I have been lucky enough to have led a somewhat unusual life. Occasionally, I have been part of events which have never made it into mass circulation and awareness. These have not been important events but might be sufficiently interesting to students of the realities of international relations as they reveal the more personal interactions behind the politics.
I was reflecting on this and realised that, for several cases, I may be the only one left who can tell the story. As an example I recalled the details of the most amusing tale of Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, the head of the MPLA and the Angolan Government, and his State Visit to India in 1982. Indira Gandhi played an important role in the Non-Aligned Movement and India hosted the 7th Summit Conference of Heads of State or Government of the Non-Aligned Movement in New Delhi on 7–12 March 1983. Jose Eduardo was on a State Visit to China and was travelling home via another State Visit to the USSR. The Indian Government had announced that it was preparing for the Non-Aligned Summit.
As his State Visit to China drew to its end, Jose Eduardo announced that he would like to break his journey from China to Moscow with a short visit to India as part of his trip. He announced his intent and made preparations for the journey. He had his Government plane and there were about forty people accompanying him; including his security guards. Having made the announcement of his intent. He gave instructions to his staff to do the preparations. What Jose Eduardo forgot was that there was no Angolan Embassy in India and no formal relations were in place. There was no one to make the necessary contacts.
The Angolan foreign office was in a state of panic. They tried to broker it at the UN but no one there had the power of making decisions, nor do the nitty-gritty of finding a place for the forty-odd people to stay during the visit. As it happened, I was in New Delhi at the time. I was not involved, initially, in any of this but was there negotiating a contract to deliver Bulgarian (Stroyimpex) cement to the State Trading company of India. I was staying at the Taj Mahal but was working from the garden of the Minister of Trade nearby who was assisting me. The cement negotiations were uninteresting and progressing. I did not spend much time on them because Rajiv Gandhi was preparing to play a larger role in Indian (Congress) politics and I was asked to assist Rajiv and V.P. Singh with preparing some papers for the upcoming Non-Aligned Movement meeting. I had worked on similar papers years earlier with my colleague, Dr. Mariyowanda Nzuwah, when Zambia was hosting an earlier Non-Aligned conference. We worked for the (then) Zambian Ambassador the US, Rupiah Banda (later a President of Zambia). I was told that they would deal with the cement stuff and I would help with the research.
All of a sudden, I started to receive urgent messages from Africa. My partner and close friend, Pierre-Victor Mpoyo, contacted me and told me of Jose Eduardo’s intent to visit India and asked if I could help. Victor Mpoyo and I were well-known in Angola and worked closely with Jose Eduardo and Kito Rodrigues, the Minister of the Interior. Victor represented Elf Petroleum there and we published the minutes of the MPLA meetings and minutes from the Angolan ministries in Switzerland. I also had to assist in getting a special tailor in Zurich to manufacture the Guyabera shirts Jose Eduardo favoured. Victor and I were later back-channels in the search for peace in Angola.
I said I would do what I could. At my next meeting with Rajiv’s people, I raised the urgency of the Angolan State Visit. They put me in touch with the foreign minister. The minister thought I was joking but he found out I was serious, He told me he could not guarantee a meeting with “Madame” as she was hosting a State Visit from someone else at the time. He promised to arrange an arrival ceremony at Delhi Airport and housing at various state apartments for the Angolan team for one night. He'd try to arrange a meeting with Rajiv and, if time allowed, he’d come too. I was relieved and passed all this on to Victor and Kito.
I went about my business and checked that all was okay. Apparently, it went well and they were accommodated in the apartments and Jose Eduardo was happy to meet Rajiv and the foreign minister. I went to sleep.
This was not the end, I’m afraid, the next morning a staggering news was delivered to me. Jose Eduardo and his plane loaded up, took off from New Delhi and was on its way to Moscow. However, in the rush two Presidential security guards were left behind. They took off and left them in India. They took me to the airport and asked me what to do with them. They were in a panic as it was bad form to not be guarding the President they were to protect. I suggested that they board the next plane to Moscow and catch up with everybody who had left them behind. They agreed. However, to leave India they need some paperwork as their passports, etc. were on the plane that left. The Indians said that they had to have paperwork, and tickets, before they could go anywhere. As there was no Angolan Embassy around, the only thing I could think of was for the Russians to issue a laissez-passer for them to go to Moscow to catch up with their President.
I got a car to take us and we went to the Russian Embassy. I asked to see the Consul as a matter of urgency. Russians don’t do urgent. They sent a consular official to see us after a while and I explained that the personal bodyguards of the Angolan President were left behind and had to go to Moscow to catch up with him. They had no papers but needed some visas or something that would let them fly. The consular official, with a broad grin, said this is nonsense. It can’t be true. I asked to see the Consul in person and I would get the Indian Foreign Minister to call him to explain that it was true. After a while the Consul appeared and I got the Foreign Minister to confirm that it was true. The Consul shook his head and agreed to give us the visas. I had to pay US$150 for each visa, but we got them. We took the guards to the airport and Rajiv (as a former pilot) arranged the tickets for them. We saw them off to Moscow.
It was totally bizarre but true. The kicker came when they were leaving Moscow for Kenya and then Luanda. The Russian security service, who had trained the Angolan guards, kept them in Russia for an additional three weeks to repeat their training.
I realised this morning that I may be the only one still alive to tell this story