Drink, Dictators and Belly Dancers

The New Statesman published this article by me:

Drink, dictators and belly dancers

Craig Murray

Published 10 January 2008

I confess that, for me, the festive season passes in a kind of benign blur. As I have never driven, this has limited capacity to hurt anyone else. A friend just suggested to me that, as a good Scot, I shall still be hungover from Hogmanay when people are reading this. Actually, as a good Scot, I shall still be drinking when you are reading this.

I am thoroughly fed up with the anti-alcohol propaganda on every broadcast news programme at this time of year. Look at George W Bush. As a wealthy alcoholic, he was a relatively harmless parasite on society. Then he sobered up, found God, and killed millions. Leave alcohol alone – it does much less harm than religion.

A troubled conscience

I am sitting typing this in Accra, where I have been helping out with an emergency power generation project. One little-remarked consequence of climate change has been unpredictable rainfall patterns, which have adversely affected hydroelectric schemes. The consequences for Ghana, which until the recent problems got most of its electricity from hydro, have been dire. Last year power shortages caused an estimated 30 per cent drop in industrial production.

A large part of the long-term solution must lie in windfarms along the Atlantic coastline, but Ghana desperately needs power now, so we are looking to get additional gas-turbine generation up and running by next summer. Obviously this troubles my environmental conscience, but I prioritise the urgent needs of a society that has struggled successfully for poverty alleviation and genuine democracy. Both sets of gains could be threatened if the power crisis is sustained. Do I worry I am wrong? Yes.

In December 2008 the respected president, John Kufuor, will step down and I am delighted by the selection of my good friend Nana Akufo-Addo as the ruling party’s presidential candidate. Nana Addo is a great freedom fighter who struggled at great personal cost against military dictators from Acheampong to Rawlings. We are rightly quick to acknowledge as heroes those who struggled against colonial and white rule, but seldom recognise those who make the often much lonelier struggle against Africa’s own dictators.

Meantime in Uzbekistan, my old adversary President Karimov is re-elected with 88 per cent of the vote on a 90 per cent turnout. The opposition parties in Uzbekistan are all banned, and the four other “candidates” had all declared their support for Karimov. The fact that Russia praised the election is more evidence that you don’t have to be a right-wing hawk to worry about Putin. But against that must be set the way no amount of googling turns up a word of condemnation from the British government.

Our earlier support for Karimov as part of the “war on terror” is well documented, not least by me. The same philosophy in Pakistan has left our policy in a disastrous mess following the appalling assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Hearing the UK and US drone on about the need for democracy, after enthusiastically backing the military dictator Pervez Musharraf for years, makes me sick. I am least of all impressed by Washington’s sartorial test of democracy. Islam Karimov has never worn a uniform but is still a dictator. Musharraf has never been elected and remains a dictator, even if he dons a tutu.

Romantic progress

My partner, Nadira, joined me in Ghana for Christmas and we spent most of our time rehearsing for her one-woman show, The British Ambassador’s Belly Dancer, playing at the Arcola Theatre in London throughout January. The show is autobiographical, and Nadira’s is a remarkable story of the degradation we have inflicted on Uzbekistan, and the ability of the spirit to rise above it. Less profoundly, in the second half it casts an entirely different light on some of the events I describe in Murder in Samarkand, as Nadira moves from romantic interest to protagonist. Nadira is searingly honest, and I don’t always look well in this new light. But the play addresses bigger issues than my vanity, and should be a tremendous theatrical experience.

Craig Murray was British ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2002-2004. His book “Murder in Samarkand” is published by Mainstream (£7.99)


As usual my copy was slightly edited for length, but I feel the choice of this sentence to cut was interesting: “Benazir Bhutto inherited all her family’s qualities of physical courage, personal charisma and rapacious veniality”. I am extremely sorry she was assassinated, but a candidate for sainthood she is not. Worth remembering, especially given the new prominence of her horrible husband.