World

Africa, World

US: Ambassador Sarah Palin to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Nambia?

US: Ambassador Sarah Palin to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Nambia?

It has been a particularly busy week for international politics. There is the increasingly rancorous and confusing row between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un over the latter’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. There have been the German election results, with the entry into its national legislature of a far-right political party for the first time in over a half-century. And in the US, there has been the ugly squabble between Trump and the entire National Football League and its team owners and players over knees and anthems. Just before that, there was much global sniggering about Donald Trump’s mispronunciation of the name of an African country when he apparently meant to praise the success of “Nambia’s” national health programmes. Most people thought that was a bizarre mash-up of the names of three very real countries: the Gambia, Zambia and Namibia. But, the astonishing truth is Nambia really does exist. And that nation was on Trump’s mind, particularly because he had just decided to name former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as US ambassador there. J. BROOKS SPECTOR takes a closer look at this mythic land.

Of Thee I Sing, Oh Glorious Nambia! Island of Enchantment, Nation of Prosperity and Riches….’

The first line of the Nambian national anthem

Despite the fact Donald Trump seemed to scramble the names of a variety of African nations in his remarks at a luncheon in honour of African representatives at the UN General Assembly, Nambia is not a fiction. Oh no, not at all.

In fact, Daily Maverick can now reveal that the reason he mentioned it was that Nambia was very much on the Trumpster’s mind at that very time. The secret information he was contemplating was that the US government had just received diplomatic agreement from the government of the Sovereign Popular Independent Nambia (SPIN) for the appointment of former Alaska Governor (and unsuccessful Republican vice presidential candidate in 2008) Sarah Palin as America’s new ambassador to that peaceful, tropical and near-idyllic island nation, a land with an unusual history.

The next steps in the ambassadorial appointment process are the public announcement of this new appointment and the official swearing-in ceremony in the formal reception rooms at the Department of State. Finally, there is the presentation of the ambassador’s letter of credence to Nambia’s head of state, once Ambassador-designate Palin arrives in-country.

Once again, one of Daily Maverick’s back-room friends in Washington has been helpful in passing along some useful and interesting information for the edification of our readers. This time, it has been the text of the State Department’s briefing memorandum on Nambia that has been written to inform relevant White House staff – and most especially the incumbent president – about current Nambian economic and political issues and their historical context.

We have left off the specific routing information and the security classification designations of this memorandum as a sop to the privacy of bureaucrats everywhere, but the text is complete as displayed below.

Historical Background and Contemporary Political Issues

Nambia is an island nation strategically located near southeast Africa and just north of Madagascar, close to major international shipping lanes and with significant maritime resources in its exclusive economic zone. Originally settled by people from both the African mainland and Madagascar more than a thousand years ago, the resulting population absorbed significant influences from visiting Arab traders and then Portuguese, Dutch and other European explorers and merchants.

According to various contemporary accounts dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, the island’s people were deemed too warlike to be enticed or captured easily as slaves. As a result, for hundreds of years, they were largely left alone by outsiders, save for intermittent trade opportunities.

Then, in the latter part of the 19th century, Nambia accidentally became an easily overlooked, largely neglected colony of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before that empire’s dissolution at the end of World War I. Lt-Col Markus von Trapp und Schleswig-Holstein (coincidentally a forebear of another Von Trapp who became more famous in Austria and then America as, first, a naval officer and then leader of a family of singers) had served as an adjutant to the French-installed Emperor Maximillian, the Habsburg prince who became the ruler of Mexico in the 1860s.

With the violent collapse of that overseas adventure in 1867, Von Trapp, having been deeply affected by this unsuccessful colonial effort, had spent several years as a serving imperial army officer in Austrian-ruled Bohemia, while considering alternative future options when he began a serious study of the Indian Ocean littoral. Most of the territories had already been – or were about to be – claimed by various European adventurers on behalf of their respective homelands, but some of the lesser-known islands had been largely left to their own populations.

In an apparent nod to that military service in Bohemia and the “seacoast of Bohemia” in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, Von Trapp renamed the scenic seaside of Nambia’s capital Bohemia in place of its original name. This curious naming stuck, apparently because the Nambians had a real fascination and love for translated copies of Shakespearean plays that had been circulating in the country for decades.

