, three years ago, and remember the magnificent vistas of the slopes that sweep down to the diamond fields, now concealed by the night, like sleeping elephants.

We descend through switchbacks to Mutare, the last town before the militarised mining zones. Grabbing a bite, I’m reminded of Zimbabweans’ virtuosity with names. (Mutare itself derives from the Shona for gold, another of the bounty of elements that have brought much bloodshed to this part of the country.) My companions tell me they have friends called Method, Norest and Exhibit. A man called Medicine became a doctor. We can only hope the name badge of the young lad behind the counter at a Mutare chicken shop proves less determinative. It reads: Delinquency.

A decade back, Hot Springs was a boom town, Zimbabwe’s answer to Kimberley, the epicentre of South Africa’s diamond rush 150 years ago. Like Kimberley, the chief legacy has been some big holes in the ground. There were rich pickings around Hot Springs for a few years. Even after the security forces brutally asserted their control in an onslaught called Operation No Return, miners could still make their fortune, provided they cut in the soldiers. Such was the fast cash that one abstemious local referred to the town as Sodom and Gomorrah. Locals would buy Mercedes even though they couldn’t drive — just for the radio and the status.

But as we drive through, Hot Springs looks decidedly tepid. The low-hanging stones in the surrounding scrubland have been plucked. Most of the miners have departed, along with the prostitutes and smugglers. Mugabe claims that $15bn of diamond revenues have vanished. The number seems bizarre — both for its size and the regime’s complicity in said vanishing.

Zimbabwe has the feeling of a country tentatively starting to say unsayable things. At the top of a red-brown hill not far from Hot Springs, there is a church. Emissaries from the various mining zones assemble inside. Not in secret — they are doing nothing illegal — but with an anxious air.

Lovemore, an articulate retired telecoms manager, speaks about his relative, a young man called Guard, who had snuck into the red zone, as the areas cordoned off by mining companies are known, in the hope of snaffling a diamond or two. Soldiers shot him dead. “Guard was 28,” says Lovemore.

Another delegate, middle-aged and sorrowful, adds that effluence from the mines is turning the rivers opaque, camouflaging the crocodiles. One of the predators snuck up on a child and took her foot. A photograph is passed round, showing a footless girl wearing a pair of modified tights and a fretful expression.

The Kimberley Process, a scheme born to counter the “blood diamonds” that funded wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Angola, assesses whether stones from particular countries contribute to conflict. Zimbabwe’s are deemed not to — state-sponsored violence is apparently considered acceptable — and so mining companies are free to sell them wherever they please. Most are ugly chunks of carbon, used for drill bits and such. But some are fine gems, perfect for proposing with.

As we drive back to Harare, the late afternoon sunshine falls across undulating fields with their stubble of drought-blackened maize stalks. “The light, it’s … lovely,” I say to my companions, wincing as I hear myself apply so bland an adjective to such a soul-stirring landscape. I spend the next half an hour contemplating it through the car’s window. Perhaps the right word exists only in Shona. The light here is a substance in its own right, the opposite of Milton’s “darkness visible”, like the light from a diamond. It’s like the thrill of something secret being revealed.

Tom Burgis is the FT’s investigations correspondent

A Third Term For President Obama?

I had to take my vehicle to the mechanic the other day for service. The
Service Manager, Pete, gave me a ride home and on the way he told me his
theory about the upcoming election and the next four years of U.S.
At first I thought it a bit far fetched. But as I listened to him it began
to make sense, scary sense…
“I believe that Hillary Clinton will win the election in November,” Pete
began. “Then, sometime between November and January, Hillary will be
indicted. The IRS is now investigating the Clinton Foundation and the
whole e-mail thing isn’t over yet.”
“Once under indictment she won’t be able to assume the Office of the
President in January. Tim Kaine, who will not actually be the Vice
President because neither he nor Hillary have been inaugurated, cannot
assume the Presidency.”
“The Speaker of the House can’t move up to it because there is already a
sitting President and Vice President. So President Obama, in an Executive
Order citing “emergency situation,” gives himself another four years in
office is the only way possible.”
Pete believes Obama has been planning this for a while now, knowing he has
enough on Hillary to indict her. Had the Attorney General indicted her
based on evidence from the FBI this plan wouldn’t have worked because the
DNC would have quickly come up with another candidate
If you think about it, it’s not that outrageous. Many people on the left,
including the President, want Obama to stay another four years. The law
prohibits him from being re-elected so the only ways he can do it is by
declaring martial law and suspending the election (which would be a very
negative thing for the country) or to declare himself still President
because the elected candidate cannot assume her duties.
The latter makes more sense and is actually more feasible. And since it’s
never been done before, it would set a precedent that would be difficult
to challenge.
Of course, if Trump wins the election none of this is going to happen. But
what if Pete is correct? Four more years of Obama and a mostly useless
Republican House and Senate would give Obama the time he needs to continue
destroying changing the country to fit his stated goals.
I thanked Pete for the ride home – and for messing up my day. Now I’ve got
more things to worry about!


