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Victor Mallet

Victor Mallet was until recently the Financial Times correspondent in Lusaka.

Diary: Laos awakens

Victor Mallet, 16 December 1993

There was so much ‘secret’ bombing of Xieng Khouang province in northern Laos that even the pigpens in remote hill-tribe villages are made of American cluster-bomb casings. Villagers bring out American parachutes for marriages and other festivals and unfurl them to make marquees for the guests. I’ve seen sturdy metal bomb casings being used as pillars to support houses and rice granaries, as window-boxes for flowers and vegetables, and as troughs for animal feed. Planted in rows, they become fences. The damage that the bombs inflicted is visible too: in the craters splattered over the Plain of Jars – the ‘jars’ are mysterious stone urns thought to date back more than a thousand years – and in the roadside piles of twisted metal waiting to be sold as scrap.’

Café No Problem

Victor Mallet, 28 May 1992

The Cambodian peace agreement reached in Paris last October is nothing if not ambitious. ‘Cambodia’s tragic recent history requires special measures to assure protection of human rights,’ says Annex Five, which outlines principles for a new constitution. ‘Therefore, the constitution will contain a declaration of fundamental rights, including the rights to life, personal liberty, security, freedom of movement, freedom of religion, assembly and association including political parties and trade unions … The constitution will state that Cambodia will follow a system of liberal democracy on the basis of pluralism.’

Dual Loyalty

Victor Mallet, 5 December 1991

It has long been accepted in the Arab world and in Iran that US foreign policy towards the Middle Last is a conspiracy devised by the American Jewish lobby. It has long been accepted in Europe that the Arabs and Iranians, although prone to exaggeration, had a legitimate grievance about Washington’s automatic bias in favour of Israel since the departure of Eisenhower. The recent Middle East peace conference in Madrid may therefore come to be seen as a watershed. With the Cold War over and the Gulf War won, President George Bush and James Baker, his Secretary of State, have adopted an attitude which the Israelis find so alarmingly even-handed that they have begun to suspect another sort of conspiracy, this time concocted by pro-Arab Texas oilmen. Bush says in private that there is not much point kowtowing to the Jewish lobby when most of its members vote Democrat, and he won as great a political victory in forcing Congress to delay $10 billion in US loan guarantees for Israel (to smooth the way to the peace conference) as in convening the conference itself.

Why Bull was killed

Victor Mallet, 15 August 1991

It isn’t often that the public gets to see that James Bond is alive and well and still has his licence to kill. On 22 March last year, Gerald Bull, a Canadian scientist with a US passport, a wife back home and a mistress in Belgium, was shot dead outside his Brussels apartment with five shots from a silenced 7.65mm pistol. The assassin left behind $20,000 in cash which Bull had in his pockets. Two days later a Belgian newspaper ran a one-paragraph story headlined Meurtre d’un Américain. An extraordinary career had come to an abrupt end.

Knowing the Gulf

Victor Mallet, 22 November 1990

It is the great misfortune of the West that its way of life is almost universally envied without being universally available or completely understood. The phenomenon has long been painfully evident in Africa, but it has never been more obvious or incongruous than in the Gulf today.

There is something absurd about the sight of a soldier in battle kit chasing a plump schoolgirl down a shopping street, he with his gun and she with her satchel. This time he holds his fire and she escapes. From an alleyway her friends feebly lob stones towards the troops and jeer at them before running away. The soldiers order the shopkeepers to clear away a barricade hurriedly assembled by young protesters. Teargas lingers in the air, but the incident is over. It is a typical day in Gaza, except that no one appears to have been killed or injured in the confrontation between the over-equipped Israeli Army of occupation and the Palestinians who want to drive it out with stones and petrol bombs.

Money Talk

Victor Mallet, 21 December 1989

It is difficult to say whether the Eighties will come to be seen as a decade in which the world was unusually obsessed with money, or merely guilt-ridden about the idea of such an obsession. Certainly television has transported the very hungry and the exceptionally greedy into our living-rooms. Both extremes have turned out to be subjects of morbid fascination: on the one hand the nameless, starving children of Ethiopia, on the other the wheeler-dealers of the international markets, the Michael Milkens and their hundred million dollar salaries.

Alcohology

Victor Mallet, 8 December 1988

In Angola, where the local currency is all but worthless, people use cans of imported beer as a means of exchange: a very heavy sort of money, but at least you can buy bananas and fish with it. In Zambia, some people pour a little beer onto the ground in the doorways of their huts to placate the ancestors. The supplicant says: ‘Be cool, as water is cool. Do not trouble the children. Let us all prosper. Here is your beer.’

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