I feel constrained in my ability to write openly about life here – I mean wider life as opposed to my hortus inclusus. You may be aware of some upheaval in public life in the region over the last few months. This has understandably made officials even more twitchy than they usually are. You may be aware that electronic media are surveyed and noted. You may be aware that all phone calls are recorded and that any deliveries – packages or post by private courier – are opened, x-rayed and examined. Or none of that may have occurred to you.
These are some of the reasons I don’t use names and places, so as not to attract the attention of any automatic data scanners. I don’t want to become a person of interest, even remotely. I am uneasy.
There are several layers of meaning and message in communications, we all know that. We have learnt to view news reports with a certain amount of scepticism, with questions and judgement, searching for the underlying truth.
The newspapers here are different from the ones you may be familiar with because they serve a different purpose. These include the circulation of funds and patronage, maintaining ties or signalling a disjuncture in established relations. There are always photographs – touchingly edited or enhanced – of the leadership team, almost always on the front page. There are self-congratulatory stories of achievement, of awards you’ve never heard of and never will again, admonishments to the falling or fallen, and bizarre reports of commercial activities. These latter would be called advertorials in most journals, here they are hard news.
There is no published dissent, no planning disputes, no differing views of policy, no investigations. A strong theme pervades the news though - money and everything it can buy.
Often, the outcomes of legal proceedings are presented. I am not a lawyer and do not follow legal process; even I am alarmed at the conclusions drawn, the evidence accepted, the decisions reached and the sentences passed. There are many messages buried in both the events recorded and the recording of them. Certain groups are identified as culprits openly while others are whispered only when their identification cannot be avoided.
I have learnt to read the paper through half-closed eyes, squinting to find the truth in its columns.
Recently there was much celebration because of a future sporting spectacular. Understandably, there is international interest in the country, its people, its money and its politics. I read online newspapers regularly, as does my son, on the other side of the world. It was a coincidence that we discussed the front page of a particular paper that we had both been reading that day. What I read, a glowing profile of an important person, did not appear at all, on the site he saw. Instead, he read a critical review of a news organisation and its links to foreign policy. Subtle and only discoverable by chance.
I cannot write safely about politics, there are no politics.