It’s Friday night in upscale Nairobi and I’m sitting in a parked Hyundai Sonata, watching the Egyptian like a hawk.
He entered a restaurant two minutes ago and doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to leave. Watching him is easy because the interior is well lit and the walls are mostly glass, probably to tempt passers-by. He casually extracts the day’s newspaper, unfolds it and prepares to peruse. The waitress comes over to him and appears to be inquiring if he’d like something to go with his coffee. He’s virtually the only one in the restaurant at this time and so he has her full attention. He shakes his head and the waitress retreats.
The Egyptian, codenamed JAWS, has until recently been a star in the local intelligence fraternity. At a time when international alliances were being made and broken like tumbling kaleidoscope pieces, JAWS had provided us with information that would give our policy-makers an edge when it came to negotiations or decision-making.
The political maneuvering began after a series of hush-hush meetings between North African countries were held in Casablanca, Morocco. Details were sketchy but rumour had it that Libyan strongman Muammar Gadaffi’s vision of a United States of Africa having failed to gel, an alliance of a different kind was being sort. According to preliminary reports, six countries (Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Morocco, Libya and Egypt) had agreed to form a super alliance; a political, economic and social bloc that would hold its own in the international arena. Egypt was the most reluctant partner owing to its close relationship with the West. America, after all, gives Egypt over one billion dollars in foreign military assistance per year. It appeared that during the Casablanca summit, Egypt had been assured of gaining more from her African brothers than from the controlling Americans who insisted that the foreign military assistance should be spent mostly if not entirely on American arms. To sweeten the deal, it was alleged, Libya had promised to facilitate Egypt’s acquisition of ten Moray class submarines. It was an open secret that for over ten years, Egypt had been trying to acquire a fleet of modern submarines without much success. A nest of twelve Romeo and Whiskey class submarines it had acquired in the eighties was now obsolete and it very much wanted to purchase brand-new, state-of-the-art subs. The new gift of ten Moray class subs, to be paid for by Libyan petrodollars, was a dream come true for the Egyptian Navy.
But news of the impending super alliance had not gone well with the rest of continent. It appeared that the North Africans, whose populace compromised mostly of Semites (a Caucasian sub-race), were splitting the world’s second-largest continent in two: the Arab north and the “black” sub-Saharan south. The North would then be closely associated with the Middle East (all of them being uniformly predominated Semitic Muslims) while the “real Africa” of the Negroid and Capoid people was left to chart its own course.
But there was one major problem: Egypt may be situated way up north on the map, but it relies heavily on the river Nile, whose origin, and most of the course, is squarely in “the other
Africa”. And if someone tried to mess with the Nile as an intimidation tactic, it wouldn’t be the first time. In fact, the main reason the Mombasa-Lake Victoria railway (the infamous “lunatic express”) was built was so that the Brits would control the source of the Nile. Much later, in the Seventies, there was even a plot to change the course of the world’s longest river as a blow to the Arabs! This memory – and a bilateral arms race Egypt has long been having with Israel - made the arms build-up even more urgent. Egypt needed to beef up its military as a deterrent to any country thinking of messing with Nile waters. With the Egyptian Air Force’s 200-plus F-16 fighter jets (out of a total of 1230 aircraft) screaming overhead and ten Moray class submarines firing off surface-to-surface missiles or Raytheon Mk 37 torpedoes at any warships approaching “the Land of Pharaohs” from the sea, the Egyptian military machine was going to a force to reckon with.