Dogs in Africa



We acquired Mogi in Bangui, Central African Republic. A feisty little puppy, part shepherd, he grew into a 50-pound dog. Admiring his size, our Yakoma neighbors advised that he was safe on our eastern side of the city; had we lived south, “those M’baka” would put him in the pot.

Late on a Friday, the chargé got a call from Foreign Minister Joseph Potolot advising that he was being sent (by irascible and unpredictable President Jean Bedel Bokassa) on an urgent mission to Washington, leaving the next morning. The minister’s visa had expired so I went along to the meeting, collected his passport and promised to deliver it, visa included, at the airport the following morning.

I went home, grabbed a quick bite, tossed the passport on the coffee table and headed to the airport to meet a visitor on the evening flight. When I returned, my wife, Connie, met me: “Mogi ate Mr. Potolot’s passport,” she said, holding up a well-chewed, soggy mess with teeth punctures through several pages.

I envisaged my imminent departure from the country, if not from life itself. Bokassa’s government was not to be messed with. I called the chargé: “We have a problem.” He heard me out, paused and replied: “Bob, you have a problem.”

I hunkered down with a hair dryer, some cardboard shims, glue and an iron. Before long I had a more presentable, if obviously mangled document. In the morning I put a visa in it and took it to the airport, thinking the minister could either laugh or explode.

The latter possibility had me worried, but he took it in stride. He did not want to have to explain to his boss why he was not traveling as ordered. Two weeks later Potolot sent over a brand new passport for a visa.

That was not Mogi’s only brush with officialdom. Some time later he got through the fence into a neighboring compound and killed at least one rabbit that was being raised by the woman who lived there.

That was not Mogi’s only brush with officialdom.

The lady in question was one of Bokassa’s mistresses, and her security was provided by the army. Two armed soldiers appeared at our door holding a dead rabbit and demanding restitution and retribution.

Thankfully an adequate payment resolved the matter, and we got Mogi out of country without further mishap.

Years later, in Kampala, when I came home for lunch, the gardener carted over a big trash can for my inspection. I assumed he had killed a snake, but inside was a scrawny, filthy little puppy. A mother dog with two pups snuck through the fence to drink out of the pool, he explained. One fell in, and when he went to investigate the others ran off.

We had a new dog. She was terrified of the world, so we held her constantly; when put down, she would disappear in a flash. So that became her name. She grew into a wonderful pet—happy, loving and friendly—who rarely barked. She had eight puppies, and we kept Nike, the one who most closely resembled his mom.

On leaving Kampala in 1991, and uncertain of our next posting, we found a home for Flash and Nike with the family of a Peace Corps staff member. When I returned to neighboring Rwanda five years later, I contacted the family and offered to take the dogs back. We subsequently did a dog exchange at Mbale in southern Uganda.

I know that Flash recognized me. So Flash, Nike and Mash, another part-ridgeback, joined us in Kigali. I quickly learned to tell folks that these were Ugandan dogs, i.e., they had not been in Rwanda during the genocide when local dogs went feral and ate corpses.

Still, we penned the dogs up during events at the residence. During one July 4 reception, when the crowd quieted down for my remarks, Nike, hearing his master’s voice over the loud speaker, joined in, howling until the end.

Dogs were part of our lives and, despite the hiccups, usually a bonus in interactions with the communities around us. We were blessed for having them.

Ambassador (ret.) Robert Gribbin spent many years in East and Central Africa, first as a Peace Corps Volunteer and then as a Foreign Service officer. When the events in this article occurred, Amb. Gribbin was a junior officer in Bangui (1974-1976), DCM in Kampala (1988-1991) and ambassador in Kigali (1996-1999). He is the author of In the Aftermath of Genocide: The U.S. Role in Rwanda (2005).