Chapter 5: Ambassador Molu Sakeseba

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Stories by Christian Filostrat

Reads: 136

Chapter 5

 

Ambassador Molu Sakeseba

 

 

One hour following the Selection and Assignment Board’s vote to send Judd Mosley to Kinshasa, the Japy Frères Art Nouveau mantel clock in the Zaire chancellery’s reception area chimed eleven o’clock.  A few seconds later, the phone rang in Ambassador Molu Sakeseba’s office.

As she had been trained to do, Marie Gizengu, the ambassador’s personal secretary, waited before picking up the receiver at the fifth ring. She immediately recognized the neutrally pleasant voice asking to speak with the ambassador as belonging to her boss’ personal contact at the State Department. She answered that the ambassador was unavailable and offered to take a message. She was surprised that the caller asked where the ambassador had gone.

She replied, “Capitol Hill,” reading from the note Ambassador Sakeseba had written down for her, prominently displayed beside the telephone.

“How long will he be away,” the voice then asked in a tone marked by surprise or perhaps annoyance.

“A couple of hours,” she told him.

After a moment of hesitation, he said, thank you.

Giving in to the concern that had washed over her, Marie thoughtfully returned the phone to its cradle. Something had happened; and, not able to guess what it could be, her mind churned with improbable disasters, to the refrain from the security chief personally warning her that remaining in Washington depended on knowing everything about the ambassador’s activities.

Marie loved being in Washington. Away from Kinshasa, she was a person of importance here and no one from home who visited the imposing embassy building on Massachusetts Avenue’s Embassy Row, failed to notice how regal she had become.  She wore makeup here, mini dresses, and spent hours at the hair salon in College Park, Maryland, where the wives of high-level African officials posted in Washington went to have their hair done.

Her boyfriend, a Togolese World Bank official, had introduced her to the fashionable hair salon, where his wife and daughters were clients. He drove her to the salon every other Saturday afternoon so that two stylists could braid her hair in the latest fashion. The queen of the embassy they called her back home. Now, apprehension was her crown. She debated long with herself, before deciding to call the ambassador on his car phone; hoping that he’d answer and let slip information she could use to alert Mr. N’Kenda, her control in Kinshasa.

*

When Marie reached him, Ambassador Sakeseba was almost at his destination in Fairfax, a suburb of the District of Columbia.

Like the exuberant sunshine, he felt a singular excitement, driving himself through the din of lawnmowers in the community of King’s Park that reminded him of the equatorial rainforest’s lush woods north of the Kasai River, northeast of Kinshasa. Passing through the suburb under the speed limit on a workday, he recalled walking for days in the company of his uncle, Mokonzi Wasa Kabasu, surrounded by the tranquility of the woods with only bonobo grunts thrilling the peace of the canopies.

The delight of the bonobos enhanced the vitality of the forest – the forest, indulgent, inviting, and endlessly patient, greeted its visitors. That reminiscence never failed to sharpen his anticipation at what awaited him shortly in the arms of his exigent Virginia mistress.

In King’s Park, squirrels scampered across the road between passing cars, while three crows perched on a shiny rooftop looked on; cawing their impatience, waiting for the road kill to feast on.

Usually he stayed in his office on Mondays, to talk to contacts in Congress and in the various U.S. government agencies about what had taken place over the weekend when policy makers might have had discussions concerning Kinshasa, but there was presently nothing urgent in his inbox. And he desperately needed to visit the woman in the suburb, worried that neglecting her, as he had done lately, would drive her to carry out the threat to find another “exotic” lover. There was nothing he hated more than a woman walking out on him. What, however, decided it for him was that he had nothing urgent in his inbox.

The appointment of the new American ambassador to Kinshasa had taken much of his time recently. He had done everything; dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s. He had spent lavishly on lobbyists and the law firm, Moses, Barrington and Weiss, where the Vice President had been a partner. All this to ensure that the Dictator’s choice would be selected ambassador to represent Washington in Kinshasa.  He had spoken with his contact at the White House, who assured him that all was in order. By way of rewarding himself for his diligence and a successful undertaking, on Monday, he decided to indulge in a few relaxing hours with the Virginia woman who was pestering him for a visit.

The telephone’s ring spoiled the excitement of his well-deserved outing. His wife wouldn’t call this number. He fumbled for the phone. What emergency would cause his secretary to call this number, today?

“Yes, Marie.”

“Your man at State called,”

He waited.

“He asked where you were, and when you would return. He has never asked anything before. I thought that was strange. I didn’t want to take a chance after what happened in ‘92; maybe Clinghouse – I can’t pronounce his name – is going to Kinshasa again.” After a pause, she repeated, “Sorry, I didn’t want to take a chance.” Concern gave her voice a rasping tone, like manioc being grated for the evening meal.

