Tanzania and Kenya 1981-83: Paul Cotton recalls his time representing New Zealand in East Africa.

AuthorCotton, Paul

A few months after we had settled in Athens the request from Wellington to plan to present credentials and open diplomatic relations with Tanzania and Kenya came as a great surprise. Neither of them had representatives in Greece at this time so preliminary contacts were made in London. It was some time before agreement to my appointment was received there from Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. A measure perhaps of the lack of interest in a Commonwealth partner of which they knew remarkably little and, as it was soon to prove, what they knew was in great part misinformation from South Africa.

When agreement was received it was up to us to make arrangements to present credentials. We did this through rather shaky phone connections to the two capitals. A date was fixed for Dar es Salaam and Gill and I, well dosed with Fancidar (the drug of choice at that time to protect us against a particular virulent form of malaria in East Africa), took off on SAS for Dar es Salaam via a refueling stop in Jeddah. By great good fortune the ministry had not long before initiated an aid programme in Tanzania and actually had an officer in Dar es Salaam there to get it off the ground. Winton Holmes was at the airport to meet us and settle us into the Kilimanjaro Hotel. The Kilimanjaro Hotel in Dar es Salaam was just acquiring the reputation as the worst hotel in the world. For our first visit the generous Australian high commissioner provided us with toilet paper and stronger light bulbs than the standard 25 watts in all fixtures. On future visits we knew to take our own.

As the date for the presentation had shifted by a day Winton took us up the coast to Bagamoyo, the old capital. Here we found identical administration buildings to those we remembered from our time in Apia. Both towns had been the capitals of German colonies before the First World War and the German government architects had used the same pattern for tropical colonial construction.

On return to Dar es Salaam all was ready for the presentation and after a simple ceremony President Julius Nyerere and I spoke about our relations, or, as I explained, our non-relations with South Africa. He was quite convinced we had close diplomatic ties with the apartheid state but was prepared to open correct but perhaps chilly relations with us. Looking back, I wonder if this was not due to a belief that our policies would match those of Australia. They had had diplomatic relations with South Africa for 40 years by this time. Surely these New Zealanders must be the same?

Whatever the reason Nyerere was a good man and not one to let a grudge stand in the way when I spoke of our interest in the aid projects we already had in his country and of our intention to maintain and expand them.

I returned from the Presidential Palace with the chief of protocol and invited him in for the traditional glass of champagne with us. I had been alerted to the fact that champagne would probably be unavailable in Dar so had brought my Moet with me from Athens. The technique in far off places is to place the bottle in the room rubbish bin with ice before departure and hope that the hotel had some vaguely appropriate glassware. This worked out well this time round.

Military parade

The president had invited us to attend a huge military parade the next day where he was to receive a demonstration of support from his armed forces. Not long before several members of the diplomatic corps in Cairo had been killed and wounded in the course of the assassination of the Egyptian president at a similar parade. While we took seats well out of the...

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