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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

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SEPTEMBER 2015

101

Dogs in Africa

BY ROBERT GR I BB I N

REFLECTIONS

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).

W

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

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.

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. 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

Uganda.

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.

n

That was not

Mogi’s only brush

with officialdom.