The Obamas Could Be In For A $45 Million Pay Day

The Obamas could be in for a $45 million payday from book deals after leaving the White House, the New York Times reports.

President Obama, already an accomplished author with a bestselling memoir “Dreams From My Father,” could, together with his wife Michelle, land the biggest post-presidency book contracts in American history.

“His is going to be easily the most valuable presidential memoir ever,” Raphael Sagalyn of the ICM/Sagalyn Literary Agency told the Times.

Sagalyn predicted to the Times that Obama could earn $30 million with a two- or three-book contract and said Michelle Obama “has the opportunity to sell the most valuable first lady memoir in history.”

But the Times report indicated that the real figure for the Obama memoirs might be lower than the dollar signs imagined by enthusiastic literary agents.

Publishers, the ones who actually have to pay the exorbitant sums, quoted much lower figures to the Times, speculating that Obama would do well to get more than $12 million and his wife would be lucky to get more than $10 million.

Still, as the Times noted, those sums are enough to pay the estimated $22,000 monthly rent in the Washington mansion the Obamas reportedly plan to move into. And they’d be left with enough spare change to buy that rented summer home on Martha’s Vineyard.

An American’s Experience And Impressions While In The UK


The following Facebook post was written by 66-year-old American Scott Waters.

Penned following a visit to the UK last summer (most of which appears to have been in Cornwall, England), Waters wrote up the various cultural differences and posted them to the world of social media. The post promptly went viral and has been shared almost 50,000 times. 

Here’s what he had to say about them:


I was in England again a few weeks ago, mostly in small towns, but here’s some of what I learned:

* Almost everyone is very polite.

* There are no guns.

* There are too many narrow stairs.

* The pubs close too early.

* The reason they drive on the left is because all their cars are built backwards.

* Pubs are not bars, they are community living rooms.

* You’d better like peas, potatoes and sausage.

* Refrigerators and washing machines are very small.

* Everything is generally older, smaller and shorter.

* People don’t seem to be afraid of their neighbors or the government.

* Their paper money makes sense, the coins don’t.

* Everyone has a washing machine but driers are rare.

* Hot and cold water faucets. Remember them?

* Pants are called “trousers”, underwear are “pants” and sweaters are “jumpers”.

* The bathroom light is a string hanging from the ceiling.

*  All the signs are well designed with beautiful typography and written in full sentences with proper grammar.

* There’s no dress code.

* Doors close by themselves, but they don’t always open.                 

* They eat with their forks upside down.

* The English are as crazy about their gardens as Americans are about cars.

* They don’t seem to use facecloths or napkins or maybe they’re just neater than we are.

* The wall outlets all have switches, some don’t do anything.

* There are hardly any cops or police cars.

* 5,000 year ago, someone arranged a lot of rocks all over, but no one is sure why.

* When you do see police they seem to be in male & female pairs and often smiling.

* Black people are just people: they didn’t quite do slavery here.

* Everything comes with chips, which are French fries. You put vinegar on them.

* Cookies are “biscuits” and potato chips are “crisps”.

* HP sauce is better then catsup.

* Obama is considered a hero, Bush is considered an idiot.

* After fish and chips, curry is the most popular food.

* The water controls in showers need detailed instructions.

* They can boil anything.

* Folks don’t always lock their bikes.

* It’s not unusual to see people dressed differently and speaking different languages.

* Your electronic devices will work fine with just a plug adapter.

* Nearly everyone is better educated than we are.

* If someone buys you a drink you must do the same.

* Look right, walk left. Again; look right, walk left. You’re welcome.

* Avoid British wine and French beer.

* It’s not that hard to eat with the fork in your left hand with a little practice. If you don’t, everyone knows you’re an American.

* Many of the roads are the size of our sidewalks.

* There’s no AC.

* Instead of turning the heat up, you put on a jumper.

* Gas is “petrol”, it costs about $6 a gallon and is sold by the liter.

* If you speed on a motorway, you get a ticket. Period. Always.

* You don’t have to tip, really!

* There are no guns.

* Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Cornwall really are different countries.

* Only 14% of Americans have a passport, everyone in the UK does.

* You pay the price marked on products because the taxes (VAT) are built in.

* Walking is the national pastime.

* Their TV looks and sounds much better than ours.

* They took the street signs down during WWII, but haven’t put them all back up yet.

* Everyone enjoys a good joke.

* Dogs are very well behaved and welcome everywhere.

* There are no window screens.

* You can get on a bus and end up in Paris.

* Everyone knows more about our history than we do.

* Radio is still a big deal. The BBC is quite good.

* The newspapers can be awful.

* Everything costs the same but our money is worth less so you have to add 50% to the price to figure what you’re paying.

* Beer comes in large, completely filled, actual pint glasses and the closer the brewery the better the beer.

