|Monday 25th of November 2019
Lewis Carroll Is Life but A Dream?
A Boat, beneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July –
Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear –
Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.
Still she haunts me, phantomwise.
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.
Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.
In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:
Ever drifting down the stream –
Lingering in the golden gleam –
Life, what is it but a dream?
Is all our Life, then, but a dream?
Seen faintly in the golden gleam
Athwart Time’s dark resistless stream?
Bowed to the earth with bitter woe,
Or laughing at some raree-show,
We flutter idly to and fro.
Man’s little Day in haste we spend,
And, from its merry noontide, send
No glance to meet the silent end.
The Jungle Prince of Delhi @nytimes
For 40 years, journalists chronicled the eccentric royal family of
Oudh, deposed aristocrats who lived in a ruined palace in the Indian
capital. It was a tragic, astonishing story. But was it true?
NEW DELHI — On a spring afternoon in 2016, when I was working in
India, I received a telephone message from a recluse who lived in a
forest in the middle of Delhi.
The message was passed on by our office manager through Gchat, and it
thrilled me so much that I preserved it.
Office manager: Ellen have you been trying to get in touch with the
royal family of Oudh?
Ellen: this has to be the best telephone message ever
Office manager: It was quite strange! The secretary left precise
instructions for when you should call her — tomorrow between 11 am and
Ellen: oh my god
I knew about the royal family of Oudh, of course. They were one of the
city’s great mysteries. Their story was passed between tea sellers and
rickshaw drivers and shopkeepers in Old Delhi: In a forest, they said,
in a palace cut off from the city that surrounds it, lived a prince, a
princess and a queen, said to be the last of a storied Shiite Muslim
There were different versions, depending on whom you spoke to. Some
people said the Oudh family had been there since the British had
annexed their kingdom, in 1856, and that the forest had grown up
around the palace, engulfing it. Some said they were a family of
jinns, the supernatural beings of Arabian folklore.
An acquaintance who had once glimpsed the princess through a telephoto
lens said her hair had not been cut or washed for so many years that
it fell to the ground in matted branches.
One thing was sure: They didn’t want company. They lived in a
14th-century hunting lodge, which they surrounded with loops of razor
wire and ferocious dogs. The perimeter was marked with menacing signs.
INTRUDERS SHALL BE GUNDOWN, said one.
Every few years, the family agreed to admit a journalist, always a
foreigner, to tell of their grievances against the state. The
journalists emerged with deliciously macabre stories, which I had
In 1997, the prince and the princess told The Times of London that
their mother, in a final gesture of protest against the treachery of
Britain and India, had killed herself by drinking a poison mixed with
crushed diamonds and pearls.
I could see why these stories resonated so. The country was imprinted
with trauma, by the epic deceit of the British conquest and then the
blood bath of the British departure, known as Partition, which carved
out Pakistan from India and set off convulsions of Hindu-Muslim
This family, displaying its own ruin, was a physical representation of
all that India had suffered.
A few grainy photographs of the siblings had been published: They were
beautiful, pale and high-cheekboned, but also somehow ravaged,
Nearly every day, dropping my children at school, I drove past the
narrow road that led into the middle of the forest, which was
surrounded by an ornate wrought-iron fence. The woods were so thick
that it was impossible to see much, and inhabited by gangs of monkeys.
At night, you could hear jackals howling.
The day after I got the message, I dialed the phone number. After a
few rings, someone picked up, and I heard a high-pitched, quavering
voice on the other end.
On the following Monday, I asked our driver to take me into the woods
at 5:30 in the afternoon, as instructed.
The woods themselves were a bit magical, a thicket in the middle of a
city of 20 million. British colonial officers had introduced mesquite
trees in the 19th century, and they spread rapidly, swallowing
pastures and roads and villages — everything that had been there
before. Biologists would later describe it as a “massive invasion” by
an “alien species.”
We drove farther, until the tree canopy was tormented, thick enough to
block out the light.
Reader, I should confess that I wanted to write the story.
That week, the contents of my inbox were not inspiring: There had been
a fire at an ammunition depot. There were budget reports, an unending
cycle of state and local elections, the introduction of a goods and
These events, which filled so many of my days at that time, did not
entirely satisfy my literary urge. The House of Oudh, now that was a
The person on the phone had told me to leave the car at the end of the
road, beside the high wall of an Indian military compound, and to come
alone. This did not surprise me:
The Oudh family refused, famously, to meet with Indians. I asked the
driver to wait at a distance and stood in the woods, somewhat
awkwardly, holding my notebook and wondering what came next.
Then the bushes rustled, and a man appeared.
He was elfin and wore high-waisted mom jeans. He had high cheekbones
with hollows beneath them and wild gray hair that stood up in tufts.
“I am Cyrus,” the prince said. It was the high-pitched voice I had
heard on the phone. He spoke in bursts, like a person who spent most
of his time alone.
Then he turned and led me into the woods. I tried to keep up, stepping
over a tangle of roots and thorns, and climbed a flight of massive
stone stairs leading to the old hunting lodge.
It was half-ruined, open to the air, and surrounded by metal gratings;
one steel bar was loose, and the prince moved it aside with a great
clank so that we could enter.
I stepped into spare, medieval grandeur, a bare stone antechamber
lined with palm trees in brass pots and faded, once-elegant carpets.
On the wall hung an oil painting of the prince’s mother swathed in
voluminous, dark robes, her eyes closed as if in a trance.
The prince led me up to the roof to show me the view. We stopped at
the edge of the building, gazing across green treetops to the dusty
city, shimmering in the heat.
Other great cities may be built on top of ruins, but Delhi is built of
them. It is almost impossible to go from one point to another without
stumbling over a 700-year-old tomb or a 500-year-old fort.
Seven successive Muslim dynasties built their capitals here, each
swept aside when its time had passed. The ruins are a reminder that
the present dispensation — democracy, Starbucks, Hindu nationalism —
is only the blink of an eye in India. We were here, they seem to
breathe. This was ours.
My idea was to interview the prince and write the story. When I asked
about his family, he launched into an animated speech about the
perfidy of the British and Indian governments.
I recognized quotes from articles I had read, written by colleagues
from The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The
Los Angeles Times.
He ranted a little, complaining of persecution by a criminal gang. He
was flinging his hands wide, declaiming and then dropping to a
dramatic whisper, as he spoke of the decline of the house of Oudh.
“I am shrinking,” he said. “We are shrinking. The princess is
shrinking. We are shrinking.”
When I asked if I could publish our interview, he balked. For this, he
said, I would need the permission of his sister, Princess Sakina, who
was not in Delhi. I would have to come back.
It struck me as strange, though.
Why summon a journalist if you don’t want to be written about?
How It Began
The story began with his mother. She appeared, on the platform of New
Delhi’s train station in the early 1970s, seemingly from nowhere,
announcing herself as Wilayat, Begum of Oudh.
Oudh (pronounced Uh-vud) was a kingdom that no longer existed. The
British annexed it in 1856, a trauma from which its capital, Lucknow,
never recovered. The core of the city is still made of Oudh’s vaulted
shrines and palaces.
The begum declared that she would stay in the station until these
properties had been restored to her. She settled in the V.I.P. waiting
room, and unloaded a whole household there: carpets, potted palms, a
silver tea set, Nepali servants in livery, glossy Great Danes.
She also had two grown children, Prince Ali Raza and Princess Sakina,
a son and a daughter who appeared to be in their 20s. They addressed
her as “Your Highness.”
The begum was an arresting-looking woman, tall and broad-shouldered,
with a face as craggy and immobile as an Easter Island statue. She
wore a sari of dark, heavy silk and kept a pistol in its folds. She
and her children settled on red plastic chairs, and waited. For years.
“Sitting, sitting like yogis,” recalled Father John, a Catholic
charity worker who distributed food in the train station. The children
were strangely submissive, he said, reluctant even to accept a banana
without their mother’s permission.
“They were more obedient than the dogs,” he said. “They were
absolutely under her control.”
The begum’s behavior was imperious and dramatic. She refused direct
conversation, demanding that queries be written on embossed
stationery, placed on a silver platter and carried to her by a
servant, who read them aloud. If the station master gave her any
trouble, she threatened to kill herself by drinking snake venom.
“The Nepali servants, they would walk on their knees,” said Saleem
Kidwai, a historian who sought them out at the time.
Government officials scrambled to find her somewhere to live. She was
attracting attention from the media, and officials feared the Shiite
population in Lucknow could explode into civil unrest if they believed
she was being abused.
“It was such a romantic image,” Mr. Kidwai said. “She is out of the
castle, now living in the railway station.”
Ammar Rizvi, an aide to the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, was sent
to New Delhi as a liaison. He recalled handing Wilayat an envelope
with 10,000 rupees so that they could set up a household in Lucknow.
“In 1975, that was a big sum,” he recalled. “But she got angry and
threw the envelope. The notes were flying everywhere, and my public
relations officer had to catch this note here, that note there. She
said no, she would not go, the amount was very little.”
In the months that followed, Mr. Rizvi tried to persuade the begum to
accept a four-bedroom house in Lucknow, but she refused, saying it was
He was getting anxious. Muslims were mobilizing; once, Mr. Rizvi
visited during Muharram, an annual ritual of mourning, and found her
surrounded by pilgrims, flagellating themselves with chains to which
razor blades had been attached.
“Poor passengers, they were looking at the whole scene,” he said.
“There was blood all over the place.”
Around this time, Wilayat identified a far more effective way to make
her case: foreign correspondents.
“India Princess Reigns in Rail Station,” a Times correspondent wrote
in 1981, describing her “genuine commitment to redeem the ancestors,
to right wrongs suffered over centuries and to obtain justice.”
People magazine recorded her declaring, “Let the world know how the
descendant of the last nawab of Oudh is treated.”
Foreign correspondents arrived, one after another, and readers began
to send letters from all corners of the world, expressing outrage on
her behalf. The begum imposed stringent conditions — she “could only
be photographed when the moon was waning,” United Press International
reported — and journalists complied, delighted with the Gothic
peculiarity of it all.
In 1984, her efforts paid off. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi accepted
their claim, granting them use of a 14th century hunting lodge known
as Malcha Mahal. They left the train station roughly a decade after
they first appeared there. Wilayat never appeared in public again.
Stranded on a Lifeboat
My responsibilities in New Delhi included a great many diplomatic
receptions and buffet dinners, which I found exhausting. It was like
being drawn into an imperial court, in which every personal
relationship was a series of transactions — exchanges, usually, of
bits of status for bits of information. I did not have the clothes for
this kind of work, or the personality.