Von Trapp had also been deeply influenced as a young man by his readings of romantic and imaginative literature. When he discovered that Nambia’s royal lineage bore the family name of Prospero, he investigated further to learn that some German scholars believed that reports of the island’s history had influenced Renaissance authors who had, in turn, influenced Shakespeare, especially with his play, The Tempest. Von Trapp became yet further intrigued when he learned of a Nambian legendary character, “the Caliban”, an apparent version of the Greek legend of the “Anthropophagi”, first described by historian/traveller Herodotus over 2,000 years ago.

As a result of these readings and Von Trapp’s increasing flights of imagination, together with a small force of well-armed, experienced military men eager for a share in the sudden rush to seize African real estate (including a Capt Gustav Drumpf who had originally been in the Bavarian army but who later joined the Austrian imperial forces after German unification), Von Trapp took control of Nambia from the Prospero dynasty, thereby establishing a protectorate over the island in 1878. Although the Austro-Hungarian Empire was far more interested in the complex Balkan issues of 1878 than in gaining colonies in distant African lands or Indian Ocean islands, they were, nevertheless, prepared to allow Von Trapp’s new political order to be recognised, but only if the costs came at little or no cost to the home government in Vienna (the Habsburg state had been facing one of its periodic, regular budget crises at the time). This Von Trapp-led military coup eventually became recognised as a government after a small corps of Austrian civilians came to fill the senior positions that regulated the island’s trade, taxes, tariffs, and communications, as well as its external relations with neighbouring territories. It is reported that some years later, Franz Kafka was an avid student of the bureaucratic handbooks specially prepared for this Indian Ocean protectorate.

Following the collapse of Austria-Hungary after World War I, control of Nambia passed to the French colonial government of Madagascar, as no other mandatory power was prepared to accept this responsibility. Following a brief and largely bloodless insurrection in 1960, the French colonial administration in Antananarivo agreed to an island-wide plebiscite that would determine Nambia’s future. The voting was overwhelmingly in favour of the island becoming a separate territorial entity, not surprising given its complicated linguistic background – a unique mixture of the African language of Makua, the Malagasy language of Merino, Arabic and German – as well as a lack of any historical links with modern Madagascar, save for that post-World War I period of governance.

Post-independence, Nambia has successively flirted with political alignments towards the then-Soviet Union, China and, more recently, South Africa, Iran and India, as well connections to several western nations. Thirty years ago, the Soviet Union had had hopes of establishing a naval support facility there to assist its push for blue water naval exercise staging areas in the Indian Ocean. The Chinese had once planned to establish a staging port for their increasingly vigorous pelagic fishing efforts.

More recently, the South Africans, Iranians, and Indians have all made a number of strategic investments in projects tied with Nambia’s reported mineral wealth in mind (see “Economy” section, below). Besides these engagements with the Nambians, the North Koreans have built a national sports stadium in the island’s capital, Erehwon (roughly, “where is this place?” in the local kriol), to gain leverage. Moreover, the Germans (on behalf of a larger Germanic cultural zone in recognition of the country’s brief time under imperial Austria), in association with Austria, have provided scholarships, apprenticeships and related training to Nambians.

British, French and American relations with Nambia are now largely stable and increasingly positive. Currently, ongoing negotiations focus on questions of fishing quotas, the exploration and exploitation of underwater mineral resources, and calls for Nambia to support international efforts against non-state actor terrorism.

Nambia has largely voted with the US on most major proposals at the UN and other international bodies designed to limit access to global financial networks by various terror groups, and to prevent such groups from establishing any further footholds in the region. Nambian anti-terror action, however, has sometimes been affected by the island’s deference towards substantial resident Arab and Iranian investor populations that continue to have a disproportionate presence in the island’s banking and commercial sectors.

The Nambian political system is a unitary state, with an elected national assembly that is part of a largely parliamentary-style government. The prime minister is the head of the ruling party and the usual parliamentary term is five years. However, the prime minister can call an election at any time. In recent years, the so-called Prospero Party has held a majority of seats, although the Calibanist League, advocating a more radical economically redistributionist model, has gained about 45% of the votes in the past two elections. The Calibanist League draws much of its support from tenant farmers, fishermen and low-skilled, less-educated urban workers, while the Prospero Party appeals to landowning farmers, business entrepreneurs, government employees, teachers and others.