“Klingesthousen is gone,” Ambassador Sakeseba told her, catching his breath. “He’s doing Latin America or Asia, telling the people there about their genetic discrepancies.” After a pause, he added, “I’ll be in the office in a couple of hours. I’ll take care of it then.”

“OK. Is there anything you want me to get ready for you?” she asked.

“No,” he answered. “I’ll take care of it.” And hung up.

Concerned caller ID would capture his car’s telephone number, he started looking for a shopping center, where he would find a payphone to call the man who had disturbed his excursion in the quiet suburb.  He made a u-turn on Sideburn Street and drove two miles west to reach the shopping center on Braddock Road and found a payphone in front of the Safeway supermarket there.

“What’s up, Marcel?  You scared Marie with your questions about my whereabouts.”

“Well, you were out of the office at 11 o’clock on a Monday morning. I thought something might have happened to you.”

“I am sorry; I should have told you I wouldn’t be in. I had a delicate errand to attend to.”

“About Marie,” Marcel reflected, “she was probably thinking that what happened to the guy in Kinshasa who paid for not warning the man about Klingesthousen would happen to you. And the man putting that poor bastard through one of his ‘shoeshines’ with the cane, Marie must be thinking that you’ll end up like him, one of Kinshasa’s most pitiful beggars.  So that her fears won’t come true, I have to see you right away.  How about in half an hour at the usual place?”

“Make it forty-five minutes, Marcel.”

“Forty-five minutes? Then you must still be – what did Marie say? – at the gym, exercising . . .” the man from State said with a strained chuckle.

Ambassador Sakeseba did not hesitate; he ran back to his car after he hung up to go deal with the urgency that had ruined his outing. The King’s Park woman would have to wait another day. In minutes, he was back on Braddock road, heading east and then north for the beltway and the District of Colombia.

When Sakeseba arrived at the restaurant on Kalorama street, his State Department contact, Marcellus Garinaldi and a Black Star beer were at the bar waiting for him. They shook hands and walked to a table in the back, where the light from the bar did not reach them.

Marcellus Garinaldi was a 1976 Morehouse College graduate summa cum laude in anthropology, an African American Foreign Service Officer, who, like many black FSOs, had served in Africa. Following multiple bouts of malaria, he requested an assignment in Europe; but the bureau director told him to forget it because he looked better in Africa. Sierra Leon was where he belonged. It was a policy commonly applied to blacks. Waiting for orders to go to Sierra Leon as the U.S. ambassador, Garinaldi should have been one seething bureaucrat, but he repressed the grief, fearing they would label him paranoid or angry, if he said anything. He got along all right by playing easygoing. Besides, going along was less stressful than being a security guard on permanent alert against slights. Then, too, he lived in dread of being thought lazy or not a team player and to guard against such tags, he took precautions like arriving at dawn to work, being the last to sign out of the office in the evening and coming in most Sundays. If he was out of town on a Sunday, he made sure they knew why. The day he overheard a supervisor say, “Marcellus must be a workaholic” was one of the most rewarding of his life. To ward off another label, he spent hours drafting excruciatingly long and complicated grammar-perfect reports that would please even Noah Webster.

Smoking three packs of cigarettes a day helped him cope. Molu Sakeseba befriended him when he was a junior officer posted in Kinshasa twenty years earlier and had shown him many of Africa’s ways. The Department designated him Sakeseba’s correspondent. In time he became the African Ambassador’s most perceptive advisor and returned the favor by using his familiarity with State Department’s bureaucratic practices to guide Sakeseba through Washington’s diplomatic and foreign policy mazes. Between them, there was no fence.

“Relax champ,” Garinaldi told Sakeseba, unease on his face and in his voice when they took their seats.

“I don’t think I look much like Muhammad Ali today,” Sakeseba said, lifting his beer and wondering what this meeting would be about.

“I didn’t mean to scare you, but after the 1992 Klingesthousen fiasco – you know, it still amazes me what that clown said over there, and that I didn’t know what he was up to – I wanted to make sure you were in the loop no matter how crummy the news.”

“What are you talking about, Marcel?”

“It won’t be announced for a couple of days, but the new ambassador for Kinshasa was picked at the Assignment Board meeting this morning.”

Sakeseba stared at his companion, his lips pursed as if tasting wine. “But I thought the decision was at least a month off. That’s one of the reasons I took time off today. What happened?” he asked.

“That‘s what I thought too, but the word came from the front office to get it out of the way immediately.”

“So it’s not the Old Man’s choice?” Sakeseba said, his voice flat.

