Paulina Opoku-Gyimah says: Yep... this one is most definitely from the archives (of the Daily Mail newspaper UK) but still makes for very interesting reading…...enjoy x
Title: Carry On (Deputy) High Commissioner: My battle to bring democracy to Africa
By Craig Murray Dated: 10th January 2009
In 2004, Craig Murray was famously removed as British Ambassador in Uzbekistan after accusing the Uzbek government of human rights abuses. But from 1998 to 2002, Murray served as Deputy High Commissioner in Ghana. Here he tells how, against all odds, he helped leave a legacy of free and fair elections in the African country...
The Duke of Edinburgh was in high spirits by the time he arrived at Ghana's parliament building. 'How many Members of Parliament do you have?' he asked a senior Ghanaian MP. 'Two hundred,' came the answer.
'That's about the right number,' opined Prince Philip. 'We have 650 and most of them are a complete bloody waste of time.'
It was November 1999 and I'd been Deputy High Commissioner in Ghana for almost a year - the culmination of 15 years' Foreign Office service in Nigeria, Warsaw and the equatorial Africa department in London.
I'd always been passionate about Africa and had immersed myself in its minutiae. Nevertheless, my father, who had a timber yard in Ghana in the Sixties, offered a little extra counsel before I departed, aged 40. 'If you see any good-looking girl, aged about 30, light skinned, whatever you do, don't touch her - she could be your sister!'
Not that this was a big concern for me. My most pressing duty was the 1999 State Visit by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, accompanied by Robin Cook, the then Foreign Secretary.
It was a three-day blur of activity, the teeming crowds displaying an uncomplicated and old-fashioned reverence.
A warning that the Duke was averse to looking at things without useful purpose proved absolutely right. As we stood looking at the strip of brass laid in a churchyard that marked the line of the Greenwich Meridian, he said to me: 'A line in the ground, eh? Very nice.'
Ghana epitomises much of the best of Africa, but also throws into relief the tragedy of the continent.
It has maintained its higher education and has fewer extremes of wealth than elsewhere. But at independence in 1957, Ghana was richer than Argentina, Brazil, Malaysia or Singapore. Today, those countries are at least ten times as wealthy.
Corruption, cronyism, economic mismanagement, irresponsible lending by the West and the dumping of cheap food all did for Ghana.
When I arrived with my wife Fiona, and children Jamie and Emily, Ghana had been ruled for 20 years by Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings. The son of a Stirlingshire pharmacist and a local woman, he seized power in a coup in 1979, but claimed to have won presidential elections in 1992 and 1996, despite allegations of vote-rigging.
In his early years, Rawlings unleashed a political terror on Ghana.
His campaign against the middle classes resembled Mao's Cultural Revolution. People were persecuted for having savings or two indoor lavatories. Market women were sometimes killed for 'profiteering'.
The Queen's visit delighted Rawlings, who craved international respectability. I, too, was determined to make the most of the trip, by helping ensure Rawlings gave up power by the start of 2001, as the constitution required because he had served two four-year terms.
The Queen's speech to the parliament in the capital, Accra, was to be the focus of the visit and I had contributed to its drafting. It contained the usual guff about a future based upon partnership, but there was a sting in the tail.
'Next, year, Mr President,' the Queen intoned, 'you will step down after two terms in office in accordance with your constitution.' The opposition benches went wild and the Queen stopped, looking in bewilderment at the hullabaloo.
Dress to impress: The Queen, during her 1999 visit to Ghana, meets an admirer whose dress is adorned with the Royal portrait
Afterwards, Robin Cook was furious. 'It's a disaster. Who the hell drafted that?'
'Er, I did, Secretary of State,' I said.
'I might have guessed! Who the hell approved it?'
'You did.' Cook's Private Secretary had to dig out the draft he had signed.
After the State banquet, I retired to a hotel bar with the Royal Household. The senior staff had withdrawn to allow the butlers, footmen and hairdressers to let off steam.
The party appeared, to a man, to be gay. Not just gay, but outrageously camp. We'd taken the hotel for the Royal party, but allowed the British Airways crew to stay. Now three cabin stewards, two Royal footmen and a Royal hairdresser were grouped around the piano singing hits from Cabaret.