Economy, commerce and international involvement

Nambia’s economy remains substantially dependent upon farming (including speciality crops air-shipped to locations such as Madagascar, South Africa and other southern African locations), orchid growing for high-end markets in Europe, its speciality upland Covfefe coffee variety, fishing, tourism, and a growing roster of light industry such as stitching expensive-looking ties and lower end women’s clothing on contract for American and European brands, generally sold online. A key economic driver is the country’s growing position as a regional financial centre that has been gaining favour from Middle Eastern nations and investors interested in making use of a sophisticated banking regimen that features fewer of the restrictions applicable in many other centres in the area.

The growing financial activity has, however, generated pressures on a government that has largely maintained its reputation as honest and transparent. There have also been reports of use of the Nambian banking and financial sector by Russian investors eager to move financial resources into the above-ground economy from more legally anomalous circumstances without being tracked as they might be in larger financial centres (see secret attachment).

Important features of Nambia’s likely economic future in the next five years will most likely come from three main areas: increased pelagic fishing; exploitable, untapped natural gas and oil reserves, and increased environmental tourism – including controlled, regulated hunting.

The rich fishing grounds in Nambia’s exclusive economic zone continue to have rich potential but they require more efficient enforcement mechanisms and patrolling to avoid overfishing and stock depletion. This is an excellent opportunity for America to engage with Nambian officials and the larger public.

Similarly, its natural gas and oil reserves in the waters of that economic zone, still only explored in limited areas, are a likely extension of the Mozambican natural gas fields. If proved, the revenues of these fields could well support vigorous national economic expansion plans, if revenue is properly cared for and if negotiations with the companies carrying out exploration and exploitation are directed towards Nambia’s favour. Here too, this represents a likely area for the US to assist the Nambian government, perhaps drawing from the experiences of Alaska’s successful negotiations with the oil majors.

Finally, Nambia has a range of unique flora and fauna regions and a number of national parks and reserves. Properly managed and efficiently run, these areas can support a major increase in environmental tourism as well as controlled hunting. Nambia is unique in hosting populations of elephants and other species that, as a result of evolutionary action leading to insular dwarfism, have evolved into almost miniature versions of their respective species. There is little current advocacy among Nambians for bans on hunting and such tourism can contribute to the national economy, if carried out in a way that conserves the affected species.

Current issues

One of the most controversial issues currently in US-Nambia relations revolves around the plans of several resort hotel developers – including two American firms – to create a self-contained resort village that would call for several hundred traditional fishers to lose their land and could put severe strains on infrastructure needs. There have been several public protests, including at the US Embassy, and numerous critical commentaries in the local print/broadcast media and on social media.

Several American-related firms have been in the running for new gas/oil exploration contracts but the company officials have told the US embassy confidentially that in response to possible offers from other nations that do not have variations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices regulations, it is apparent that a number of thinly disguised bribes have apparently been solicited – or paid. American companies find it difficult to compete in such circumstances and they will undoubtedly seek high-level support from US representatives.

Finally, there have been reported instances of visiting American hunters killing some of the now-protected species of unique Nambian fauna while making use of helicopters as platforms, or using illegal fishing gear to land trophy apex predator fish. In the absence of effective management of these resources, such misuse of these resources may continue, and such behaviour will become increasingly difficult or impossible to defend. The individuals involved may well face major legal and criminal sanction as a way of making a public example of such behaviour, leading to international criticism on a par with rhino poaching.

***

Now, doesn’t that country sound like the perfect place for a helicopter-flying, moose-shooting-ambassador, with a professional fisherman as a spouse, and who never met an oil pipeline and oil well she didn’t love? What a shame it is that Nambia doesn’t really exist after all. Sounds like lots of fun.

Still, given the current languorous, lackadaisical, slow-motion, and thoroughly uninterested way the Trump administration has appointed ambassadors and senior officials in the State Department (and other departments), and the apparent plans of the current Secretary of State for cutting away at useful budget items and programmes, does it seem totally unlikely that someone who sounds just like Sarah Palin might actually be sent off to one of those very real, unsuspecting nations on the world map as the country’s chief representative there? Hey, watch out there, The Seychelles, Mauritius, The Maldives, Sri Lanka, Cape Verde – and a veritable slew of Caribbean nations, besides Cuba of course. All those campaign contribution mega-donors just love having an “Amb.” in front of their names on their business cards and personal stationery. DM

Original photo: Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin holds a copy of ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ by Dr. Seuss as she speaks at the 41st Annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, USA, 08 March 2014. EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

Gallery

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.