So I found it a relief to drive into the forest and sit on Cyrus’s
porch, eating pistachios and watching motes of pollen circulate in the
In a meandering, roundabout way, I was trying to excavate his past. I
felt flattered that he allowed me in, again and again, when so many
others had been turned away. And yet something also nagged at me about
the little family unit, the way they seemed to have scoured away any
relationships from before their appearance at the train station.
When our conversations had gone on for about nine months, I traveled
to Lucknow, a large city in northern India that was the cradle of the
Oudh dynasty. I was there to interview detectives for an unrelated
story, but I knew that Cyrus had lived there with his mother and
sister in the 1970s, so I went to the neighborhood where I had heard
that Oudh descendants lived.
There, to my surprise, the old-timers remembered Cyrus and his family.
But they told me, almost as an aside, that they had been dismissed as
impostors. The Oudh descendants in Kolkata, where the nawab died in
exile, had also rejected their claim. And there were questions Cyrus
himself seemed unable to answer. Where was he born? Who was his
father? How do you crush diamonds, anyway?
His sister, Princess Sakina, had not turned up but he gave me a book
that she had written, documenting their lives. The book was almost
unreadable, haphazardly capitalized, lacking punctuation and written
in florid, apocalyptic prose.
But sprinkled in the rambling text were flashes of genuine tenderness
between the siblings, as if they were two small children, stranded
together on a lifeboat.
Sakina wrote that she had intended to follow her mother into suicide,
but for her brother. The question of his future nagged at her. “ABOUT
PRINCE CYRUS RIZA MY BROTHER WHAT STEP SHALL HE FOLLOW?” it says. “MY
SILENT SINCEREST SILENCE HAS A WISH THAT PRINCE SHOULD BE BLESSED WITH
One night Cyrus called me, howling unintelligibly, to tell me that his
sister had in fact died seven months earlier. He had told no one,
burying her body himself. He had lied to me about it for months, and
seemed a bit ashamed by it. I curled up on my daughter’s bunk bed and
listened to his voice over the phone. He said that I should never
visit again, and also that he was so lonely.
I waited a few days, and then showed up with a Filet O’ Fish from
McDonald’s. Our relationship seemed to knit itself back together. He
asked me to procure him a gun and a girlfriend, which I did not; and a
tarpaulin and a recording of “Fiddler on the Roof,” which I did. He
was solicitous and a little corny, with pop culture references that
seemed to date from the 1960s.
Once, he asked me to kiss him on the cheek — his skin felt fragile,
like tissue paper — and he told me that it was the first time he had
been kissed in 10 years. “When you are over here, my heart goes
doopity doo, Sophia Loren,” he said.
He even said I could write something about him, as long as I didn’t go
into much detail.
“I have to tell the truth,” I told him.
“O.K., you have to tell the truth,” he said. “Then again, there is a
hole in the bucket, Harry Belafonte.”
We had been debating this for 15 months, and I was due to leave India
soon and take up a new assignment in London. This sort of exchange
made up the balance of our final conversations: I was trying to get
him to reveal something about his origins — anything, really — and he
was twisting away from me.
“You are just a very mysterious person, because I don’t know who you
are,” I said once. His response was coy.
“Oh really,” he said, in a singsong voice. “Well, anyway. Oh, really?
If you have said me mysterious, I am just sitting before you.”
In our last conversation, a few hours before I boarded a flight for
London, he asked me how someone could get word to me, should he die. I
asked if he planned to commit suicide.
“So far, I am going to preserve myself,” he said.
“Good. Well, then, I’ll see you again,” I said.
I think I hugged him goodbye. The last I saw of him, he was replacing
the clanking iron bars that protected him from intruders.
Death of a Rajah
Three months later, I was in an airport, on my way home from
interviewing the Swedish foreign minister, when I learned Cyrus had
died. I got the news on Facebook messenger, from a friend at the BBC.
I put down my bag and sat on the airport floor, feeling a little in shock.
This feeling was partly selfish. I had a thick file of interviews in a
manila envelope labeled “Prince Cyrus.”
I had figured that, in this family’s story, there was a parable about
India, something about trauma that went unresolved as one empire
And then there was a second feeling. I was sad that I was not there to
help him. I had enjoyed our conversations, the maddening dance of 18
months. I could not believe that he had died alone in that forsaken
I was sure that in the dark, he had wanted someone to hold his hand.
Thinking about this made it difficult to breathe. I stayed there for a
moment, in the corridor at the airport, while people hurried past,
rolling suitcases behind them.
It was the guards at the military facility next door — they called him
“rajah,” or king — who later recounted how he had died.
Three weeks after we said goodbye, he was seen trying to wheel his
bicycle down the road, shaking violently. An electrician from the
military facility helped him to his feet, and he staggered back to the
hunting lodge. He asked for a bottle of lemonade and an ice cream.
Rajinder Kumar, one of the guards, said it seemed to be dengue fever.
I’ve had dengue. It’s like being wiped off the face of the earth. For
me, it began with a penetrating ache in my shoulder, and then, as I
sweated through the hotel sheets, hallucinations. My senses were
altered. When I drank water from the tap, it tasted like a mouthful of
I don’t know what Cyrus hallucinated. His illness may have progressed
into hemorrhagic fever, with bleeding from the gums and nose, and
under the skin. Patients dying of hemorrhagic fever sometimes have
such low blood pressure that no pulse can be detected. Rajinder said
Cyrus had refused to be taken to the hospital.
“Madam, I really tried very hard,” he said. “I said we would call the
police, we would take you to the hospital, but no, no, no. We are
outsiders, third-party people, we can’t apply that kind of pressure.
Had we been family we could have just taken his hand and taken him.”
Rajinder thought it came down to pride.
“He used to have the attitude that he was the king,” he said. “That is
why he did not want to go to the hospital, that he did not want to be
a normal person.”
His illness lasted eight days. A boy, sent up to check on his welfare,
saw him stalking the property half-clothed, naked from the waist down,
or shivering under a mosquito net. Then, after a day or so, no one saw
him, and the boy found him dead, curled on the rock floor.
The White Whale
I climbed the stone stairs to Malcha Mahal several months later with a
kind of curiosity that was in some ways like greed.
I had returned to India for a few days, to see what I could find among
It is legitimate to ask why I was doing all this. I asked it myself.
“Is Cyrus a white whale?” was the subject line of an email I sent my editor.
Stories like that had always flipped a switch in me, spilling outside
the boundaries of the assignment. Something similar had happened to me
once, years before, when I pieced together the life story of a woman
who had stabbed her children in a basement.
I had become curious — O.K., obsessively curious — about how a family
with wealth and status had become lost in the forest. About who they
Stories like that had always flipped a switch in me, spilling outside
the boundaries of the assignment. Something similar had happened to me
once, years before, when I pieced together the life story of a woman
who had stabbed her children in a basement.
When I felt I was making progress it was a calming feeling, as though
a cloud of buzzing, disparate information were being forced through a
funnel, into a clear stream. Small breakthroughs would drive me
forward, like a gambler. On such assignments it was possible to forget
unpaid bills, unanswered telephone calls, to set aside anything not
required to follow the trail.
Cyrus and his family had lived through a great historical rupture: the
country’s division. My sense was that the answer lay there, in an act
of government that disrupted the lives of half a continent. But what
made me think I could track them down after all these years? Say I did
— what could be more interesting than the story they told about
This is what was going through my head as I climbed those stairs.
Cyrus’s death had received lots of media coverage, inside India and
abroad, and thrill seekers had tramped through Malcha Mahal, taking
video with their phones, hoping to see a ghost. The floor of the entry
hall was a havoc of discarded papers that had been dumped from the
wardrobe and chest of drawers.
I leafed through the letters, looking for a birth certificate, a
passport, something that anchored this family in the factual world.
What I found instead was a chronicle of 30 years of interactions with
journalists. This, it seemed, was the family business. There were
dozens of requests from reporters. I have written enough letters of
this kind in my life to recognize their pleading tone. Some were
written in elaborate, courtly language. Others offered money.
Sitting there on the carpet, I laughed out loud. Cyrus and his family
would string them along — as he had strung me along — and then, when
the mood struck them, disdainfully refuse the interview. The Oudhs
were the ones with the story. They had the upper hand.
Among the family papers was a column from The Statesman, published in
1993, with the headline “When History Is Based on Errors.” Two
paragraphs had been marked.
“Have you noticed that a factual error appearing in respected printed
form tends to be copied by other researchers in the same field, until,
inevitably, it competes with the truth for credibility?” it read.
“The writers who perpetuate these mistakes rarely do so from evil
motive: They have no axe to grind, they simply do not have time to
check and double-check each fact, so they rely on the scholarship of
Two things genuinely surprised me.
The first was a stack of receipts for regular, small transfers of cash
through Western Union from a city in the industrial north of England.
The sender identified himself as a “half brother.”
The other thing was a letter. It was handwritten on fragile, blue
airmail stationery and sent in 2006. It was cranky yet intimate,
conveying both annoyance and concern, a letter that could only have
been written by a relative.
“I am in so much pain that I cannot go to the toilet even,” the writer
began, and, after an extensive catalog of physical ailments, went on
to complain about the burden of providing continuous financial support
for Wilayat and her children. He was obviously not a rich man.
“For God’s sake, try to sort yourselves out financially, in case
anything goes wrong with me,” the writer told them, appending
information for the latest Western Union transfer. “May God help us
The letter was signed “Shahid,” and it was sent from an address in
The Last Nawab
Let us pause, for a moment, to consider the tragedy of the house of Oudh.
In the mid-19th century, the British East India Company had
accelerated its consumption of Indian kingdoms. Having guzzled Punjab
and Sindh, it set its ambitions on Oudh, a territory roughly the size
of South Carolina.
Oudh was ruled at the time by a nawab, or provincial governor, named
Wajid Ali Shah, a dreamy aesthete who spent his time orchestrating
lavish entertainments in a harem that he called the Parikhana, or
“abode of fairies.” He thought the British were his allies, because
his great-uncle had extended them vast loans.
The British thought otherwise. They stripped the nawab of his kingdom
on the grounds of mismanagement, thrusting into his hands a treaty
declaring that “the territories of Oude shall be henceforth vested for
ever, in the Honorable East India Company.”
The nawab wept, solemnly removed his turban and placed it in the envoy’s hands.
Soon thereafter, he set off for exile in Calcutta, and Lucknow was
cast into mourning, the historian Rosie Llewellyn-Jones recalls in her
biography of Wajid Ali Shah. “The body of the town was left soulless,”
Zahuruddin Bilgrami wrote at that time. “Grief rained down from every
door and wall. There was no lane, bazaar, or dwelling which did not
wail in our full agony of separation.”
