I’ve no idea how far in advance they plan the Telegraph Cryptic Crosswords but I suspect it is at least a few weeks. So in the light of this week’s events in Kenya, there is an ironic poignancy to 2 Across from today’s. The clue reads:

2 Ac: Alas a dream’s going wrong for African city (3,2,6)

As clues go, it is quite a nice one, though not particularly taxing (especially since the definition at the end, placed beside the unusual letter formation, gives the game away somewhat). If you are new to the wonders of cryptic clues, and want an explanation of how this one works, you only have to ask!

Ans: Dar Es Salaam

Of course, it is the wrong city – and ironically enough, Dar (and Tanzania as a whole, for that matter) has been one of the more stable parts of the continent. But go just up the coast and the situation is not so good at all. For in Nairobi, a dream really does seem to have gone wrong.


We were living just over the border in Uganda, when Mwai Kibaki swept to power in 2002. After the despotic and corrupt years of Daniel arap Moi at the helm, it seemed like a breath of fresh air (although people conveniently forgot that Kibaki had once upon a time been Moi’s Vice-President for 10 years!). His victory was heralded as a miracle for what was often called the ‘National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) dream’.


We heard amazing stories. One stuck in my mind. Police checkpoints litter Africa – most of the time they are just an inconvenience and a matter of daily life when we lived in Uganda. But in Moi’s Kenya, it was assumed that you could only get through with the help of a bribe. Within days of the NARC victory, there was one story of a matatu (minibus taxi) going through a checkpoint where the driver paid the normal bribe. But a woman in the matatu had had enough. She got the other passengers to force the driver to go back and retrieve the bribe. The status quo didn’t have to remain unchallenged.


But corruption didn’t end, political problems continued and the tribal divisions that seem to wreck so many advances across the African continent, were never healed (as proved this week). Within just a few months, it was business as usual. The British High Commissioner, Sir Richard Clay, got his knuckles severelyrappedby his political masters in London, for speaking out about the corruption in Kibaki’s government back in 2005. But he was spot on. And what we’ve seen over the last few days only goes to prove his point.


Dar Es Salaam is clearly the correct answer to the cryptic clue – but a straight clue would have a different answer, at just 7 letters.


How ironic also, that at the moment when Barack Obama is savouring his first Democratic primary victory in Iowa, his father’s country is in such turmoil. If he does become President (which is by no means a dead cert at this stage), one has to wonder – could a half-African President of the United States make a difference.


Why, oh why, Lord, do African Dreams so often turn into nightmares? God bless Africa – PLEASE…



See also this very interesting article by BBC’s Juliet Njeri: Kibaki – Dream or Nightmare?

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Kate Loe

    Thanks Mark. Africa has always been such a confusing continent of countries with a certain number being continual hotbeds of conflict. It has been relatively easy therefore to look on those countries that in more recent years have been free of overt conflict and think an answer has been found to improving the economy/infrastructure, albeit slowly. What foolish hope! Kenya has demonstrated that the undercurrent of anger at injustice and corruption will eventually spill over in complete disarray. But why a people who have relatively so little risk all to lose it in violence is hard to comprehend. Is this meant to be justice? I may be different culturally than the Kenyan, but I consider myself the same in humanity and look back to Northern Ireland’s violence to prove that we are no different. It all seems to be rooted in identity and history – neither of which can be rewritten. So what hope is there for Africa? What should we pray for? The perplexing point is that so often corruption and christianity walk side by side. Ingrained so deeply, no external laws or social restructuring will influence our true natures. Kibaki may have precipitated the current situation in Kenya, but will his removal or as you mention an external president result in any real change? Perhaps we just need more women in matatus to challenge the norm – but where do they reside?

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