I was seated on a sofa and across from me in an armchair was a member of the Household who seemed out of place. The valet looked to be in his 60s, a grizzled NCO with tufts of hair either side of a bald pate, a boxer's nose and tattoos on his arms. He was smoking roll-ups.
I turned to the old warrior and said: 'Don't you find all this a bit strange sometimes?' He lent forward, put his hand on my bare knee below the kilt I wore on ceremonial occasions and said: 'Listen, ducks. I was in the Navy for 30 years.'
I think he was joking, but some things are too weird even for me. The lower reaches of the Royal Household are one of them.
One enjoyable aspect of our time in Ghana was the constant stream of visitors. Among them was Peter Hain, the Minister for Africa.
Hain, a good footballer, agreed to play in a charity match between children from a community football scheme and the High Commission.
Unfortunately, the ground was hard and the opposition turned out to be super-fit professionals. After a heavy tackle, I went down. Result: a dislocated shoulder. I couldn't move my arm for eight weeks.
Other visitors included Clare Short, at the time Secretary of State for International Development. She was in Ghana to try to persuade it to join a debt relief scheme.
At a dinner for her, a Minister had made a speech about how much Ghana had learnt from the British Empire. Short stood up and expostulated: 'The British Empire! Don't tell me about the British Empire. I know about British colonialism. My father was Irish and we know about British colonialism. I'll tell you what the British did to your country. They exploited it, that's what they did. They exploited it.'
After a few moments of stunned silence, the dinner continued.
On another occasion we were joined by Bobby Charlton, who came to Ghana seeking support for England's bid to host the 2006 World Cup. He was still an astounding player at 60 and it was good of him to get on the pitch for a local community football programme.
Nevertheless, I found Charlton disappointing. He was self-centred and ratty - one of those heroes you wish you hadn't met.
Conversely, Roger Moore, a Unicef goodwill ambassador, was charming and suave, just as you would expect, with a fund of brilliant stories beginning with lines such as: 'One day, Frank, Dean, Tony and I decided to play a trick on Marilyn...'
He was also well briefed about children's issues in Ghana and was prepared not just to do PR, but to get his hands dirty helping in refugee camps without a camera in sight.
I was less taken with Jamie Theakston. The BBC were filming a wildlife programme in Ghana, looking at the endangered green turtle population near Ada.
A group of young volunteers had accompanied the BBC team to help the newly-born turtles to reach the ocean.
But one girl, in her mid-20s, had streams of mascara running down her cheeks. She claimed Theakston had just broken up with her - yet here he was, surrounded by young women, enjoying the adulation.
I had bigger concerns, however. Ghana's presidential and parliamentary elections were due in December 2000 and there were signs that its 11million voters might be preparing for a change of government.
Enthusiasm for politics was everywhere. Even in the meanest village, people gathered under the banyan tree listening to FM stations on a battered transistor and arguing about the coming change.
In the West, tired of our politicians' deceit, we no longer much value democracy. It is wonderful to see a people exercising for the first time their power over those who would govern them.
Our job was to see the elections were free and fair, with Britain funding a £10million programme for photo-ID cards to reduce electoral fraud. The exercise eradicated one million fake names.
Another practical new weapon was indelible ink: when somebody voted, their thumb was painted to stop them casting more than one vote. India was the only source of a truly permanent ink that could not be washed or rubbed off.
I had also persuaded the Foreign Office to provide experts from the Electoral Reform Society. Further valuable additions were two British MPs, Roger Gale and Nigel Jones.
Rawlings's party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), put up the vice president, John Atta Mills, as its presidential candidate. The opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) fielded John Kufuor.
There is a tribal element in Ghanaian politics: the Ewe people vote overwhelmingly NDC; the Ashanti overwhelmingly NPP.
It was clear the governing party would not abandon power easily. Alarmed that it would lose, it had the high court declare the ID cards illegal because they disenfranchised legitimate voters.
But the ruling was to no avail - the people took over. Polling station officers decided they were going to use ID cards anyway.