The nawab’s mother, in seclusion, sailed to Britain in a desperate
attempt to plead her case with Queen Victoria, something the wags at
Punch magazine found hilarious:
The Queen of Oude
Of regions rich and juicy
Their milk and honey
I mean their money
Squeezed out by Lord Dalhousie
Oudh was finished. The vanished kingdom would hang over Lucknow like a pall.
I returned to Lucknow, and took a cab to a warren of residential
streets tucked behind the grand shrines and palaces of the old city.
This is where I had encountered witnesses who could remember Cyrus and
his family. Horses pulled carts through the narrow lanes, and I could
hear tinny music playing on a radio. Nostalgia for Oudh was a cottage
industry here. Everywhere I went, I saw the image of the last nawab,
Wajid Ali Shah, his expression dreamy, one nipple poking out of his
Then there were the descendants. Because Wajid Ali Shah had hundreds
of wives and concubines, people identifying themselves as descendants
are all over the place in Lucknow, fighting like polecats over the
veracity of one another’s claims.
When I asked about the family, I encountered instant recognition: Yes,
three of them had moved into this complex for a few months in the
Abrar Hussain, who had worked for Wilayat as a servant, said the
family had caused a sensation, especially among Shiites. Ordinary
people were moved to tears at the sight of them, and some were so awed
by the begum — so convinced that she was their returning queen — that
they refused to turn their backs to her, walking backward, out of
“It wasn’t just me — the whole public was coming to see her, and was
going crazy,” he said. “People would cry to see her in this
But the older men who presided over the neighborhood, mostly
descendants of members of the nawab’s court, said the family were
impostors. Sayyed Suleiman Naqvi, a former code-breaker for the Indian
Army, said he had posed as a journalist in order to check Wilayat’s
“She said, ‘We have got documentary evidence.’ I said, ‘Get it.’ She
said, ‘I will give it only to those persons who are in authority.’ She
showed us certain pieces of crockery and all that, which were of
course antiques,” recalled Mr. Naqvi, now in his late 70s. “But she
did not show us any documents.”
The family left Lucknow abruptly, he said. Something had happened: An
elderly aunt said she recognized Wilayat from before Partition. The
aunt said Wilayat was an ordinary woman then, the young wife of a
Mr. Naqvi, who considers himself a keen student of human nature, said
he believed they were frauds, but that they were not motivated by
“To my mind, this lady was a megalomaniac,” he said finally. “She
should have been psychologically tested.”
His assessment of her children, however, was quite different. “They
believed their mother,” he said, “because she was their mother.”
Everything I had learned in India was fragmentary, neighborhood gossip
unbottled after 40 years.
I returned to London with three real leads. The airmail letter from
Yorkshire. That name, Shahid. The Western Union receipts, testament
that someone had been caring for Cyrus and his family in secret all
I took a train to Bradford, and walked to the address on the envelope.
It was a gray, windblown day, and the walk took me past pawnshops,
cheap Chinese takeout joints and dinky rowhouses of yellow brick,
nearly all of them occupied by immigrants from India and Pakistan.
I arrived, finally, at a small, neat brick house that was surrounded
by a large collection of ceramic garden gnomes, teddy bears, Yorkies,
mermaids and fairies.
I was so nervous that I paced in front of the house for a while before
ringing the bell.
The door swung open, and before me stood a man in tiger-print pajamas.
He was barrel-chested and broad-shouldered, and looked to be in his
mid-80s. He did not look well: His eyes were rheumy, his chest sunken.
But he had Cyrus’s face, the same jutting cheekbones and hawk nose.
He led me inside, showed me to a chair and then lay down on a cot. His
movements were laborious. He glanced without expression at the
photographs I had brought with me. When I offered to play him a
recording of Cyrus’s voice, he shook his head in refusal, saying it
would be too painful.
Beside his sickbed were two framed pictures of Wilayat.
This was Shahid. He was Cyrus’s older brother.
And now, finally, there were some facts.
They were, or had been, an ordinary family.
Their father had been the registrar of Lucknow University, Inayatullah Butt.
My friend’s name was not Prince Cyrus, or Prince Ali Raza, or Prince anything.
He was plain old Mickey Butt.
Here, in this brick house in West Yorkshire, I had found it: The
identity that Cyrus and his family had worked so hard to keep secret.
Shahid, who spent his adult life working in an iron foundry, could
remember a life before Oudh, when they had housemaids and school
uniforms. When their mother was not a rebel queen, but a housewife.
Before long, Shahid’s wife, Camellia, came home. She was a friendly,
plain-spoken Lancashire woman, animated on the subject of the Labour
Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, (whom she despised) and her husband (whom
she adored). The two of them met in 1968, when she wore her hair in a
blond beehive and Shahid was built like a heavyweight boxer; in those
days, she said, dreamily, he could fight four men at once.
She never met her husband’s mother, but had corresponded with her for
years. She thought the story about Oudh was, as she put it, “a bloody
“What was wrong with this woman?” she said of Wilayat. “I believed
every word of it at the beginning, but now I doubt all of it. It’s
very hard to get Shahid to talk about it. I think it’s painful. I
think he was led to believe it was true. Then, as he got older, he
realized it was all built on sand.”
Shahid ran away when he was about 14, then emigrated to Britain and
rarely mentioned his mother’s claim to the royal house of Oudh. When I
asked him about that story, he was evasive. He said he wasn’t even
sure whether he was Indian or Pakistani.
“I’m so confused, I don’t know who I am,” he said. “I am like a bird,
a long lost bird, a lost lamb.”
I kept asking questions but Shahid was preoccupied by the news of
Cyrus’s death — he called him Mickey — and that no one knew exactly
where he was buried.
“I should have saved him,” he said.
‘It was a lie’
Now, all of a sudden, the field of witnesses had expanded. There were
other relatives, respectable people, scattered across Pakistan,
Britain and the United States.
Cyrus’s oldest brother, Salahuddin Zahid Butt, was a pilot in the
Pakistani Air Force, a war hero who bombed Indian positions in the
1965 war. He died in 2017, but his wife, Salma, lived in Texas. I
She said her mother-in-law’s claim to royal descent was false.
“She thought she was the princess of Oudh, but this was never, ever,”
she said of Wilayat. “We never heard this history about the princess
of this, the princess of that. She obviously had some mental
Two of Cyrus’s older cousins, Wahida and Khalida, were still in
Lahore, so I flew to Pakistan to see them. I parked beside an open
sewer full of black, seething water, and walked down a trash-choked
alleyway and knocked on a wooden door. It opened into a spacious
compound, eerily quiet and green, with rosebushes in bloom.
The cousins were hunched, birdlike women in their 70s.
Wahida had worked for many years as a teacher, and barely spoke. She
seemed to communicate by slapping people, hard, across the face. She
wandered from one of us to the other, looking for someone to slap.
Once, it was me. Mostly it was my interpreter, whose face hardened
into a permanent wince. Khalida did most of the talking.
She remembered Wilayat as a tempestuous young woman, but said they
hadn’t seen her since the late 1960s, when she suddenly left Pakistan
and returned to India. They seemed unwilling to say anything further.
After listening to them discuss other subjects for an hour, I pressed
the issue, conscious of the passage of time.
“Ask her, did you ever hear that your family was related to the royal
nawabs of Oudh?” I relayed to my interpreter.
“I have no idea,” Khalida answered.
“Wilayat said she was the queen of Oudh,” I told them. “She told the
Indian government that for many, many years.”
“She was lying,” Khalida said.
I prodded them for hours, until I was tired and frustrated.
“Wilayat is dead,” I said. “Her children are dead. There is no secret anymore.”
“Everything is a lie,” Khalida said. “They are dead. Just leave them.
God forgives them, so we should also forgive them.”
Trying to get Shahid to speak about his mother and siblings was painful.
He would get stuck at a particular moment in the story, when his
mother sent him out to buy bananas and he fled the family. Camellia
said that, to this day, he would not eat bananas. She thought it was
Besides, he was becoming sicker and sicker. It wasn’t a chest
infection, but lung cancer that had metastasized to his lymph nodes.
Camellia would not think of allowing him to be admitted to the
hospital, but nursed him in the front room until there was nothing to
do but give him painkillers.
On my fourth visit to Bradford, the last time I saw him, his voice was
raspy, but he told me more than he ever had before.
The story, as he told it, began at Partition.
On June 3, 1947, the British viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, announced that
the withdrawal of British Empire would create two independent nations,
with Pakistan carved out for Muslims. Lucknow’s educated Muslims began
slipping away overnight, headed for Pakistan’s new capital, where they
would make up the DNA of a new elite. There were letters promising
juicy promotions. And there were, on the other hand, rumors of
violence if they stayed.
Shahid’s parents had to make an immediate decision between India or
Pakistan. His mother, Wilayat Butt, had never been so happy as she was
in Lucknow. She was fiery and strong. Shahid has an image of her,
striding out onto her balcony in Lucknow in jodhpurs and riding boots,
slapping her thigh with a crop. She simply refused to leave.
But then came one afternoon in the crumbling elegance of the nawab’s
city. Shahid’s father — a man in distinguished middle age, wearing
wire-rimmed glasses — was riding his bicycle home when he was
surrounded by Hindu youths, who began beating him with hockey sticks.
He soon decided to move the whole family to Pakistan, where, in the
great reshuffling, he had been offered a job overseeing the new
country’s civil aviation agency.
He was right to worry; over the months that followed, the city of his
youth, Lahore, would be bathed in blood.
“We were children,” recalled Salma, Wilayat’s daughter-in-law. “Riots
were on, and we couldn’t go out at all. Weeks and weeks, the dead
bodies were lying around, and when we went to the bazaar to get our
food there was so much rioting and robbing, people were robbing. At
night it would be very frightening, you could hear people crying and
shooting and stabbing. We would be sitting next to the window and
Wilayat followed her husband, Shahid told me, but she never accepted
his decision to leave India. She was obsessed with what she had left
behind. In her mind, the grudge sprouted and germinated, and her
behavior became volatile. Then her husband suddenly died. Now with all
restraining influence on her gone, furious over the expropriation of
her property, she accosted Pakistan’s prime minister at a public
appearance, Shahid said, and slapped him.
This changed things for Wilayat. She was no longer a well-connected
widow, but something shadier.
She was confined to a mental hospital in Lahore for six months after
that — the only way, Shahid said, to avoid a long prison sentence.
