Thursday, September 28, 2006

The country of incorruptible men

This morning I got an all-too-familiar message in my e mail inbox:

FROM:MR.TIMOTHY OTIS,
AUDITING AND ACCOUNTING UNIT.
BANK OF AFRICA
(BOA),BURKINA FASO.
TEL/0022678012046

DEAR FRIEND,

I AM TIMOTHY OTIS, THE DIRECTOR IN CHARGE OF AUDITING AND ACCOUNTING SECTION OF BANK OF AFRICA(BOA) BURKINA FASO IN WEST AFRICA WITH DUE RESPECT AND REGARDS. I HAVE DECIDED TO CONTACT YOU ON A BUSINESS TRANSACTION THAT WILL BE VERY BENEFICIAL TO BOTH OF US AT THE END OF THE TRANSACTION.

DURING OUR INVESTIGATION AND AUDITING IN THIS BANK, MY DEPARTMENT CAME ACROSS A VERY HUGE SUM OF MONEY BELONGING TO A DECEASED PERSON WHO DIED ON 31ST OCTOBER 1999 IN A PLANE CRASH AND THE FUND HAS BEEN DORMANT IN HIS ACCOUNT WITH THIS BANK WITHOUT ANY CLAIM OF THE FUND IN OUR CUSTODY EITHER FROM HIS FAMILY OR RELATION BEFORE OUR DISCOVERY TO THIS DEVELOPMENT.

ALTHOUGH PERSONALLY, I KEEP THIS INFORMATION SECRETWITHIN MYSELF AND PARTNERS TO
ENABLE THE WHOLE PLANS AND IDEA BE PROFITABLE AND SUCCESSFUL DURING THE TIME OF EXECUTION. THE SAID AMOUNT WAS U.S $14.5M (FOURTEEN MILLION FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND UNITED STATES DOLLARS). AS IT MAY INTEREST YOU TO KNOW, I GOT YOUR IMPRESSIVE INFORMATION THROUGH THE BURKINA FASO CHAMBER OF COMMERCE ON FOREIGN BUSINESS RELATIONS HERE IN BURKINA FASO.

MEANWHILE ALL THE WHOLE ARRANGEMENT TO PUT CLAIM OVER THIS FUND AS THE BONAFIDE NEXT OF KIN TO THE DECEASED, GET THE REQUIRED APPROVAL AND TRANSFER THIS MONEY TO A FOREIGN ACCOUNT HAS BEEN PUT IN PLACE AND DIRECTIVES AND NEEDED INFORMATION WILL BE RELAYED TO YOU AS SOON AS YOU INDICATE YOUR INTEREST AND WILLINGNESS TO ASSIST US AND ALSO BENEFIT YOUR SELF TO THIS GREAT BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY.

IN FACT I COULD HAVE DONE THIS DEAL ALONE BUT BECAUSE OF MY POSITION IN THIS COUNTRY AS A CIVIL SERVANT(A BANKER),WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO OPERATE A FOREIGN ACCOUNT AND WOULD EVENTUALLY RAISE AN EYE BROW ON MY SIDE DURING THE TIME OF TRANSFER BECAUSE I WORK IN THIS BANK.

THIS IS THE ACTUAL REASON WHY IT WILL REQUIRE A SECOND PARTY OR FELLOW WHO WILL FORWARD CLAIMS AS THE NEXT OF KIN WITH AFFIDAVIT OF TRUST OF OATH TO THE BANK AND ALSO PRESENT A FOREIGN ACCOUNT WHERE HE WILL NEED THE MONEY TO BE RE-TRANSFERRED INTO ON HIS REQUEST AS IT MAY BE AFTER DUE VERIFICATION AND CLARIFICATION BY THE CORRESPONDENT BRANCH OF THE BANK WHERE THE WHOLE MONEY WILL BE REMITTED FROM TO YOUR OWNDESIGNATION BANK ACCOUNT.

I WILL NOT FAIL TO INFORM YOU THAT THIS TRANSACTION IS 100% RISK FREE. ON SMOOTH CONCLUSION OF THIS TRANSACTION, YOU WILL BE ENTITLED TO 30% OF THE TOTAL SUM AS GRATIFICATION, WHILE 5% WILL BE SET ASIDE TO TAKE CARE OF EXPENSES THAT MAY ARISE DURING THE TIME OF TRANSFER AND ALSO TELEPHONE BILLS, WHILE 65% WILL BE FOR ME. PLEASE, YOU HAVE BEEN ADVISED TO KEEP "TOP SECRET" AS I AM STILL IN SERVICE AND
INTEND TO RETIRE FROM SERVICE AFTER WE CONCLUDE THIS DEAL WITH YOU.