Garinaldi took a sip from his drink to hide a grimace. With his free hand, he reached into his pocket for the ever-present cigarette pack. “Why do you call an autocrat Old Man,” he asked. You call your father “Old Man;” someone you respect, you call “Old Man,” but –”

“Because,” Sakeseba answered lightly, “whatever he is, he is the paterfamilias of the nation.  Don’t forget, too, that back in the sixties when the Belgians – and others – wanted to balkanize the Congo he kept it whole.”

“Another African trait I don’t understand,” Garinaldi said. “I always tell my colleagues there is more to Africa than we will ever be able to fathom.”

From behind a smoke ring, he added that the Dictator’s man had lost out.

“God, who is it then?”

“Judd Mosley,” he answered, folding his hands on his lap, knowingly, anticipating his friend’s reaction.

Sakeseba leaped to his feet as if an explosive had gone off in his chair. “Mosley? The black man?” he whispered through his teeth, standing over Marcellus.

“Well, he doesn’t call himself that exactly, but, yes, that’s the one.”

“But why?” Sakeseba asked, sitting back down, when he saw the people at the bar looking at him, his face contorted, almost in tears.

“Zaire is no longer on our A-list of designated countries, where only certain ambassadors will do. That’s why.” He took a long drag on his cigarette and let the smoke come out as he spoke. “Lots of people still don’t know that. Mosley probably doesn’t either and thinks he’s made the A-list himself. We, however, went through this after the Klingesthousen debacle. And we agreed it was because of this A-list rule. If Kinshasa was on the B list immediately following the Klingesthousen visit, it’s now on the D or C list, who knows?”

“They could have picked a D or C somebody else,” Sakeseba said, anguish in his voice. “Even that child actress, what’s her name, wouldn’t be as bad.” Shock no longer all-consuming, his mind passed in review the implications of the Judd Mosley appointment to his country. On a tightrope, he sought to maintain balance. He was hearing admonitions from his N’Gbandi ancestors. There was a buzz in his ear.

“I understand, but if you want an American Ambassador in Kinshasa, it will have to be this man. It’s like Sierra Leon. If they want an ambassador from here, they’ll have to accept me.” Marcellus was exasperated.

“God!”

“What I told you is for your ears only,” Marcellus cautioned. “I brought you a copy of the Task Force Report on State Department Reform. It’s only forty-six pages. Frank Carlucci, you know, the Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration, was the chairman. You can use it when you talk to the man about the Mosley appointment.  All you have to do is read from its findings. Convince him that we’re a dysfunctional organization and make dysfunctional appointments.”

“You don’t know the Old Man, do you?” Sakeseba said. “What you told me doesn’t change that I failed him. It’s my fault he’s going to lose face big time with this Mosley appointment. He knows your organization is dysfunctional, he’s been dealing with it for thirty years, but he sent me here to protect his interests – and I failed.  And he knows how to deal with failures.”

“Wait a minute,” Marcellus said, puffing on the cigarette as if it were a lifeline. “What are you talking about?”

“I am dead,” Sakeseba said. “That’s what I am talking about.”

“You did what you could – and more,” Marcellus said solicitously now. “You lobbied and kissed all the right asses. This is not your fault. Come on!”

“Tell me this; is there any way to reverse this decision?”

“As long as it’s not announced, I suppose so. The man in Kinshasa has friends in Congress; you can try there, but I don’t think it will work this time; it would be too easy to leak to the media that a congressman is standing up for the Dictator of Kinshasa who has got billions in Swiss accounts.”

Garinaldi’s right hand moved to his pocket to take out his cigarette pack.  “And they’re saying now,” he went on “that he is partly to blame for the Tutsi genocide two years ago.  For any congressman, it would be the kiss of death. The man is now in the same league as Baby Doc, Abacha, and Idi Amin, you know.”

“He hasn’t got billions in Swiss accounts,” Sakeseba answered. “Most of the money he uses for patronage to stay in power – not to maintain corrupt Swiss bankers who robbed people fleeing genocide.  I was with him once at an interview with European journalists. They asked him about his billions.  ‘Tell me where they are?’ he asked them.  All they could do was point to villas in the south of France, Brussels and Switzerland.  ‘At the most you are talking about a few million dollars,’ he laughed, ‘you said billions.’”

Garinaldi was looking at him the beer in one hand the cigarette in the other. “The perception he is the master of corruption in the world is not a laughing matter, Molu. And that’s what the public responds to,” he said.

Sakeseba took a sip of his beer, but it suddenly tasted awful. “When did you all get religion about corruption?” he asked, his eyes ablaze. “He is no different today than when you were all begging him to screw you.”

Marcellus sighed. “Kissing his ring for favors, pleading for his benevolence and allegiance, so on and so forth, that time is gone.”

He got up to go to the bar and came back a few minutes later with two more Black Star beers.  “Corrupt is what people picture when they hear his name now,” he continued.  “If it were just a question of geopolitics, they would simply discard him like all the others in Africa, but the fact that he’s perceived as the most corrupt man in the world makes him a burden, an embarrassment.  They have to make the point that they’re shunning him now.”