Shahid remembers visiting her there, among the wails and curses of the
patients. “It was horrible,” he said. “Women tied up with chains. One
poor girl was chained up to a wall. It was four chains. And she was
swinging. And spitting at everybody who went past.”
Salma said that Wilayat was given electroshock therapy. “They said she
was mental,” she said. “They gave her all these injections.”
When she was free, Wilayat gathered up her youngest children without
warning, packed trunks with carpets and jewelry, and smuggled it all
back into India, with the goal of reclaiming her property. Shahid set
out with them but eventually walked away. He could not put into words
why he left. His story flickers out here.
Early this month, Shahid died in the front room of his house, holding
It was Partition that ruined his mother, set her on the course toward
the ruined palace, Shahid had told me. “We had to start all over
again,” he said.
In the early 1970s, still empty-handed, increasingly bizarre in her
behavior, Wilayat announced to the world that she was the queen of
Oudh, demanding the vast properties of a kingdom that no longer
An ordinary grievance, unaddressed, had metastasized to become an epic one.
They took on new identities: Farhad became Princess Sakina,
occasionally Princess Alexandrina; Mickey became Prince Ali Raza, and
later called himself Prince Cyrus. They no longer made any mention of
their Pakistani relatives, or the spacious family house in Lahore that
was waiting for them should they return. Maybe they forgot it existed.
They seemed to shed their past entirely, to come from nowhere.
The rest of the story you already know.
They were so convincing, and so insistent, that for 40 years people
The City of the Dead
So there it is: I have plundered their secret. Cyrus would have hated
it. He refused to answer questions about his past; it was one of the
essential themes of our friendship.
I try to imagine how he would react to all this. His father on his
bicycle, being beaten with hockey sticks. His mother in a mental
hospital where women were chained to the wall. His older brother
running away, abandoning him. Mickey Butt, the name he had left
There is no nice way to put this. I am unraveling the story that was
the central work of their lives. It is impossible to know, now that he
and his sister are dead, whether they even knew it wasn’t all true.
Either way, this article would have crushed him.
And yet, why do you invite a journalist into your life, if you do not
expect this to happen? That is like asking a dog not to bark. I must
admit, it offends me a little when people think they can lie to
But even today there are plenty of autorickshaw drivers in Old Delhi
who will tell you about the prince who lived in the jungle. And they
will be telling that story long after mine has come and gone.
I was reminded of this on my last trip to Delhi. I visited the
cemetery where Cyrus is buried. I had an idea of placing a stone
there, something that said Prince Cyrus of Oudh.
But he had been buried as an unclaimed body, assigned the number
DD33B. Unclaimed bodies are marked only with chips of stone, and small
mounds extend in all directions, to the vanishing point. After
wandering the cemetery for what seemed like hours, I sat down, sweaty
“He is lost in a city of the dead,” I wrote in my notebook.
My colleague Suhasini was haranguing the clerk, urging him to look
through his ledger one more time, when I realized that a man was
warming himself beside a stove, listening intently.
He then stood up and presented himself, rather formally. He was
Mohammad Aslam Chowdhury, a seller of electrical wiring from Old
He was wearing a voluminous, cheap-looking tweed jacket, and had a
squiff of hair, dyed jet black. He presented a plastic folder and
showed me its contents. It was filled with newspaper clippings about
He said he carried the clippings to remind himself how swiftly earthly
“In Old Delhi, this was the only topic of conversation,” he said.
“People were saying such a big king passed away like this, in such a
way that nobody knew him. How could the scion of such an illustrious
royal family get lost in the darkness of oblivion?”
As he spoke of Cyrus’s death, Mr. Chowdhury became distressed.
“I feel really emotional about this, that something like this can
happen on an earth made by God,” he cried out, as the other people in
the clerk’s office turned to stare. “O destiny, tell me why you are
angry with me. What I have done wrong?”
I glanced incredulously at my interpreter: Could this really be
happening? But Mr. Chowdhury was in his own world. The story of the
royals of Oudh had sounded a note within him. He would be telling the
story for years, I realized.
“If a person like this has gone into oblivion, and had this death of
anonymity,” he said, wonderingly, “what can you say about the death of
Humans are three-dimensional creatures ruled by sight and instinct. We are born with two eyes on the front of our head. This is a predatory trait. We live in X-Y-Z space, defining things by their length, width, and depth. @man_integrated
Some, though, have mastered the 4th Dimension...
Time is the 4th Dimension. It imparts scale and scope for movement in
the 3rd Dimension. It is nebulous, powerful, intransigent. Time is the
only certainty we have - our lives begin at one point, and ends at
another. But, it has rules, and can be manipulated for gain.
Time is merely our perception of the duration between events. It is
fluid. Standardization was necessary to make society operate more
smoothly, but... Time, like water, simply fills the shape of its
container. In conflict, that container is your competition's mind.
It IS possible to operate in the 4th Dimension, consistently. In fact,
it is ESSENTIAL to do so. Action follows perception. Perception,
however, is a REACTION to externalities to the untrained mind. The
goal, then, is step into your opponent's 4th Dimension.
Not only to step into his Time, but to seize control of it through a
deliberate process. This is called being "inside his loop". I have
preached and preached on the OODA Loop for this reason. It's the
mechanism by which one enter his opponent's Time and takes control.
The key is to vary tempo and shifts in energy-states to confuse and
distract. Tempo is not speed. Speed is an absolute value limited by
mechanics and physics. Tempo is relative to the flow of the conflict.
It is cadence, rhythm, crescendo, decrescendo.
When you take bold action, you're initiating control of your
opponent's Time domain. When you modulate your vocal pace, you're
using Time to soothe or amplify his emotions. When you delay an
expected attack to generate nervous tension, you're wielding Time as a
Taking control of the Time domain begins a conceptual spiral. When you
begin to compress and contract the opponent's Time, he reacts to
outdated information. You have done X, then shifted tempo and moved to
Y action. He is still reacting to X.
In war, this might be a series of feints, executed on a staggered
timeline to draw enemy forces onto more favorable terrain. You have
used Time to shift the 3rd Dimension in your favor. This is how you
control minds, and manifest your will into reality.
In business, Time rules all. It is how money compounds exponentially.
It is how one can use the inertia of a larger competitor against them.
The power of memetic action is its rapidity at turning an idea into
cultural received wisdom.
Toyota is legendary for its lean business practices, most notably the
revolution of the JIT ("just in time") supply chain. By controlling
the Time domain, Toyota cut costs and improved per-dollar output.
Amazon became an e-com juggernaut through its 2-day Prime program.
Control of the Time domain is my competitive advantage in business.The
difficulty in supply chain is not just getting a widget to ship at a
cheap price, without damage. It's being able to compress the time
between each node of the chain.
This is the weakness in the dropship e-com model espoused by so many
gurus on Twitter/LinkedIn. You, the seller, are relying on accurate
service and timely delivery to the buyer. By disintermediating
yourself, you give up the ability to tap into your buyers' Time
How long does it take the buyer to purchase and receive? What are the
time gaps in the transaction? Say they might love your widget and want
to buy more - they won't know until it arrives on the slow boat from
China. Giving up Time has reduced revenue.
If you want to win, at anything, you must master the 4th Dimension. It
is the hidden energy connecting Things and Space. When you can
generate and control your opponent's conceptual spiral, you have
conquered him. This will place you in the top .1% of human excellence.
With three million voters casting ballots, pro-democracy candidates captured 389 of 452 elected seats, up from only 124 and far more than they have ever won. @nytimes
Law & Politics
With one race undecided, the government’s allies held just 57 seats, a
remarkable collapse from 300.
“There has been a very deep awakening of the Hong Kong people,” said
Alan Leong, chairman of the Civic Party, one of the largest
The district councils are among the most democratic bodies in Hong
Kong. Almost all the seats are directly elected, unlike the
legislature, where the proportion is just over half.
The territory’s chief executive is also not chosen directly by voters,
but is instead selected by a committee stacked in favor of Beijing.
The election results will give democracy forces considerably more
influence on that committee, which is scheduled to choose a new chief
executive in 2022.
The district councils name about a tenth of the group's 1,200 members,
and now all of these will flip from pro-Beijing to pro-democracy
seats. Democracy advocates already control about a quarter of the
seats, while other previously pro-Beijing sectors of the committee are
now starting to lean toward democracy, most notably accountants and
real estate lawyers.
Mr. Leong, the Civic Party chairman, called on the Chinese Communist
Party to change its policies in Hong Kong.
“Unless the C.C.P. is doing something concrete to address the concerns
of the Hong Kong people,” he said, “I think this movement cannot end.”
25-NOV-2019 :: If Iran Wants to Eat, it Has to Obey the US
Law & Politics
Iran's 'only crime is we decided not to fold' said Javad Zarif the
Foreign Minister of Iran as reported by the Asia Times' Pepe Escobar.
Zarif evoked Secretary Mike Pompeo [who is apparently trying to
parachute himself out of the State Department and back to Kansas -
Ukraine refers] : “Today the Secretary of State of the United States
says publicly: ‘If Iran wants to eat, it has to obey the United
Since 1979 and except for a brief interregnum during the Presidency of
Barack Hussein Obama, the US has been determined on a collision course
with the ''Velayat-e Faqih'' [Velayat-e faqih also known as Islamic
Government (Persian: حکومت اسلامی, Hokumat-i Eslami), is a book by
the Iranian Muslim cleric, faqīh, and revolutionary Ayatollah Ruhollah
Khomeini, first published in 1970, and probably the most influential
document written in modern times in support of theocratic rule] Regime
in Tehran. The End of the brief interregnum to which I referred was
pronounced and of course theatrically when President Trump pulled the
U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal, a pact which had traded limits on
Iran’s nuclear fuel program for a relaxation of international
sanctions. President Trump has been a big Proponent of coercive,
financial, currency and sanction warfare and his Policy of ''maximum
pressure'' on Iran is that Policy's apogee.
The Shia crescent is burning from Syria through Lebanon, from Iraq to
Yemen but Tehran has always been the Prize.
Bloomberg asked last week ''Iran Unrest Raises a Question: Is 'Maximum
Pressure' Working?'' @Bpolitics. Anti-government protests in Iran left
buses and banks burned, hundreds under arrest, the Internet blocked
and an unconfirmed number of people dead. The unrest was sparked by
Tehran’s decision last week to both ration. and raise the price of
gasoline. But there was ready tinder to be lit, consisting of the
sorts of frustrations that have stoked violence around the globe in
recent months, from Bolivia, Chile and Venezuela, to Hong Kong, Iraq
Crude oil exports on which Iran relies for much of its hard currency
earnings have fallen to about 250,000 barrels per day, from a peak of
2.5 million barrels per day in April last year. The International
Monetary Fund has forecast a 9.5% contraction for Iran this year and
Inflation is clocking 36%.