I WILL BE MONITORING THE WHOLE SITUATION HERE IN THIS BANK UNTIL YOU CONFIRM THE MONEY IN YOUR ACCOUNT AND ASK ME TO COME DOWN TO YOUR COUNTRY FOR SUBSEQUENT SHARING OF THE FUND ACCORDING TO PERCENTAGES PREVIOUSLY INDICATED AND FURTHER INVESTMENT, EITHER IN YOUR COUNTRY OR ANY COUNTRY YOU ADVICE ME TO INVEST IN. ALL OTHER NECESSARY VITAL INFORMATION WILL BE SENT TO YOU WHEN I HEAR FROM YOU. I LOOK FORWARD TO RECEIVE YOUR MAIL. YOU SHOULD CONTACT ME IMMEDIATELY AS SOON AS YOU
RECEIVE THIS LETTER THROUGH MY EMAIL ADDRESS:timothy_otis01@yahoo.co.uk

YOURS FAITHFULLY,

MR.TIMOTHY OTIS.

Call me/0022678012046/for more
Info.


If you haven't seen this particular message, I'm sure you've seen many that bear more than a passing resemblance to it. And I suspect that, for many people in the West, at least, the name 'Burkina Faso' is associated only with transparently dodgy e mails promising quick riches in return for an even quicker cash donation. It's true that dodgy e mails come from other places - I've had more than a few from Nigeria - but Burkina Faso seems to be the home of most of the clumsier attempts at fraud-via-e mail.

Some of the recipients of this sort of spam might be surprised, and even amused, to learn that Burkina Faso translates as 'country of incorruptible men'. The name was chosen by the government of Thomas Sankara, a thirty-three year old army officer who took control of the country then known as Upper Volta in a 1983 coup. Upper Volta had been one of the most isolated, obscure and economically underdeveloped countries in Africa, a source of jokes in the 'advanced' countries of the West. When they wanted to talk about the weakness of the Soviet Union's economy compared to its military, Cold War commentators would call the country 'Upper Volta with rockets'. In the British sitcom Yes, Prime Minister, the wily public servant Sir Humphrey contrasts the encyclopedic knowledge of Foreign Office bureaucrats with the ignorance of professional politicians by asking the PM whether he 'can, by any chance, name the capital of Upper Volta?'

Thomas Sankara's coup created that rare flower, a left-wing military government. During their short time in power, Sankara and his allies attempted to implement a number of radical, if not revolutionary measures to reorganise their society. They initiated a programme of land reform, nationalised some of the country's paltry industrial sector, passed laws that gave equal rights to women and lower castes, and tried to mobilise the population of an overwhelmingly rural, peasant society by creating grassroots revolutionary committees that could become alternatives to the old power structures of tribe and caste. The Sankara government also tried to instil a new pride in its people, and the name Burkina Faso must be understood in this context.

At the same time as he undertook all these progressive measures, Sankara held back from directly challenging foreign capital and the international financial agencies that dominated his country's desperately weak economy. In October 1987 Sankara was killed in a bloody coup backed by international capital, conservative tribal leaders, and Burkina Faso's small but influential business class.

Like Amilcar Cabral and Patrice Lumumba, Sankara remains an inspiration to African leftists, and a warning of the problems besetting attempts at the radical reform of small and undeveloped nations dominated by imperialism. But it's not only Africans who should be interested in Sankara and Burkina Faso. There are fascinating parrallels between Sankara, who was hugely charismatic with a sense of political drama, and who tried to mobilise the masses when his reform programme ran into opposition from the bourgeoisie and conservative parts of the army, and the much better known Hugo Chavez. (Of course, there are also enormous differences between the contexts Chavez and Sankara came to power in - Venezuela's huge oil wealth contrasts with Burkina Faso's extreme poverty - but the point of comparative analysis is to balance similarities against differences.)

Burkina Faso deserves to be known for something more than dodgy e mails. You can read more about Thomas Sankara and his revolution here.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

who woz amilcar cabral?

4:05 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why haven't you returned the library books yet?

2:13 am  

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