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A letter to David Cameron from His Excellency the Ambassador for BongoBongoLand

2013 August 11
by Paul Vallely

Dear Prime Minister

As the Ambassador to the Court of St James representing the Government of  BongoBongoland I am writing following the disparaging remarks of the British politician Godfrey Bloom, of the UK Independence Party, with regard to the British aid budget and its contribution to the economic development of my country.

You might suppose that I want to join the chorus of condemnation of the Ukip MEP’s offensive and erroneous characterisation of the people of BongoBongo as designer-wearing, Ferrari-driving owners of swish apartments in Paris. But you would be wrong.

Robust politically-incorrect language is part of the lexicon of popular public debate. Mr Bloom is an oafish clown who seems to have escaped from the set of a 1950s Carry On Up the Cliché comedy in which he would have been played by veteran comedian Jimmy Edwards propping up the bar of the Dog and Gun in the gin-and-Jag belt of some golden age Home Counties fantasy. But we can live with his language and evaluate it as we would his comments on one of his Yorkshire constituents as “the most delicious bimbette – absolutely thick, but good tits”.

This was, after all, the man who, as a member of the European Parliament’s women’s rights committee, opined that trafficked sex slaves were prostituted because they liked the job and if they didn’t would find work “as a Tesco check-out girl instead”. I think others can form their own views on Mr Bloom without help from me.

His caricature of the people of my country is about as accurate as characterising the United Kingdom as WongaWongaland, a country whose citizens are payday-indebted, tax-dodging, child-abusing, internet trolls – whose politicians are all Ukip Victor Meldrew sound-alikes of the ilk I believe you yourself, Mr Cameron, once described as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”.  Bongo is, in any case, far preferable to Wonga since, as you will doubtless already know, ubongo is Kiswahili for brain. Far better brainy than distrainy.

No, it is not the demotic language which concerns me. Far more disquieting is the response of those of your politicians and populist papers who took the line that Bloom’s language was offensive but his views on British aid were sound.  The opposite is the case. The language might be dismissed as risible – but his views offend against the truth.

I am writing to urge you to hold firm to your commitment to spend 70 pence in every £100 of the British national income on aid. This is not a huge amount, set against wider government budgets, but it does a disproportionate amount of good – big bangs for small bucks – in the poor countries where it is spent. You are to be congratulated in holding firm on the ringfencing of the aid budget despite backbench mutterings as Britain undergoes a period of relative austerity.

I know you have had the odd wobble. You floated that ill-considered plan to throw a bone to the backbenches by syphoning off a bit of the aid budget to give to the defence budget. Peace is a pre-requisite for development but there are dangers in blurring the distinction between the Army and aid workers, as attacks on civilians by the Taliban have shown. Britain already spends five times more on defence than on aid. And you need to be careful, too, not to overdo the realignment of the aid budget to focus excessively on fragile states. Aid produces far greater returns in more stable poor countries.

Self-interest is an important consideration in aid. If key parts of Africa persist in a state of insecurity and economic stagnation that will not just be bad for Africans, it will be bad for the rest of the world.  It will create more economic migrants. It will spread disease internationally in an era of globalisation. And, as post-9/11 events have shown all too starkly, failing states can become seedbeds for resentment and discontent which feeds international terrorism. By turns Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Algeria, Morocco, Mali and Niger have all revealed that. That is why  it is understandable that your Government has shifted the emphasis so that by next year almost a third of British aid is expected to go to countries the UK deems a security risk.

What Mr Bloom and his fellows persistently fail to understand is that aid has changed. The Cold War days of supporting kleptocratic despots with aid bribes are over. Civil wars and military dictatorships are no longer the norm in Africa. Much has been learned over the past four decades about what works – and what doesn’t – in aid. Effective anti-corruption systems have been developed. Mr Bloom’s braying that aid money is spent “with no audit trail” is nonsense; the Department for International Development has audit trails in what the anachronistic Gordon Bloom would no doubt call spades.

In contrast to the Bloom cartoon parody the reality is that Africa’s economies are consistently growing faster than those of almost any other region of the world. A third have expanded by more than 6 per cent annually for six or more years. There are many reasons for this including political stability, improved government policies, rising foreign investment and the impact of digital technology. But aid has been a major stimulus, and a means of ensuring that the economic growth reaches down to the poorest – in a continent where the majority of the continent’s billion people live below the poverty line and need a hand to lift themselves out of that.

Aid is more than a moral and social obligation to help eradicate the unnecessary suffering of others. It is a way of creating the new consumers who will be the market for British goods in the future, which is why earlier this year the leaders of many big British firms like GlaxoSmithKline, BT and EasyJet got together to voice support for the UK’s aid budget. I know you understand all this.  But it is time you got the message across to the backwoodsmen in your party as well as to peripheral mavericks like the man, since I am writing privately, I can call Bloom the Buffoon.

Yours sincerely,

His Excellency Dr Ray Ban

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary

Head of the Mission of the Republic of BongoBongoland

from The Independent on Sunday



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