Clearly, we are witnessing a Global Phenomenon from Latin America to
the Middle East to Hong Kong and the wave of protests shaking the
World resembles ''a global uprising against neoliberalism''
[MiddleEastEye] and it does behove us to diagnose the disease
otherwise we will be prescribing the wrong medicine. For example,
take Bolivia and Latin America in general where the Prescription of
the likes of Jeanine Áñez and Jair Bolsanaro [’You shall know the
truth and the truth shall set you free’’] is to take neoliberalism to
the ultimate extreme ["They're Killing Us Like Dogs" - Common Dreams]
China and even India are seeking to ''Xinjiang'' the Periphery. This
is a Global Phenomena and Iran is similarly reaping a whirlwind.
However, what is also clear is that Team Pompeo is seeking to
accelerate the Iranian situation towards a denouement. Of course, the
origins of the protests are spontaneous. However, Pompeo has some very
Marc Owen-Jones tweeted
[Thread] 1/ Mike Pompeo tweeted on the 21st November a request in
Farsi for Iranian protesters to send in videos of the regime's
crackdown in order to 'expose' and 'sanction' the abuses
Both tweets, including the translation got a lot of retweets, but by whom?
I download retweets of each tweet. For the translated tweet, I
analysed around 3,600 individual accounts that retweeted it
Interestingly, the most cohesive community, and most commonly
biographical detail was once again "MAGA". Indeed, 825 of the accounts
As we've come to expect, many of these MAGA accounts were created on
January 2017 and January 2018.
This is the same type of profile we've seen accounts on accounts
tweeting for a Hard Brexit (among other things - especially related to
Pompeo has allied himself with the People's Mojahedin Organization of
Iran (PMOI/MEK) and its Cult-Like Leader @Maryam_Rajavi who tweeted
''The whole issue is that the Velayat-e Faqih regime is on its last leg''
This alliance of Pompeo, the ''MAGA'' Tweet Army, Maryam Rajavi and
the MEK is just not credible its incredible. Of course, ''ARAB'' NATO
which includes the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the GCC and Israel is a
lot more credible and they are surely guiding the Inferno however if a
civil war is ignited in the Shia crescent and the nature of the hybrid
warfare indicates this is the direction of travel, the implosion will
engender catastrophic consequences which will be impossible to manage
and which surely will imperil ''ARAB NATO'' itself.
Oil is the Purest Proxy and is at an 8 week high.
Rises in the price of petrol are fuelling unrest in Iran @TheEconomist
Law & Politics
After a big rise in the state-controlled price of fuel on November
15th, anger erupted across Iran. Protesters in more than 100 cities
blocked traffic, torched banks and burned down petrol stations. They
targeted anything that smacked of the state, even mosques and
ambulances. It was the most dramatic expression of hostility to the
ruling ayatollahs since a disputed election in 2009 sparked a “green
revolution” that shook the regime for a year. The most violent unrest
occurred in Khuzestan, an oil-rich province on the Persian Gulf, and
in a belt of commuter suburbs and small towns ringing Tehran, the
capital. Amnesty International, a human-rights watchdog in London,
said over 100 protesters nationwide had been killed. Complaints about
petrol prices have turned into denunciations of the regime. Protesters
burned portraits of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and
shouted “Mullahs get lost!” Two years ago working-class Iranians
demonstrated angrily when the government raised the price of eggs.
This time middle-class car-owners also joined the protests. The gulf
between the ruling clergy and Iran’s 83m people appears to be
widening. The government knew its decision to raise the fuel price
would bring trouble. It had repeatedly suggested it would do so, only
to back down. This time the government waited until midnight on
November 15th, just as the Iranian weekend began. It then announced a
50% increase in the price of the first 60 litres of petrol that may be
bought every month (enough for a car’s tank of fuel) and a threefold
increase for any more purchases. As the first snow of the year fell,
the government hoped that people would stay indoors. No such luck. So
far, the regime shows no sign of backing down. In some places security
forces opened fire to protect public buildings. The government turned
off the internet and jammed satellite television. Videos shared online
showed gunmen shooting into crowds of protesters. Citizens near the
sites of protests received anonymous messages saying: “We know you are
here.” The various branches of Iran’s government, often at odds, have
closed ranks behind a newly formed Supreme Council of Economic
Co-ordination, which signed the decision to raise prices. Mr Khamenei
publicly backed the president, Hassan Rouhani, whom he has often
criticised. The supreme leader denounced the protesters as “thugs” and
blamed “the centres of villainy around the world that oppose us” for
stirring up the unrest. It is unclear why the clerics took this
gamble. Petrol arouses passions in Iran like no other commodity. Ever
since its British-run oilfields were nationalised in 1951, Iranians
have considered ridiculously cheap fuel a birthright. Many believe
that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei, the Islamic Republic’s founder,
promised the people free energy in 1979. Iran has some of the world’s
most heavily subsidised petrol. The refined stuff costs less than
crude—and less even than bottled water. Cheap fuel prompts many
Iranians to commute to cities from distant satellite towns with low
rents, or even to drive in from the provinces each day. Others make a
living by smuggling petrol abroad. Air pollution in Tehran is,
unsurprisingly, terrible. Recent economic data may have given the
government a false sense of confidence. Mr Rouhani has boasted that it
has fended off America’s campaign to exert “maximum pressure” on Iran,
after President Donald Trump’s ditching of the deal to curb Iran’s
nuclear programme. Iran’s currency, the rial, has recovered a bit,
after plummeting by 60% when Mr Trump imposed sanctions on countries
that buy Iranian oil. Tax rises, land sales and petrochemical exports
have partly compensated for the loss of oil revenues. Last month the
World Bank predicted that inflation would fall by almost a quarter in
the year ahead and that an 8.7% fall in gdp this year would be
followed by a return to modest growth.Iran is still the Middle East’s
second-biggest economy after Saudi Arabia. All the same, Mr Trump’s
sanctions are hurting. Mr Rouhani had budgeted to export oil this year
at a rate of 1.5m barrels per day, but Iran is struggling to find
buyers for a third of that. Revenues should have covered the subsidy
bill, estimated at $25bn (5% of gdp), but are 70% below budget, says
an Iranian finance official. So the people are paying the price. The
fall in the rial’s value and soaring inflation have sharply cut the
purchasing power of public-sector workers. A senior civil servant on
the equivalent of $2,000 a month at the start of this year may now be
earning $400. Food prices are rising faster than inflation, hitting
the poorest hardest. Middle-class families, too, are slipping into
penury as they exhaust their savings. Poverty has soared. The clerics
know they must somehow dampen the anger. Parliamentary elections are
due early next year. Mr Rouhani says that the savings from the
reduction in petrol subsidies will be distributed as welfare. Some 18m
households (three-quarters of Iran’s population) will qualify, say
officials, acknowledging the extent of deprivation. But few Iranians
trust the government to keep its promise. Mr Rouhani previously cut
the welfare payments his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, made after
raising fuel prices a decade ago. Moreover, many fear that rising
transport costs will push up the price of groceries, wiping out the
benefits of additional welfare.
Mr Trump is sure to proclaim Iran’s troubles as an American
foreign-policy success. “The United States is with you,” tweeted Mike
Pompeo, America’s secretary of state, to the protesters. But it is
unclear whether the latest bout of unrest will spur the regime to
reform, let alone topple it. Previous protests have faded. Repression
may curb the latest ones. The authorities have kept city centres under
control. Oil workers have not gone on strike to back the protesters.
The opposition is incoherent. Meanwhile, the regime is toughening up.
It has become more belligerent abroad, crueller at home and less
democratic. So far, the protests have failed to make it change course.
"They're Killing Us Like Dogs" - A Massacre in Bolivia and a Plea for Help @commondreams
Law & Politics
I am writing from Bolivia just days after witnessing the November 19
military massacre at the Senkata gas plant in the indigenous city of
El Alto, and the tear-gassing of a peaceful funeral procession on
November 21 to commemorate the dead. These are examples,
unfortunately, of the modus operandi of the de facto government that
seized control in a coup that forced Evo Morales out of power.
The coup has spawned massive protests, with blockades set up around
the country as part of a national strike calling for the resignation
of this new government. One well-organized blockade is in El Alto,
where residents set up barriers surrounding the Senkata gas plant,
stopping tankers from leaving the plant and cutting off La Paz’s main
source of gasoline.
"The military has guns and a license to kill; we have nothing," cried
a mother whose son had just been shot in Senkata. "Please, tell the
international community to come here and stop this."
Determined to break the blockade, the government sent in helicopters,
tanks and heavily armed soldiers in the evening of November 18. The
next day, mayhem broke out when the soldiers began teargassing
residents, then shooting into the crowd. I arrived just after the
Trump not only picks up propaganda from domestic sources carrying Vladimir Putin's water, which "worked its way into American information ecosystems, sloshing around until parts of it reached Mr. Trump" @washingtonpost
Law & Politics
he was duped right from the source speaking “with Mr. Putin about
allegations of Ukrainian interference.” Whether the president is being
blackmailed is unknown; what we do know is that he is a malleable
puppet whose strings are pulled in the Kremlin.
Ironically, it was Republicans during the Cold War who routinely and
falsely accused every liberal of aiding communists. Now, we have a
case in which the “useful idiots” are in the White House and Congress,
spreading Putin’s lies far more effectively than the Russian leader
could do on his own.
The Post reports that a forthcoming inspector general’s report will
affirm that the FISA application submitted for surveillance of Carter
Page “had a proper legal and factual basis, and, more broadly, that
FBI officials did not act improperly in opening the Russia
investigation,” although a low-level employee “inappropriately altered
a document that was used during the process" to renew a FISA warrant.
In other words: Russia did it. Period.
26-MAR-2018 :: @Facebook @TheStarKenya
“We just put information into the bloodstream to the internet and then
watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again over time to
watch it take shape. And so this stuff infiltrates the online
community and expands but with no branding – so it’s unattributable,
“It’s no use fighting elections on the facts; it’s all about emotions.”
“So the candidate is the puppet?” the undercover reporter asked.
“Always,” replied Nix.
In an extraordinary boomerang, The US’ adversaries have turned social
media on its head and used it as a ‘’Trojan Horse’’ via psychographic
profiling and micro-targeting at a mass scale.
