By Nick Busvine
When it came to filling tricky posts in challenging locations, I found my diplomatic service employers all too ready to deploy a battery of persuasive tactics. I don't suppose the list of applicants for First Secretary (Political), Maputo in Mozambique was exactly long when the job was advertised in 1990. But offering the incentive of your very own Embassy plane – now, that was unusual. I had something like 140 hours flying experience under my belt – so applied.
Mozambique had been stuck in a nasty civil war since the late 1970s. It ranked top in
terms of landmines per head of population and bottom of the GDP per capita league.
The country had failed to exploit its natural and human resources. Prospects seemed grim. A classic African basket case.
Fortunately, Mozambicans have a knack for winning international friends. Samora
Machel, the charismatic leader of the ruling FRELIMO Communist Party, rather improbably impressed Mrs Thatcher in the mid-1980's. HMG decided to engage alongside a large chunk of the international community. The embassy’s manpower was bolstered in 1988, both to prosecute the Cold War (there was a suspiciously large Soviet Embassy in Mozambique) and to foster internal reconciliation - IR as we called it then.
My predecessor built a discreet behind-the-scenes IR role – including message carrying between President Chissano and the leader of the RENAMO guerrillas, Afonso Dhlakama. In the embassy we found ourselves working alongside an interesting cast of characters. It is hard to forget the extraordinary and activist Sant' Egidio priest Mateo Zuppi. Sant' Egidio was a Catholic charitable organisation which subsequently (in partnership with the Italian Government) took on responsibility for managing - and bank-rolling - peace talks in Rome, that culminated in the General Peace Agreement (GPA) of late 1992. It fell to me from time to time to travel to Italy to represent HMG at these talks.
The difficulty back in Mozambique was how to develop an effective IR role when road
travel outside the main cities was all but impossible. As a private pilot, my resourceful predecessor’s solution was to put up a case for an embassy aircraft. Persistence and a well-argued case finally nudged a reluctant London into approving the purchase of a four seat, single engine Piper Dakota, registration ZS-EKB.
It was only after I had agreed to take on the Maputo job that news began to filter through that perhaps EKB was not quite the glamorous, cutting-edge piece of aviation technology that I had been led to expect by those persuasive personnel people. One colleague had recently visited Maputo and somewhat apologetically described EKB to me as 'a Ford Anglia of the air'. Oh dear. But it was too late to back out.
I duly arrived in Maputo in September 1991 and was subjected to the usual hectic handover. My predecessor did his best to give me a crash-course on IR. I met the President and all sorts of other fascinating people in a blur of activity in a few short days, and was finally and ceremoniously handed EKB's paperwork. EKB herself was parked in Nelspruit, South Africa - where she was maintained. My predecessor looked at me meaningfully and told me the pilot's equivalent of the time-honoured car salesman's phrase 'she may not look great, but she's an excellent runner' and, with that, he was gone. I was left the somewhat bemused owner of a 1964 vintage aeroplane, as yet unseen, equipped with original instrumentation and upholstery. I couldn't get the image of a flying Ford Anglia out of my mind.
‘The Ford Anglia’: Embassy Piper Dakota ZS-EKB, Maputo Mozambique 1992