THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
Dogs in Africa
BY ROBERT GR I BB I N
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) andambassador in Kigali (1996-1999). He is the author of In the Aftermath of Genocide: The U.S. Role in Rwanda (2005).
e acquiredMogi 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 fromForeignMinister Joseph Poto-
lot 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 tomeet a visitor on
the evening flight. When I returned, my
wife, Connie, met me: “Mogi ate Mr. Poto-
lot’s passport,” she said, holding up a well-
chewed, soggy mess with teeth punctures
through several pages.
I envisagedmy 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 heardme 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
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
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
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. Amother 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
I know that Flash recognized me. So
Flash, Nike and Mash, another part-ridge-
back, 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 interac-
tions with the communities around us.
We were blessed for having them.
That was not
Mogi’s only brush