Sakeseba took a long swill of his beer; then he laid the glass carefully back on the table.

“Where would Kinshasa be without him?” he asked. “Broken up – Katanga in Soviet hands. And do you think Savimbi would’ve lasted as long as he did against the Cubans and the Soviets? He was corrupt then, wasn’t he? And as significant as anybody in the geopolitical scheme of things.”

“That was another age,” Marcellus answered patiently. “That’s also the difference, but this isn’t a seminar on the whorish ways of heads of state. This conversation is now about you. The man has made vindictiveness an instrument of state policy and, understandably, hits at everything he mistrusts. Who’s safe? You? I am doing everything I can to keep you safe. You were lucky the mud from the Klingesthousen farce didn’t splatter you in ‘92.  I lied to your colleagues at the United Nations that it was because of your efforts they removed Klingesthousen from the Africa account. They told the man, who must have bought it – you are still here.”

Garinaldi drained off his beer in one swig. “You’re going to have to use this Carlucci report to explain this Mosley appointment. Call him right away to tell him what you’ve heard, and don’t fly to Kinshasa until you know it’s secure.  Give yourself time.”

Sakeseba looked at his friend in silence, as though he would not see him again and wanted to remember what he looked like. His mind drifted.  He should tell the Old Man this afternoon about the State Department’s decision, but the worst thing would be to obfuscate the facts behind the decision to send Mosley to Kinshasa. He remembered that his mother invariably forgave him if he was the one to tell her first about his mischiefs. Standing on the road from the market, waiting for her so he could explain what he had done frequently got him through.  Raised by an African mother, he would always be an inveterate optimist.

“Look champ,” Marcellus said, cigarette smoke hallowing his face. “There’s something I’ve been thinking and wanted to tell you for a long time.”

Sakeseba sighed, “You’re full of it today, aren’t you?” he said.

“This is something else . . . the future of the Congo and you –”

“What are you telling me, Marcel?”

“The man has had his day, man; let’s face it, mass has been said on Kinshasa.”

“If I read between the lines, you’re suggesting I overthrow the Old Man. That’s what you’re telling me?” Sakeseba was then silent for a long time. Finally he said, “Are you nuts?  I wouldn’t be another bootleg head of state for anything in the world. I know we need change. I’ve known it since I left my village, but why think of coups when talking about change in Africa?  You don’t say that about your country though you agree the government is dysfunctional.”

“If you aren’t the most naïve man in the world, I don’t know . . .”

Sakeseba stared at his friend, feeling his earnestness.

“You’d get backing from France, Belgium, Rwanda and Uganda” Garinaldi added.

“The U.S. won’t object, obviously. Think what you could do with a country like that and a few honest institutions,” Marcellus advised. “God knows corruption is not the only way. Eighty percent of your people live in absolute poverty. The average Congolese was 53% poorer in 1995 than 30 years earlier. With that river you talk so much about, only 14% of the people have access to safe water. And minerals?  Your soil is so rich, cockpit instruments go haywire during flyovers.”

Sakeseba stared angrily at Marcellus.

“Look,” Marcellus said after a while, “the last time I was at the UN, I met the Senegalese foreign minister, you know, Dr. Fatou-Anne Cerusu. I was in awe of both her age and her beauty. She was amused when she noticed me staring at her, and she came over to introduce herself. I’ve never met anyone with a more comprehensive understanding of Africa in the world today than this woman.” Garinaldi paused to let his friend take in what he was advising.  “After Mandela, she’s the most respected person on the continent. But not even Mandela understands Africa the way she does. Get in touch with her; she can recommend the best course to follow. It will be off the record. You have nothing to lose.”

“I know who she is,” Sakeseba said exasperated, extending his hands out wide. “She has a tooth against the Old Man this long and never misses an opportunity to denounce him for one thing or another.”

“But what about that colonel friend of yours? Won’t you at least talk to him? The military may have a take on this Mosley appointment that’s different from yours and mine.”

“Yea, I’ll talk to Freeman.”

“OK man,” Marcellus said, pushing his chair back to get up. Then, to protect his friend from a perverse fate, he told him, “Your mother gave birth to a boy so ugly, it’s impossible for any woman to have anything to do with you”

Sakeseba laughed. “You don’t know how grateful I am to you for telling me to break a leg in the traditional African fashion. I need all the help I can get to dupe bad luck.”  He stood to hug his friend, “Thank you for all your help. I’ll stay in touch.”

“I’ll take care of the tab, champ,” Marcellus said, “You need to go talk to the man.”

 


Submitted: October 24, 2018

© Copyright 2020 Christian Filostrat. All rights reserved.

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