Some weeks ago, we were flying at 30,000 feet, from Banjul, The Gambia, to Dakar, Senegal, in a UN-chartered 8-seater Beachcraft, piloted by an experienced Swedish captain and his younger co-pilot. This is only a 30′ or so flight.
I was trying hard to listen to Ovideo Pequeno talking to me over the engine noise: the arrest at high seas (so my American brothers claim) by US Anti-Narcotic Agents of an alleged cocaine ring leader, Bubo N’atchuto, Admiral of the non-existing Guinea-Bissau “Navy”. Suddenly there was a bang! The plane shook in a very rough way. The alarm in the tiny pilot cockpit went off.
We could see that the two crew members were worried, wondering what had happened. A missile just hit us? Unlikely. We would have been catapulted to Heaven instantly. We were still pretty much alive. Amb Pequeno, the Special Representative of the African Union, seemed relaxed which impressed me and continued to talk about the Bubo N’atchuto case. I thought it would be wiser to pull out the rosary and pray! I do carry one with me at all times.
My other travel companions were Bafemi Badejo, a Nigerian and Muslim, who is my Chief of Staff and a young Bissau-Guinean, I presume an Animist. I have instituted a policy in always including a national staff in my international travels. This was never done before.
Amb Pequeno is a devout Catholic…well I think so as he doesn’t like my jokes about Catholics. He originates in the postcard Islands of SaoTome and Principe; was Ambassador and Foreign Minister, over more than three decades; a consummate diplomat, eloquent speaker, a polyglote. Aways elegantly dressed up, with good taste, without ostentation, he passes for a movie star and actually has Denzel Washington looks.
Back to our Beachcraft. No one was praying. I thought to myself, “why no one is praying?” I would think that if all of us professing different religions were to pray the same time, God would listen. But I didn’t pray either because Ovidio Pequeno was showing off how cool he was and continued to talk about the alleged ring leader. I wasn’t listening anyway, my mind focusing on how I could survive if we crash landed on the seas below.
After the bang, the cranky noise kept on. It seemed like the plane would disintegrate anytime. We were flying along the coast and I wish the pilot would fly closer to shore so that we would be able to swim.
After some very long 15 minutes we finally landed and found out what had happened: a cargo door right under the left wing simply dropped off in mid air and this was the bang we heard followed by the constant unusual vibration.
Safely in Dakar, the evening we met President Macky Sall. I was pleased with his openness and accommodating attitude towards other countries in the process, speaking favorably about Angola, Mozambique, Portugal, Brazil. He wants everybody to help as the ECOWAS countries cannot shoulder the burden alone. He praised me for my speech in the ECOWAS Summit in Côte d’Ivoire a few weeks earlier.
The next day, I flew to Praia, Cape Verde, in the same Beachcraft plane with Amb Pequeno.
They had put on a new luggage compartment door. And the pilots were the same. As we left Bissau very early in the morning, around 6h30, the weather was perfect and we landed in Praia without further commotion. As I said “Bon voyage” to the two Swedish pilots who were going back to their base after dropping us off, I couldn’t resist cracking a joke: “Now don’t lose any more doors along the way!”
After meeting here with the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister I was going to fly on the next day to Brazil. While the idea of going to Brazil is always appealing, traveling many additional hours to Fortaleza and then to Brasilia was not an incentive; with a very tightly managed time I couldn’t take a few extra days and go samba in Rio! My scheduled time in Brasilia was 36hrs.
So as I heard about the Brazilian Foreign Minister stopping over in Praia on his way to Lisbon I proposed that we have our meeting in the VIP lounge, saving me the time of a long flight to Brasilia. The Brazilans, always accommodating and charming, promptly agreed and we held our meeting in Praia.
Cape Verde is a changed country from what I saw in 1976-1977 when I first visited that poor, forgotten archipelago; God didn’t create Cape Verde so He cannot be blamed for being unfair to the inhabitants of those barren islands. The inhabitants are a relatively recent phenomenon, slaves and their descendants brought from West Africa by Portuguese traders.
Cape Verde best illustrated in 1976-77 the extraordinary mediocrity and mendacity of Portuguese colonial rulers. There was not a single piece of infrastructure in the entire archipelago worthy of mention.
As I returned to Cape Verde over the following years at 5-10 year intervals I can compare and appreciate Cape Verdians hardworking tradition, their inventive and enterprising culture, their love for those inhospitable islands.
Cape Verde is indeed a success story and they fully deserve all the credit; and as they graduate from LDC status to a lower middle income country they should be compensated with new, additional incentives, rather than being “punished” for their success! Countries listed as “Least Developed” benefit from special assistance and trade facilities with the Europe. But once it moves above a certain GDP per capita and leaves the LDC label, it loses those very important facilities. A country like Cape Verde should in fact be compensated with additional incentives!
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