OPINION

Letters(received)from Africa

Ex Africa semper aliquid novi – There is always something new out of Africa, Pliny the Elder stated a long time ago. Among the junk e-mail I receive daily (offers to double your investment or your «pleasure in bed» – you must be 21 years of age for that one) there was something new out of Africa a couple of days ago. Two messages. On Thursday, Jan. 10, 2002, just past 6.30 a.m., there appeared a plea for urgent assistance in my mailbox. The first letter came from the son of the late chairman of Sierra Leone’s Gold and Diamond Cooperation, who, after his father’s assassination, searched his family’s villa to find «…the key to my late father’s underground security vault room, where I discovered two metallic trunk boxes containing 38 million US dollars, plus 250 kilos of gold dust.» He was offering a cut of 30 percent of this property (I am quite sure I was not the only recipient of this e-mail) to anyone that could provide a viable bank account, as the above-mentioned e-mail elaborated. Until presently most of us, liberal-minded Greeks, were convinced that all the trouble in Africa had been caused by imperialism (post- or neo-, whatever the prefix was). Recently, we have been hearing that most of Africa’s errors are homemade. Rich in diamonds and military coups after independence in 1961, Sierra Leone’s development has been damaged by acute political instability. Last Friday, when disarmament was wound up in Sierra Leone’s eastern region of Kailahun, the civil war seemed to be at an end. Temporarily, I was inclined to give some credit to this diamond-studded e-mail when the next day – Saturday, Jan. 12, 2002 at 2.08 p.m. – I received an almost identical offer from another African country. This time it came from a dowager from the Ivory Coast, a country once hailed as a model of stability, though no longer. This gentlewoman proposed a mutual business transaction. Unsurprisingly, its coinciding with the previous e-mail made me suspicious. Yet I fell under the sway of the popular images of e-business which so often convey a sense of the near impossible. Be the judge of this letter : «Dear Sir, I am Mrs Joy Charles, an Ivorian widow with an only son, Kingsley Charles. My husband was chief security officer to the ousted President Henry Bedie of the Ivory Coast. During his overthrow on December 24 1999, my husband was killed by the military. After his death, I ran away with my only son. «Dear sir, may I introduce this business proposal to you with reference to an introduction and good recommendation made of you and your esteemed firm by your country’s trade directory through your country’s chamber of commerce. I do hereby wish to ask for your assistance in an urgent business transaction that requires absolute honesty and secrecy. «The former president (Bedie) gave him (my husband) 25,000,000 US dollars in 100,000-dollar bills stacked in a box when he got the information that the military was planning to overthrow him. As soon as my husband was confirmed dead, I made away with this box with my only son so that we cannot be reached by Mr Bedie. I have really been waiting for a more suitable time and opportunity like this to contact you concerning this transaction. «Right now, the money is in a safe place; I deposited it with a security company for safekeeping. I am using this opportunity to seek for your assistance to move this money to your country to be invested on behalf of my only son. I want this business to be concluded immediately. All you need to do is to arrange to meet with me and my son where this box has been kept, open an account in your name, pay in the whole money, and transfer it to your chosen account. We can’t do that on our own because we don’t have an account elsewhere; moreover, we don’t have any business to cover up this money. That is why we need your assistance. «I am ready to offer you 30 percent of the total sum and give you the full power to manage the remaining 70 percent on behalf of my son. Contact my Kingsley Charles where we are currently staying in a sister’s house in Lome in Togo. This money is deposited in the best security company here in Lome, Togo. Upon conclusion of the arrangement, we shall forward to you the certificate of deposit, and the phone and fax numbers of the security company for confirmation. However, call my son at this number: 00228-9904003 immediately you receive this e-mail message or through his e-mail address: [email protected] «Please, I want us to finish this business as quickly as possible. Yours faithfully, Mrs Joy Charles.» Now Africa – often much worse than Washington in the Nixon years, with all those shoeboxes filled with money, break-ins and illegal spying – may always be an ongoing disaster. Yet this kind of e-publicity is guaranteed to put off even the most charitable – if not the hardheaded – foreign investors and traders that this continent needs in the long run. E-success holds a strange allure, especially when in my case I do not own a firm which could have possibly figured in Greece’s trade directory. Nevertheless, prosperity is attainable only by the boldest business people, to whom, alas, I personally do not belong. Therefore, as a good Samaritan, I felt it my duty to communicate this offer to you. After all, as Baroness Margaret Thatcher once said: «No one would remember the good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions. He had money as well.»Which supports a Woody Allen claim that «money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.»