The fundamental challenge for Facebook is this: It has represented
itself as an ‘’Infomediary’’ An infomediary works as a personal agent
on behalf of consumers to help them take control over information
gathered about them. The concept of the infomediary was first
suggested by John Hagel III in the book Net Worth.
However, Facebook has been hawking this information as if it were an
intermediary. This is its ‘’trust gap’’. That gap is set to widen
further. Facebook is facing an existentialist crisis.
Bitcoin Matches Record Losing Run in Fall to Six-Month Low @markets
Bitcoin sank nearly 10% to the lowest level in six months, extending
last week’s slide past the weekend on concerns about a crackdown on
cryptocurrency operations by China.
The digital currency plunged as much as 9.8% from Friday’s close and
was trading just above $6,700 as of 11 a.m. in Hong Kong, according to
Bloomberg composite pricing.
It’s the first time since May that Bitcoin traded below the key $7,000
The world’s largest cryptocurrency is also on track for eight straight
days of declines, tying a record losing streak from 2014, according to
Bitstamp pricing going back to August 2011 and including weekend
“Investors can find more joy in traditional markets without the
aggressive volatility and opaque markets,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior
market strategist for Asia Pacific at Oanda Asia Pacific Pte.
“A sustained rally in Bitcoin would require a complete breakdown in
the trade negotiations to happen as financial authorities across the
world continue to circle the wagons against digital currencies.”
On Friday, the People’s Bank of China told businesses involved with
cryptocurrencies to correct any improper actions and asked investors
to be wary of virtual currencies. Earlier this month, watchdogs in
Shanghai issued notices calling for a cleanup of companies involved in
crypto trading, while one in Beijing warned against illegal exchange
There are plenty of other possible explanations for the drop. Traders
are blaming low volumes and citing attractive returns from traditional
assets, eToro U.K. market analyst Adam Vettese wrote in a note Friday.
Smaller miners are also getting squeezed out by the falling price,
causing further selling toward the break-even level of around $5,600
to $6,400, Vijay Ayyar, Singapore-based head of business development
at crypto exchange Luno, said Monday.
“We’re seeing what is called miner capitulation and that has indicated
previous large drops in the price of Bitcoin,” he said. “At this time,
the cost of production could be indicated to be in the $6,000 range
and hence we’ve seen the price dip to that range last week.”
Bitcoin is still up substantially in 2019 -- it ended last year at
$3,674. After a meteoric rise from April to June, when it soared above
$13,000, it lost momentum and has been gradually dropping since.
PONZI SCHEMES, PRIVATE YACHTS, AND A MISSING $250 MILLION IN CRYPTO: THE STRANGE TALE OF QUADRIGA @VanityFair
The smiling boy visited Sunnybrook Yachts in the summer of 2017, after
the value of Bitcoin had reached an all-time high, having tripled in
five months. Sunnybrook is the largest yacht brokerage on Canada’s
east coast. Its clients tended to be surgeons and litigators and
C-suiters who travel from Toronto and Paris and Hawaii to summer in
Nova Scotia; their wives wear silks and Manolos and perfect
fingernails that cost $300 yesterday at the salon. The smiling boy
stood out. He wore a wrinkled golf shirt, cargo shorts, and beat-up
Birkenstocks, and he was obscenely young, with sandy hair and pale
skin that appeared not to have seen sunlight since puberty. He was
accompanied by a girlfriend who drove her own Jeep. They struck the
yacht salesman as a couple you’d less likely see at Scaramouche than
in a Walmart parking lot. Most conspicuous was the odd way that the
young man always seemed to be smiling. It was a gentle, unflappable
smile. It put strangers at ease; it made him seem lighthearted. It was
difficult to imagine that this particular trait was contrived, but
later, after it was revealed that nearly everything about him was a
work of pure contrivance, you had to wonder whether the incessant
smiling was just another part of the act.
His name was Gerald Cotten, and he went by Gerry; his girlfriend was a
property manager named Jennifer Robertson, or Jen; her two Chihuahuas,
who liked to sun themselves on the deck as the Gulliver negotiated the
islands and shoals of Mahone Bay, were Nitro and Gully.
Cotten rarely brought up his work, but details emerged. He was a
founder and the CEO of Quadriga, Canada’s dominant Bitcoin
exchange—something like TD Ameritrade for cryptocurrency. He ran the
business from his MacBook Pro, which he always carried with him. Once
he left it behind on the Gulliver, which caused a momentary hysteria
as the yacht had already departed the dock. He had Crohn’s disease and
seemed to subsist on hummus; when others drank beer, he produced
bottles of hard cider. He loved to fly: planes, helicopters, drones.
He seemed like the kind of guy who might retire early to an island
Cotten returned for lessons the following summer, though not as often.
He was busy. Then, in December, Robertson called Sunnybrook to explain
that Gerry, while on their honeymoon in Jaipur, had died suddenly. She
wanted to sell the Gulliver. When national news articles began to
appear a month later, they emphasized another detail: Cotten was the
only person with the passwords to the accounts holding Quadriga’s
funds—cryptocurrency and cash—worth approximately a quarter billion
U.S. dollars. Nobody knew how to find the money.
A couple of years after graduation, Cotten moved to Vancouver and
joined a clubby community of entrepreneurs who had become enamored
with Bitcoin. He attended meetups at coffee shops and dorm rooms,
organized by a core group of about 10 people, who called themselves
the Vancouver Bitcoin Co-op. Most of these early acolytes were drawn
to the digital currency’s libertarian ethos, its promises of
decentralization, transparency, speed, and independence from
governments and financial institutions. Bitcoin would enable more than
two billion people who lacked access to banks to send and receive
payment; it would offer stability to citizens of countries with
chaotic currencies; it would eliminate all banking fees.
Cotten knew the catchphrases and the talking points, but he seemed
most interested in Bitcoin’s speculative possibilities. The first
Bitcoin block was created on January 3, 2009, and the currency gained
economic value on May 22, 2010, a date enshrined in Bitcoin lore as
“Pizza Day,” when a Florida man paid someone in England 10,000
Bitcoins to order him two pizzas from Papa John’s. The pizzas cost
about $25, setting the price of a Bitcoin at one fourth of a penny.
(At press time those pizzas would be valued at $82,373,500.) With
that, Bitcoin became like any other form of currency, a mass delusion:
Its value derived from the belief that it had value.
In April 2013, around the time that Cotten appeared in Vancouver, the
price of a Bitcoin had risen to $266. But it was not easy to buy or
sell if you lacked technological sophistication and considerable
patience. Seventy percent of the global Bitcoin trade was conducted
through Mt. Gox, a Tokyo-based exchange, and had to be funded by
sending a bank wire to Japan. Because Canadian banks wanted nothing to
do with Bitcoin, users had to transfer funds through a series of
intermediaries, bleeding transaction fees. “It was so hard to buy
Bitcoin in Canada,” says Cotten in his unflappably peppy, inquisitive
voice, in a 2014 interview. “You couldn’t hook up your bank account to
anywhere. It was just such a challenge.”
In November 2013 Cotten and an older business partner, Michael Patryn,
an authority on currency trading with passions for Brazilian jujitsu
and luxury automobiles, incorporated the Quadriga coin exchange, or
QuadrigaCX (named, for reasons that were not immediately clear, after
the horse-drawn chariots of the Roman Empire). In a small, inefficient
market, Quadriga swiftly distinguished itself. It was the cheapest
exchange, the fastest, and, by all appearances, the safest—the first
Bitcoin trading platform to hold a money-services business license
from FinTRAC, Canada’s anti-money-laundering authority. Quadriga
installed a Bitcoin ATM in its office, the second of its kind in
Canada, and accepted gold by the ounce, which could be dropped off in
person. Investing with Quadriga was even patriotic: “People like the
fact we’re located in Canada,” Cotten told an interviewer, a point he
often emphasized. “They know where their money is going.” Quadriga
launched on Boxing Day.
In February the Canadian Broadcast Company interviewed Michael Patryn.
He was described as “an ex-business partner” who had “met Cotten
online over five years ago.” “He was like a ray of sunshine,” Patryn
told the interviewer. “The guy just always had a big goofy smile and
laugh. He used to crack jokes all the time. He used to say he didn’t
open up to many people, but he was able to open up to me.”
The major break in the investigation was not a revelation, exactly,
but something that had been hiding in plain sight. It concerned
Quadriga’s cofounder. As it turned out, Michael Patryn—as Michael
Perklin and nearly everyone in the close-knit Canadian cryptocurrency
community had known for years—was not really Michael Patryn. Which
meant that Cotten was not really who he said he was either.
Patryn told reporters after Cotten’s death that they had met online
over five years ago, but this was about as accurate as calling himself
an “adviser” to Quadriga when in fact he had been the cofounder. By
painstakingly searching archived data from deleted websites,
communicating on encrypted messaging services with anonymous sources,
and analyzing public registration data, the Quadriga creditor who goes
by the online moniker QCXINT, and a handful of other obsessives with
handles like runbtc and Zerononcense, reconstructed the pair’s
entangled online lives. They traced the relationship back to 2003, to
a dingy warren of a website called TalkGold. It was devoted to
high-yield investment programs, or HYIPs, more commonly known as Ponzi
Gerald Cotten may have had a sophisticated grasp of cryptocurrency,
but his expertise—his formal training—lay in the art of the confidence
game. TalkGold was a Ponzi clearinghouse, where blind faith and
curdled cynicism engaged in a demonic rumba. Flickering banner ads for
investments in precious metals and foreign exchange funds and “real
offshore returns” buffered message boards offering something for
everyone: scammers, marks, and those who belonged to both categories.
In October 2004, TalkGold members began to debate whether Patryn might
in fact be Omar Dhanani, one of 28 suspects who had been arrested by
the U.S. Secret Service in a global sting operation targeting an
online marketplace for stolen credit card information and forged
documents. Dhanani, who was known on another message board as an
expert in “washing” funds, was arrested in Southern California, where
he was living with his family. Upon pleading guilty to conspiring to
transfer stolen identification documents, he was sentenced to 18
months in federal prison. After his release in 2007, he was deported
If Gerry the Mastermind is alive, what is he doing? He would have new
names and passports, perhaps a new face. He might still be
collaborating with Patryn, or Patryn might be trying to track him down
in a final act of Con vs. Con. Cotten may be hoping Robertson will
join him once all the investigations have concluded, or she may be
just another one of his victims. He might be living on a private
island, or in Hong Kong, Thailand, or Monaco, traveling by yacht and
helicopter and private jet. He might even be eating cheeseburgers and
drinking beer. Gerry the Mastermind might think he will get away with
it. And he will—as long as everyone else believes he hasn’t.