* Butter and eggs aren’t refrigerated.

* The beer isn’t warm, each style is served at the proper temperature.

* Cider (alcoholic) is quite good.

* Excess cider consumption can be very painful.

* The universal greeting is “Cheers” (pronounced “cheeahz” unless you are from Cornwall, then it’s “chairz”)

* The money is easy to understand: 1-2-5-10-20-50 pence, then-£1-£2-£5-£10, etc bills. There are no quarters.

* Their cash makes ours look like Monopoly money.

* Cars don’t have bumper stickers.

* Many doorknobs, buildings and tools are older than America.

* By law, there are no crappy, old cars.

* When the sign says something was built in 456, they didn’t lose the “1”.

* Cake is pudding, ice cream is pudding, anything served for dessert is pudding, even pudding.

* Everything closes by 1800 (6pm)

* Very few people smoke, those who do often roll their own.

* You’re defined by your accent.

* No one in Cornwall knows what the hell a Cornish Game Hen is.

* Soccer is a religion, religion is a sport.

* Europeans dress better than the British, we dress worse.

* The trains work: a three minute delay is regrettable.

* Drinks don’t come with ice.

* There are far fewer fat English people.

* There are a lot of healthy old folks around participating in life instead of hiding at home watching tv.

* If you’re over 60, you get free TV and bus and rail passes.

* They don’t use Bose anything anywhere

* Displaying your political or religious affiliation is considered very bad taste

* Every pub has a pet drunk

* Their healthcare works, but they still bitch about it

* Cake is one of the major food groups

* Their coffee is mediocre but their tea is wonderful

* There are still no guns

 They have towel warmers!


* Cheers!!! 


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Wake Me When It’s Over

OK everyone, many of us have heard that old saying: “Wake me when it’s over.” This is how I feel about the presidential election. What I see coming is two months of incredible dirt and hatred. I see great polarization and the United States being torn apart. If Hillary Clinton wins, Trump will mount all sorts of protests and court actions claiming that the election is rigged. If Trump wins many people will leave the country for good. The whole world will be frightened and waiting “for the other foot to drop.” I wish that I could escape to my favorite little town in Patagonia-El Calafate. It has only 25,000 people but a beautiful international airport and an incredible three-story hospital. People are nice and really like Americans. Quite a number of them speak English. All I would take with me besides warm clothes would be my Surface Pro notebook, my hand written journal, my meds, and a nice picture of Elena, Anna, and Luah. I would rent a clean room or stay at the hotel of friends with a long-term deal and a much lower rent. After breakfast each morning I would take a long walk for my exercise. There is a delightful coffee shop in downtown where they have great food and every one hangs out. I would have a long and leisurely lunch. Then I would go back to my room for a rest and come out in the evening and mingle with all of the people on the main street (Many are Americans.) I would have some nice drinks and company.

If Hillary won I would return. If Trump won well I would already be, as the title of the book from England long ago: “Far From The Maddening Crowd.” Elena would have to decide her next move. (As the words of the song go: “Should I go or should I stay?”)

The book Catch-22 is about a World War II B-26 crew. At the end of the book Captain Yossarian decides to fly his B-26 to Sweden and seek political asylum to escape the war. In a figurative sense I am ready to fly my B-26 far from a mad war.

Anna Silva Sad, but true. Guess that’s why I love sports, it’s a wonderful escape for a few hours.

Unlike · Reply · 1 · 1 hr

Don’t Under Estimate Donald Trump!!!!!

My dear friends Dan Rather is one of my heroes in life. He was born and raised in Houston. He started at KHOU television in Houston and was promoted to CBS News. When Walter Cronkite retired as the anchor of the CBS evening news, Dan took his place. He won honors and the respect and love of millions of people who depended on him every day for the news and an idea of what is going on in the world. He also showed himself to be a brilliant analyst of politics.

Yesterday after noon he was talking about Donald Trump. He described him as the most bizarre candidate that he had encountered in many decades of covering presidential elections. He went on to praise Trump as a master of the electronic media who constantly gets attention that puts Hillary in the background or out of sight and mind.

Dan’s message was clear: “Like him or hate him, do not under estimate Donald Trump!”

A Great Canadian Actress

Kathleen Robertson Picture

Kathleen Robertson (I)

Kathleen Robertson was born in Hamilton, Ontario, and launched her career in nearby Toronto, in the George Lucas-produced Maniac Mansion (1990) and continues to work with prolific producers. She transitioned from David E. Kelley‘s acclaimed Girls Club (2002) into Farhad Safinia‘s Golden Globe-winning Starz political drama Boss (2011) with KelseySee full bio »

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1 win & 7 nominations. See more awards »

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The Prom (1990) … Cynthia Bundy
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Word of Mouth (1990) … Daria
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Kathleen and her husband Chris welcomed their first child, a boy, on July 9, 2008. William Robertson Cowles weighed 9 lbs. 1 oz. See more »



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