Lord Jones of Cheltenham has sent me his telling of the story recounted in The Catholic Orangemen of Togo about our seeing off the security service raid on the independent radio station in Accra. It differs from mine in some details, the most important of which is that we were actually with Graham Elson on this occasion as Roger Gale was working up country.
I confess that I am always pleased to have other eye-witness accounts of the many incidents in my books where dangerous people point guns at me. David Hare told me he had spent some of his time in Uzbekistan verifying the truth of some of the more physical enounters in Murder in Samarkand, like my attempt to shield Kristina in the car crash, and had clearly been somewhat surprised to find I really did that stuff.
The truth is I was petrified much of the time – including in the following incident, as told by Lord Jones:
Craig Murray arrived at our hotel on eve of poll with news of a melee up north in Ho, or maybe Hohoe. We readily agreed to accompany him to the local radio station Joy FM to find out what had happened. You tend to be very gung-ho on these missions and the thought that the evening might turn violent was not one which entered my head. Joy FM’s sister station Love FM confirmed the disturbance and told us that fourteen people had been arrested, one of them an opposition candidate. Craig asked what Joy FM intended to do with the news. ‘Well,’ said the young, bright broadcaster,'”Rawlings is giving his final Presidential broadcast on TV. We will make the trouble the main item on our news bulletin at 8 pm which is to be followed by a phone-in programme on the election.’ We watched the presidential broadcast. It was obviously pre-recorded with cuts when Jerry Rawlings started to get agitated. The whole thing was pretty disjointed but I gained the impression that he did not relish the concept of his party losing power.
The 8 o’clock radio bulletin followed and then all hell broke loose. There was a disturbance at the door and a group of uniformed and heavily armed large men appeared, each carrying what I am assured were Kalashnikov weapons. They were from the Bureau of National Intelligence. The leader instructed the young man in charge to stop broadcasting. Then Craig stepped in.
Craig Murray is not the tallest man in the world although the leader of this group of invaders was certainly a candidate for that title. Bravely Craig looked this man in the eyes and calmly said ‘You know I am Craig Murray the Deputy British High Commissioner.’ ‘Yes, Mr Murray, we know who you are.’ ‘Yes well what you may not know is that these three gentlemen have been invited by your government’ he paused jabbing his finger at (but not touching) the chest of the large man and repeating ‘YOUR government’ with emphasis, continuing ‘to observe these elections to make sure they are free and fair, and this person’ pointing at me ‘is a Member of Parliament from the House of Commons in London.’ At this every single member of the group pointed their Kalashnikovs at me. I kept as calm as you can in these circumstances. As Craig continued I was aware of a bead of sweat forming on my brow and slowly making its way down my forehead and left cheek. ‘Now,’ Craig continued, “Are you telling me and are you telling them and in particular are you telling him’ pointing at me again (I wished he wouldn’t keep doing that), guns still at the ready, lots of trigger fingering going on, ‘that you are going to close down this radio station? Because if you do, these gentlemen, including this important Member of the British Parliament’ pointing again ‘may decide to report that these elections have NOT been free and fair.’. He paused. ‘And it will be all YOUR fault’ jabbing finger again ‘YOUR fault’. Silence reigned for some moments. The guns were still pointing at me. They were very large. I gave outward signs of being calm. What was going on inside is a different matter. Another bead of sweat formed and made its way down the other side of my face.
Graham Elson tried to be helpful. I suggested they might like to go back and get further instructions as there had obviously been a mistake. After what seemed like an age, accompanied by more trigger fingering, they turned on their heels and left. After perhaps a minute we went outside to make sure they had really gone. They had left, but had stopped at the end of the road. We thought they might be about to take a pot shot at us from there, but when they saw us they got back into their vehicles and drove off. Joy FM stayed on air. ‘Thanks Craig,’ I commented. He chuckled. ‘You look like you need a drink,’ he replied perceptively.
Now if we had not been there, that radio station would have been closed down and the 2000 Ghana elections might have joined a long list of African elections which went wrong. Diplomats, MPs and others often get a bad press. All I can say is that Craig Murray is one of the most effective diplomats I have ever met and that like others I have known, the mission to observe this election was certainly no ‘jolly’.