Ethiopia's Abiy may have unleashed the genie from jar by allowing a little democracy in Africa's second-most populous nation @BBGAfrica
Ethiopian Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed is
discovering the risk of encouraging more democracy after decades of
repression: people might take you up on it.
Ethiopia has more than 80 ethnic groups. This week, the Sidama, who
account for about 4% of the country's 108 million people, voted on
whether to create a regional state that would give them more autonomy.
The plebiscite will probably be followed by other similar demands.
Indulging calls for secession is problematic for Abiy’s strategy of
merging the founding parties of the ruling Ethiopian People’s
Revolutionary Democratic Front to create national unity ahead of
elections next year.
The group’s senior leadership was for many years dominated by ethnic
Tigrayans, who comprise just 6% of the population.
Since 1974, when Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown, until Abiy
came to power in 2018, Ethiopians have been kept in check. First by
the Marxist Derg, then from 1991 under the EPRDF, opposition was
While this week’s voting was peaceful, the results aren’t out yet.
Prior delays caused protests and 170 deaths. Last month, more than 80
died in violence in the prime minister's Oromia region.
“Expect a lot more unrest,” said William Attwell, head of sub-Saharan
Africa research at DuckerFrontier, an advisory firm. “Competition for
resources, alienation from the state. That’s exactly what he is
Abiy has plans to modernize telecommunications and banking and spur
investment in a nation that, despite one of the world's fastest
economic-growth rates, is still very poor. To achieve his goals, he’ll
need to demonstrate stability.
The prime minister's signature achievement was ending a two-decade
conflict with Eritrea. He may find a bigger challenge is keeping one
of Africa’s most-complex nations together.
14-OCT-2019 :: Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed Ali faces a fiendishly complicated task fending off the centripetal forces which are tearing Ethiopia apart
The Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed Ali was awarded the Nobel
Peace Prize for 2019 by the Norwegian Nobel Committee and indeed it
was a well-deserved award. In July 2018, I wrote:
‘’These 90 or so days represent the most consequential arrival of an
African politician on the African stage since Mandela walked out of
prison blinking in the sunlight and constructed his ‘’rainbow
And whilst he faces a fiendishly complicated task fending off the
centripetal forces which are tearing Ethiopia apart, the Prime
Minister who has a singular self-belief in his destiny is a Virilian
figure and a c21st African Leader which is a scarce commodity.
“Whoever controls the territory possesses it. Possession of terri-
tory is not primarily about laws and contracts, but first and foremost
a matter of movement and circula- tion.”
Ethiopia's Sidama vote overwhelmingly to form autonomous region Initial results show 98.5% voted to back autonomy
HAWASSA, Ethiopia Nov 23 (Reuters) - Ethiopia's Sidama people have
voted overwhelmingly to form their own self-governing region as many
of the country's ethnic groups demand greater autonomy under sweeping
reforms led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
The country's electoral board said on Saturday that provisional
results showed 98.5% of voters had backed the change in Wednesday's
ballot, with turnout reaching 99.7%.
The result grants the Sidama, who represent about 4% of Ethiopia's 105
million population, their own self-governing region - the country's
10th, control over local taxes, education, security and certain
Ethiopia's constitution gives the right to seek autonomy to its more
than 80 ethnic groups, but it is only under Abiy's political reform
agenda that the government approved the Sidama request for a
Zimbabwe: the secrets behind Mugabe's demise @TheAfricaReport
From the rise of "Gucci Grace" to the fall of "Comrade Bob", to
Emmerson Mnangagwa's incredible escape, the book ‘Secrets of history’
recounts the riveting story of the presidential couple’s last weeks in
Grace Mugabe is hardly ever seen leaving her private villa in Mount
Pleasant, in the upscale suburb of Harare, where she has taken refuge
with her daughter, Bona, after deserting the cursed Blue Roof mansion.
The last time people saw her in public since the coup d’état of
November 14, 2017 was just under two months ago, at the family funeral
of her husband, Robert Mugabe.
After refusing an official state funeral and burial at the Capital’s
Heroes’ Square for her husband, Grace led the funeral procession to
Kutama Cemetery, where the father of independence was born 95 years
“If she doesn’t come out anymore, it’s because she’s afraid of being
stoned to death,” believes one of Zimbabwe’s many critics of Grace.
“Wrong,” retorts one of the few MPs who still dares to associate with
her: “If she lives in a recluse, it is because she can no longer bear
to feel the presence of those who betrayed her husband”.
Political life in Zimbabwe is similar to the plot of Game of Thrones,
with spectacular outbursts of public anger by actors who accuse each
other of the worst deeds.
In exchange for dropping legal proceedings against her – which was
demanded by many Zimbabweans – Grace Mugabe agreed to remain silent
and to withdraw from the world.
The opaque elite who have governed this country for four decades stand
united. When you can’t kill yourself, you make compromises.
The secret story of Grace’s rise following Robert Mugabe’s fall is
told by Zimbabwean journalist and writer Douglas Rogers in a detailed
investigation published on the second anniversary of Operation Restore
Legacy (Two Weeks in November, London, Short Books). It begins one day
in the austral winter of 2014.
At an extraordinary meeting of the Zanu-PF Central Committee,
President Mugabe announces his decision to appoint the first lady to
head the female branch of the ruling party and her subsequent entry
into the political bureau.
Among Zanu-PF loyalists, many of whom were former liberation fighters,
they’re aware of the influence that the former secretary has over the
leader who is forty-one years her senior.
They’re also aware of her escapades. “Gucci Grace” has a taste for
luxury, an eruptive temperament and enjoys lavish shopping trips to
London and Singapore aboard the presidential Boeing.
Everyone fears and, silently, disapproves of her appointment.
The first lady acts like a second president. She summons ministers,
attends hearings with a notebook in her hand, and appoints members of
her own stable – the “Generation 40” (G40) – to head local
The group’s composed of ambitious politicians who were too young to
have participated in the glorious “chimurenga” – the armed struggle.
It’s led by the Minister of Higher Education, Jonathan Moyo, an
unscrupulous opportunist who, after being a fierce opponent of the
regime, has turned into a zealous courtesan of the presidential
As head of the universities, he also ensured that Grace obtained a
doctorate in sociology in record time: just three months.
Grace’s first target is a woman, who poses a major threat to her
ambition of succeeding her husband.
Joice Mujuru is a decorated veteran, a minister since 1980, and
Vice-President of the Republic for ten years. She’s the widow of
General Solomon Mujuru, who died in 2011 during a suspicious fire on
Her nickname during war was “Teurai Ropa” – the one who spills blood.
Joice enjoys undeniable legitimacy, to the point that many Zimbabweans
see her as the natural heir to “Comrade Bob”.
After her appointment to political office, Grace launches a campaign
against Joice Mujuru, calling her a “conspirator” who’s determined to
avenge her husband’s death, and seize power. In December 2014, Mugabe
He dismisses Mujuru and eight ministers deemed close to her. Her
successor as vice-president is another veteran: Emmerson Dambudzo
Mnangagwa. This will be Grace Mugabe’s second target.
Even more than Joice Mujuru, Mnangagwa is a respected personality
among veterans and the leading figure of Zanu-PF’s so-called “Lacoste
Group” – a reference to the crocodile-shaped logo of the famous French
sportswear brand – which brings together the “liberators” of Zimbabwe.
The guerrilla unit, he led, during the liberation struggle was called
the “Crocodile Gang”. He was arrested by the police, tortured, and
sentenced to ten years in prison for sabotage against Ian Smith’s
government. Behind bars, he met Robert Mugabe. Since then, they have
never left each other’s side.
For three decades, Mnangagwa executed the wishes of his leader without
hesitation. As Minister of Security in 1983, he supervised the bloody
“Gukurahundi” operation (“the rain that sweeps away garbage”) in
Matabeleland, resulting in the deaths of 20,000 people in nine months.
In 1998, he was deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he
coordinated the Zimbabwean contingent’s support for the Laurent-Désiré
Kabila regime. It allows senior officers to enrich themselves through
the trafficking of copper and diamonds.
In both 2008 and 2013, as Minister of Defence, he played a key role in
the post-election violence and repression that decimated the ranks of
the opposition’s leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.
In December 2016, as Zimbabwe plunged further into economic and social
turmoil, Zanu-PF nominated Comrade Bob, 92, as its 2018 presidential
The plan devised by Grace and her G40 was simple: her husband, once
re-elected, will resign in her favour. But first, she must be
reappointed as vice-president.
In early 2017, as Grace prepares to take the old leader on an
exhausting tour of pre-election meetings, she holds a secret meeting
at the Blue Roof Manor. In his room upstairs, Robert Mugabe is asleep.
In the living room downstairs, the G40 leaders gather around Grace as
she explains why the Lacoste Group must be “neutralized” one by one,
starting with Mnangagwa.
The two factions hold the same views, ideology, and vision.. Only the
struggle for power matters. During campaign meetings Robert Mugabe
falls asleep frequently as Grace and Mnangagwa challenge each other.
In mid-August, a lunch is organized in the town of Gwanda on the
sidelines of one of these gatherings. After consuming ice cream from
Grace Mugabe’s dairy farm (seized about ten years earlier from a white
owner), the vice-president collapses.
He was evacuated to a hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Mnangagwa and his entourage are convinced that Grace laced his food
When asked about this accusation a few days later during a talk show
on ZBC, Grace laughed, saying “Why would I want to kill Mnangagwa?
Who is Mnangagwa on this earth? Killing someone my husband made? It
doesn’t make any sense!”.
In this hostile climate, the election campaign continues. At the
beginning of October, the First Lady crosses the line: she attacks her
rival directly, accusing him of fomenting a coup d’état.
Standing with a microphone in her hand, dressed like a rock star, she
screams: “Traitors and usurpers will be eliminated!”
Sitting to the right of the old chief, with his eyes half closed,
Emmerson Mnangagwa did not react. He replies indirectly a month later,
at a meeting in Bulawayo.
As Grace gets up from her chair to deliver a new diatribe, the crowd,
mostly made up of veterans, explodes in jeers while waving hundreds of
The message is very clear. Robert Mugabe, drawn from his sleep by the
screams, immediately asks for the microphone.
He lifts a boney finger and says, “You insult and denigrate the first
lady on behalf of Mnangagwa? All right. I’ll fire him”.
On November 6, Mnangagwa was dismissed and excluded from the party.
His personal guard is unarmed.
To escape imminent arrest, he takes flight.
At dawn on November 7, he leaves Harare in a convoy of three vehicles,
heading southeast towards the Mozambican border. He puts on his wife’s
king-size sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed safari hat.
