Vital Signs

Pimping for Africa

Thirty years after publishing Black Mischief, his hilarious novel about Abyssinia, the only independent African monarchy at that time, Evelyn Waugh wrote that the unthinkable in 1932 had come to pass.  The Europeans were departing Africa, leaving the administration of the benighted natives to Ministries of Modification presided over by Basil Seals of the United Nations.

The prescient Waugh had envisaged the toppling of Haile Selassie (“Highly Salacious”); but, life imitating art, the real-life agent, the questing journalist Jonathan Dimbleby, and the preposterous events that followed his appearance in Ethiopia in 1973 were straight out of the other great Waugh satire, Scoop.

Dimbleby was granted entry into Ethiopia (Abyssinia revivified) after offering to create yet another film commending the development efforts of His Supreme Majesty, the Lion of Judah.  He traveled north to check out the rumors of famine.  Shaken and perturbed, he returned to screen his television reportage in a film entitled Ethiopia: The Unknown Famine.  A juxtaposition of shots of thousands of famished skeletons with His Venerable Highness serving his dogs morsels of meat from a silver platter scandalized British viewers.  Within two years of the showing of the film, the leader of the DERG (the committee of a hundred junior officers), Mengistu Haile Maryam, throttled to death the 83-year-old...

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