When first-round votes on December 7 were tallied, Kufuor had 48.4 per cent against Atta Mills's 44.8 per cent. The opposition was heading for a small majority but, with no candidate exceeding 50 per cent, a run-off was required.
Ghana's 30 or so FM stations were vital in bringing democracy, so it was no surprise that the NDC moved against them. On the evening before the poll, I took Roger Gale and Nigel Jones to visit Joy FM, possibly Ghana's most influential station.
We were sitting in the office when an armed posse of Rawlings's security men arrived, saying they were closing the station on the President's instructions.
'Good evening,' I said. 'I am Craig Murray, Deputy British High Commissioner, and these gentlemen are Mr Roger Gale MP and Mr Nigel Jones MP, members of the British Parliament.'
Gale added: 'Obviously there has been some mistake. I thought I heard you say that you were closing down the station, but we are here to visit our fellow democracy, Ghana, and democracies don't close down radio stations.'
The goons left. Joy FM never was closed. However, the NDC started to think I was a part of their problem and they assigned a secret service team to follow me around.
As the second round on December 28 approached, we discovered a problem: not enough Indian ink. We had paid for more, but it had to be specially made and would not be ready until December 24.
This was cutting it tight and action was needed. Chartering a private plane to set off from India on Christmas Eve was easier said than done. Whitehall was in festive mode and unlikely to sanction spending quickly, so I used the Embassy's budget to pay for it.
Ghana's government did not want the Indian ink to get in and I was concerned it would be delayed by customs officials. So on Christmas Day 2000, instead of eating turkey, I stood baking on the airport tarmac.
When our plane taxied in, we unloaded the boxes of little ink bottles on to two trucks. I escorted these out of the VIP gateway, helped by a substantial tip to the guards. The truck drivers then delivered the ink to regional centres for distribution to constituencies.
This was a game being played for high stakes, with real danger of civil war. Hotheads in the ruling party might claim electoral fraud and mount a military takeover. The Ashanti could also react violently to losing. Every embassy was updating evacuation plans.
Around 1am, the results started to come in. There was a more or less consistent swing to the opposition candidate, John Kufuor. You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife.
The coolest man in Ghana that night was the wry, chain-smoking Electoral Commissioner, Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, who received constant threatening phone calls instructing him to fix the result.
Fine friends: Craig Murray with President John Kufuor in 2005
Each time, the Electoral Commissioner replied: 'The result will be what the result will be. I am just making sure it is fairly counted.'
Then, taking his umpteenth call, he stiffened. He summoned me to listen: it was his wife. Soldiers had come to their bungalow, taking her and his children hostage and threatening to kill them if he did not deliver the 'right' result.
Kwadwo barked down the phone: 'Put their leader on.'
'Listen you little *****,' he snarled. 'How dare you come to my house and threaten my wife and children. I am sitting here with the British Deputy High Commissioner and he knows what is happening. Now get out of my home before we have you thrown into jail!'
The soldier said: 'Yes, sir; sorry, sir.' Kwadwo then told his wife not to worry and calmly returned to his work.
By 3am on the second night only two constituencies were still to declare. Even if every voter there went for Atta Mills, Kufuor could still not be beaten. The opposition had won - an African country had shown that democratic change could be achieved peacefully.
Kufuor's eight years as president saw economic growth of more than 70 per cent - the first prolonged period since independence when Ghana was not getting poorer.
But Ghanaians chose to exercise their democratic right to change and earlier this month narrowly elected Atta Mills.
Ghana is the only country in Africa to achieve the democratic norm of power alternating peacefully between parties at successive uninterrupted elections.
As I look back on my involvement with Africa over 30 years, I remain most proud of helping Ghanaians to attain democracy. It is an example that, sadly, the rest of the continent has so far done little to follow.
But Ghana remains there - a glimmer of hope, an example to others and a rebuke to cynics who claim democracy is not possible in Africa.
Why Catholic Orangemen march in Togo
Many Ghanaians were converted by Scots Presbyterian missionaries. These Scots Protestants brought with them the cultural rites they mixed with their religion, including Freemasonry, which is strong among Ghana's ruling classes - and even Orange Lodges.
