Mugabe, Mbeki trapped in Cold War politics

Dave Brubeck, the celebrated jazz pianist, recorded Take Fivein 1957, with the composer of the piece, the late Paul Desmond on saxophone.

The first album of the quartet I ever owned was Dave Digs Disney. It does not include Take Five, a unique piece of jazz improvisation which brought immediate fame to the quartet.

My album was a gift from Frank Crump, an aficionado of jazz who worked for the US embassy in Lusaka in 1971.

In 1972, on a visit to the US, I asked about Crump at the state department in Washington, DC, hoping to renew our friendship and chew the fat on jazz and related subjects.

Incredibly, nobody in that labyrinthine building could remember the name. He had returned to the US by then, but nobody remembered him.

I smelt a rat - in fact, an insidious conspiracy, because this was during the height of the greed for power engendered by the multiheaded monster called the Cold War.

Conspiracy theories tended to sprout like weeds in my mind then. For the Africans, Asians, Latin and South Americans and East Europeans and other poor nations, politically-challenged races, even minions like myself, were targets - or so I firmly believed.

Had Crump defected to the East? Was he in the Kremlin, heading the real SMERSH, the shadowy, murderous outfit created by Ian Fleming for James Bond to fight in the name of Her Majesty's government?

Then we were interviewed by the Voice of America. The 1972 presidential election, to which we had been invited, was overshadowed by the Watergate scandal, in which Richard Nixon had star billing, not only as the front-runner, but as the chief villain.

We, four Africans and one Bangladeshi, talked at length about Watergate and what it meant to the election.

Back in Zambia, I was invited to watch the filmed interview at the USIS, everything we had said about Watergate had been excised. The conspiracy weeds took on the size of baobab trees.

In 1976, while posted to Ndola, I moved house, and Dave Digs Disney was stolen, along with my turntable. The conspiracy theories now gave me the mother of all headaches.

Years later, after friends in London, including the writer Doris Lessing, had helped me replace Dave Digs Disney, I bought other Brubeck albums, including Summit Sessions, which features the quartet playing at the John Fitzgerald Kennedy White House.

So Dave Brubeck was an admirer of that liberal, charismatic leader.

Didn't that suggest that my benefactor, Frank Crump, was also one? Nixon had lost to Kennedy in 1960.

When Nixon resigned over Watergate in 1974, my relief was massive.

Today, I no longer believe any of that conspiracy tosh.

Or that someone stole Dave Digs Disney because they identified me as a fellow traveller of Crump.

Lately, I tend to laugh at my conspiracy obsession, much as I now laugh at the way some African leaders were used as pawns during the Cold War.

Many of them still believe in the Cold War, trying to play the two blocs - East and West - against one another.

Presidents Robert Mugabe and Thabo Mbeki, particularly, seem stuck in a time warp.

For them the Cold War is alive and kicking.

They should both be warned: enjoy the music while you can - Dave Brubeck's and Hugh Masekela's - and forget the carcass of the Cold War.

l Bill Saidi is deputy editor of The Standard in Zimbabwe.