Wednesday 7 August 2013

Bongo Fury

I see the mythical kingdom (or, more likely, People's Democratic Republic) of Bongo Bongo Land is back in the news. Those of us with longish memories will recall that the ineffable Alan Clark got into a spot of bother for using this phrase, and claimed in his defence that he was simply referring to the then President of Gabon, Omar Bongo. Bongo, a noted kleptocrat, ruled his country for 41 years, using its wealth to bankroll himself, his family and any French political parties needing to make secret payments for one thing or another. Since his death in 2009, Gabon has been ruled by Omar's son, Ali Bongo, who by chance shares his name with a noted comedy magician, aka 'The Shriek of Araby'.
  The 'Bongo Bongo Land' phrase has been revived by one Godfrey Bloom, an MEP in the UKIP interest, who clearly reached for his Bongos to describe a representative African kleptocracy where the nation's wealth is spent very much in the Omar Bongo manner (though perhaps without bankrolling French political slush funds). Bloom made a hilariously unrepentant appearance on the Today programme this morning, where poor Jim Naughtie seemed too flabbergasted to ask any pertinent questions, and ended up eliciting Bloom's views on foreign aid rather than, as one might have expected, labouring the point that the BBL phrase might be seen as 'racist' or  at least derogatory. Never mind, there are plenty of others queuing up to do that.
  Meanwhile, the juice drink Um Bongo ('Um Bongo, Um Bongo, they drink it in the Congo') goes on its merry way, apparently without causing any offence. For some reason (a shared African colonial past perhaps), it sells particularly well in Portugal - 'Um Bongo, o bom sabor da selva'. Indeed.


  1. Had to double check that it wasn't April 1st when I tuned into the Today programme this morning...

  2. Indeed - must be the Silly Season.

  3. I have just started reading Paul Theroux's Sir Vidia's Shadow which concerns his friendship with V. S. Naipaul. They first meet in Africa and Naipaul refers to any African sound as "the bongos" with a similar insouciance as that displayed by Mr Bloom. The synchronicity delights me.

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