There are more than 30 Orange Lodges in Ghana. They dress in full regalia of orange sash, bowler hat and furled umbrella, and parade to pipe and drum. The umbrella is a symbol of chieftaincy in Ghana, which is why Orange Lodges caught on.
Every year a group of Ghanaian Orangemen visits Belfast for the Orange Parade of July 12. What some of the more bigoted Ulstermen make of these strange comrades is an interesting question. But what they would make of the Orangemen from neighbouring Togo, a predominantly Catholic country?
I was astonished to see, on the streets of Atakpame in Togo's Plateau region, a full-blown Orange parade with perhaps 80 French-speaking Orangemen walking to the beat of drum behind choirboys carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary.
I asked a schoolteacher if the Orangemen were Protestants. He said one or two might be atheists (I think he meant Protestants) but the rest were definitely Catholics.
They have Orange marches in Togo for a simple reason - some of the local chiefs thought it would be fun.
Africa has many marvels, but the Catholic Orangemen's march in Togo is one of the most heart-warming sights I can recall.
Diamonds, and the prosecution that was dropped in minutesI spent 13 years of my Foreign Office career working for Conservative governments, whom I viewed with distaste. How extraordinary, then, to find the Tories' pragmatism more honourable than the reckless contempt for international law Tony Blair introduced.
In 1998, I met Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Spicer, the boss of a company called Sandline, who wanted to talk about Sierra Leone, a country that had been in turmoil for 40 years. Controlling Sierra Leone's diamond mines - usually by employing foreign mercenary guards - was a key factor in controlling the whole country.
Spicer told me and a colleague that Sandline had a contract to provide training for a militia that was prepared to fight for the ousted president, Tejan Kabbah.
He had been democratically elected, but overthrown in a coup. Spicer said the aim was to prepare the militia to retake Sierra Leone.
Spicer then asked me if military items could be exported to a neighbouring country and then on to Sierra Leone. I said no.
It was obvious Spicer was considering the possibility of exporting arms to the ousted government of Sierra Leone. I made it plain that this was not allowed under UN resolutions.
Spicer later claimed, wrongly, that he told the Foreign Office at our meeting that he was exporting arms, and the Foreign Office - that is, me - gave approval.
The money for all this came from Rakesh Saxena, an Indian financier who was prepared to speculate £10million on arms and mercenary support for the ousted president in return for diamond-mining concessions valued at £70million. Blood diamonds, in other words.
It was this contract that Sandline planned to fulfil. And it was this contract that the British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Peter Penfold, recommended to Kabbah on December 19, 1997.
By his own account to me and others in the Foreign Office, Penfold persuaded Kabbah to sign. But a minute he wrote later did not say he had advised Kabbah to sign, only that he had discussed it with him.
On February 5, 1998, a multinational West African force restored Kabbah to the presidency. We believed the Sandline contract had become obsolete after the multinational invasion, so we were surprised by a report that 30 tons of weapons had been seized by the Nigerian army.
The Arms To Africa scandal was front-page news for months. Penfold and Spicer were interviewed under caution by Customs and Excise, who suspected they might have broken the arms embargo.
On May 11, 1998, Tony Blair gave a statement to journalists. Penfold, he said, was 'a hero'. A dictatorship had been overthrown and democracy restored. Penfold had 'done a superb job in trying to deal with the consequences of the military coup'.
It is extraordinary for a Prime Minister to declare a man a hero, when Customs had questioned that man two days earlier under caution.
A few days later, Customs and Excise concluded its investigations and sent a dossier to the Crown Prosecution Service. But the dossier was returned to Customs from the CPS the day it was sent. In effect, it was marked for no further action. There would be no prosecution.
The head of the CPS at that time was Barbara Mills, who is married to John Mills, a former Labour councillor. His brother David is the estranged husband of former Cabinet Minister Tessa Jowell.
Dress to impress: The Queen, during her 1999 visit to Ghana, meets an admirer whose dress is adorned with the Royal portrait
Ghana gang: Craig Murray, centre, with some of the VIPs he encountered: Prince Philip, the Queen, Clare Short and Roger Moore…