His three sons and a handful of bodyguards accompany him. When he
arrives at the Mutare border crossing, police officers recognize him
and draw their weapons, forcing the convoy to make a hasty U-turn.
After a few kilometres, the three 4×4s take a side road and stop in
front of an abandoned earthen hut. Mnangagwa and his eldest son,
Junior get off and take shelter under the thatched roof, while the
vehicles return to Harare.
At nightfall, they both walk along a smuggler’s trail that will take
them to Mozambique. But police equipped with powerful flashlights and
sniffer dogs are looking for them.
Mnangagwa and Junior – who firmly holds his father’s Louis Vuitton bag
containing US$8,000 in small bills – are forced to cross a swamp and
crawl through the mud to escape them.
They meet a mystic with amulets, who shows them the way and chases
away evil spirits in exchange for a few greenbacks.
Next, they stumble upon a garbage collector armed with a rusty AK47.
They pay him $500 to leave them alone.
After 24 hours in the bush, they finally arrive in the Mozambican city
of Manica, with sore feet and covered in mud. From there, they move to
Maputo and Johannesburg, where a disparate group of Zimbabwean
opponents take care of them.
It’s a strange cocktail of war veterans, Zanu-PF elders, expropriated
white farmers, and human rights activists, who help them.
In Harare, the news of Mnangagwa’s escape is greeted with jubilation
by Grace and the G40. “Finally rid of the Crocodile!” says Mugabe.
His wife’s official appointment as vice-president is scheduled for 16
November. Euphoric, Grace makes preparations for a grand ceremony but
nothing will go as planned.
Mnangagwa’s escape raises Robert Mugabe’s paranoia, who fears a coup
d’état. The first on his list of suspects is none other than the Chief
of the Army Staff, General Constantino Chiwenga, a relative of
Mnangagwa with whom he served during Operation Gukurahundi.
Mugabe orders his arrest as soon as he steps on the tarmac at Harare
airport after returning from a working visit to China.
In the evening of November 12, a squadron of police officers waits for
Chiwenga as he gets off the plane. But, the General is aware of the
plan, and takes precautions.
Members of the special forces are disguised as airport maintenance
staff. They surround the police officers with their weapons drawn. The
attempted arrest turns into a fiasco.
The next day, Chiwenga and – from South Africa – Mnangagwa rally most
of the senior officers by telephone around Operation Restore Legacy,
the code name for what was nothing more than a coup d’état.
On the afternoon of November 14, the operation was launched, just as
Robert Mugabe began to chair the Council of Ministers. On the agenda:
the inauguration of the First Lady, scheduled for the next day.
It is 6pm when Robert and Grace Mugabe leave the palace. Army tanks
have surrounded the barracks of the Presidential Guard, whose leader
is secretly aligned to the coup plotters. The couple still have no
idea what is going on.
Their convoy heads to the Blue Roof mansion in the Borrowdale suburb.
In addition to the 5-ton armoured Mercedes Pullman Guard, there are
four other Mercedes filled with Central Intelligence Organization
(CIO) secret service agents, six police Land Rovers and two trucks
carrying 30 black hooded Presidential Guard personnel.
Standing in front of the Blue Roof entrance gate, three tanks and
about a hundred soldiers are waiting for them in combat position.
Police officers and CIO agents raise their arms and let themselves be
disarmed, while the Presidential Guard watch the scene without moving.
It was then that Robert and Grace Mugabe finally understood that a
coup d’état had just overthrown them. They are silent. It was only
later that night, when the sick old lion had gone to bed, that Grace
burst into fury in her living room.
At the same time, the army is arresting the main leaders of the G40.
All were handcuffed without resistance, with the exception of the
Minister of Finance, Ignatius Chombo, whose private guard resisted.
Three security guards were shot dead by the military. They’ll be the
only ones who die from Operation Restore Legacy. Jonathan Moyo has
better luck. He manages to escape,taking refuge in the Blue Roof
mansion, from where he negotiates his fate with the new authorities:
exile in Nairobi in exchange for immunity.
On the morning of 21 November, Zimbabwean deputies, who were only
yesterday zealous supporters of the “national hero”, vote to dismiss
That same afternoon, Robert Mugabe resigns for a $10 million signing
bonus, legal immunity, and a promise that the couple’s property would
not be seized.
The next day, Emmerson Mnangagwa returns to Harare. His first gesture
is to reward the three generals who ran the operation: Chiwenga was
appointed Vice-President, Perence Shiri becomes Minister of Lands, and
Sibusiso Moyo takes over as Minister of Foreign Affairs.
In Zimbabwe, everything moves but nothing changes.
09-SEP-2019 :: Emmerson Mnangagwa who was eulogising Mugabe as a Revolutionary Icon has failed and is frankly as untenable as his erstwhile Mentor.
Mario Vargas Llosa in his book, The Neighborhood which was a book
about Peru in the time of Fujimori and the The Doctor Vladimiro
Montesinos wrote’’Something bigger than you and me power. You don’t
fool around with power my friend’’
Jonathan Moyo said. “And, meanwhile, the people forgot the vision of
the liberation struggle. The people were saying, ‘What good is
liberation without food?’
And this is the point. Mugabe started well but then presided over the
immiseration of his country. Gross Domestic Product per capita has
shrunk by a third since the 1980s [IMF].
We are grateful to all those iconic leaders who liberated our conti-
nent of which Mugabe is one but at what price? Fighting for
independence is not the same as building an economy which provides
opportunity for all its citizens.
As some African leaders laud Mugabe today, @PastorEvan- Live argues:
“There can be no mixed feelings, misconceptions or complications about
Robert Muga- be’s legacy. He presided over the destruction of millions
of people’s lives over a span of 37 years.”
S&P South Africa Outlook Revised To Negative On Worsening Fiscal And Debt Trajectory; Ratings Affirmed
Low GDP growth, upwardly revised fiscal deficits, and a growing debt
burden are damaging South Africa's fiscal metrics.
Unless the government takes measures to control the fiscal deficit and
we see sustained reform momentum, we view debt as unlikely to
stabilize within our three-year forecast period.
We are therefore revising our outlook on South Africa to negative from stable.
We are also affirming our long- and short-term foreign currency
ratings on South Africa at 'BB/B', our local currency ratings at
'BB+/B', and our national scale ratings at 'zaAAA/zaA-1+'.
Companies struggle with late payments as Kenya faces cash crisis @BBGAfrica
Daniel Mwangi’s construction company in Nairobi is battling to stay
afloat and has fired about 1,000 workers in the past year as Kenya’s
government struggles to pay contractors.
The 36-year-old Nyoro Construction Co., where Mwangi serves as
director, is just one of many Kenyan firms that have fallen victim to
a funding crisis exacerbated by a weak tax take, rising debt and a
public wage bill that eats up more than a third of government revenue.
“We’re not operating at full throttle,” said Mwangi, who says he’s
owed bills dating back five years. Letters to state departments and
meetings with government officials haven’t yieled payments, he said.
Along with many African nations, Kenya has struggled to collect and
grow revenue while raising spending. The current payments crisis
hasn’t been helped by seemingly contradictory policies.
While attempting to plug the widening hole in its budget, East
Africa’s largest economy has also splurged on debt to fund President
Uhuru Kenyatta flagship Big Four Agenda -- aimed at boosting
manufacturing, health care, housing and farming in a bid to create one
million jobs annually.
To finance the president’s ambitious plans the government tapped
international market three times in the past five years for about $7
billion in Eurobonds and more in multiple syndicated loans. The
treasury estimates it will spend 39% of its target revenue on
servicing debt this fiscal year.
This month the finance ministry also proposed an almost 3% increase in
spending to 3.13 trillion shillings ($30.8 billion) to continue
investing in Kenyatta’s priority projects. About $3.8 billion worth of
those have stalled as of June last year, partly because the government
didn’t have funds to disburse.
“Kenya is on the wrong fiscal path and government is doing little to
correct that,” said Tony Watima, an independent economist in Nairobi.
“Unless the government looks at re-structuring its debt to ease the
debt servicing burden, and free-up more taxes to be spent on other
items, the cash crunch will continue.”
The International Monetary Fund on Friday said that it will discuss a
potential standby loan in early 2020 that the country can tap in the
event of economic shocks.
Last week the fund’s Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva, voiced
concern about Kenya’s rising debt at almost 60% of gross domestic
Georgieva said the government needed to be “cautious” after it doubled
its debt ceiling limit to 9 trillion shillings in October.
International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva
discusses concerns over rising African debt levels, with about 40% of
countries on the continent at distressed levels.
Debt levels in the region have been rising as governments struggle to
collect and grow revenue while increasing their budgets. Georgieva
spoke with Bloomberg’s Matt Miller in Berlin on “Bloomberg
Surveillance.” (Source: Bloomberg)
Kenya’s economic growth has been hit and expansion will probably slow
to 5.8% this year from 6.3% in 2018, according to the World Bank,
missing growth-targets for the fourth time in five years. The
government has also raised its budget-gap forecast to 6.3% of gross
The impact on businesses has been severe, with delayed payments
amounting to at least 172 billion shillings as of June. Many companies
have also complained about the late settlement of tax refunds, while
several government departments and private businesses have fired
workers and stopped or slowed down hiring.
Authorities have also asked state entities to handover cash they
The problem of late payment is not unique to Kenya. In South Africa,
the continent’s most industrialized economy, the state is by law
required to pay all suppliers within 30 days from receipt of invoice.
The directive is routinely ignored by government departments,
municipalities and state companies.
In August, South Africa’s Small Business Development Minister
Khumbudzo Ntshavheni told parliament that national and provincial
government departments owed suppliers 7.1 billion rand ($482 million)
in payments that were 30 days or more overdue at the end of March.
For Kenyan businesses, the impact is also seen in debt defaults.
Non-performing loans increased to 13% at the end of August from 11%
two years ago.
“Banks have done a lot of restructuring to these loans, but they can
only do this for so long,” said John Gachora, vice chairman of the
Kenya Bankers Association and managing director of NCBA Group Plc.
Kenya’s Treasury Secretary Ukur Yatani has acknowledged the problem
last week said defaults and late payments are “widespread,” damaging
the economy and exacerbating poverty.
Any solution will need to come soon as the country gears up for
elections in 2022 with Kenyatta serving his final term. Past ballots
have been marred by violence and disputes.
“The next two fiscal years will be a polarized political environment
due to succession politics making structural adjustments unpopular,”
“Kenya’s medium outlook is gloomy. Unless the government makes
structural adjustments now, it’s going to be a turbulent time.”