I wish that Mads Brugger, the filmaker, had attended this showing of his film The Ambassador, as is customary at Hot Docs. I had so many questions in my mind at the end of the film.
As Mr. Cortzen, Brugger buys the post as Liberian ambassador to the Central African Republic. The film introduces us to two brokers, one British and one Dutch, who specialize in selling these posts. Venal politicians sell these regularly, we're told, to fill the coffers of the government, or the pockets of the politicians. As these brokers put it, such a post at $150,000 is a bargain as the holder then has untrammeled passage out of the country to bring diamonds out of the country, making such a designation worth millions.
The CAR is widely considered to be a failed state, but this film argues that you can't be a failed state without having once been a viable state. The CAR has been oppressed by vile and lunatic dictators and is riddled with corruption. And Liberia is no paradise of good governance either. So the movie shines a harsh light on two of Africa's worst basket cases. And it's not a pretty picture that emerges.
Cortzen arrives as a business diplomat and sets about making contacts, both for his avowed purpose of building a match factory, and his lightly veiled purpose of smuggling out blood diamonds. He establishes a partnership, and hands over lots of cash, but wonders if he'll ever see it again. Another diplomat warns him of the delicacy and risk involved in setting out to do what he doing. The head of security he has been meeting is assassinated. His promised papers certifying he is indeed the Liberian ambassador to the CAR have mysteriously not arrived and the situation increases in tension. Meanwhile, the whole tawdry business is being filmed, sometimes openly and sometimes with hidden cameras.
The movie focused on two of the continents most pitiable countries. There are many good news stories starting to emerge from Africa, and many are predicting that the continent may pull itself out of its despair. This movie perpetuates an image of Africa as a continent rife with corruption and mistrust, which is sad. It's not that it's untrue, it's just that we westerners tend to generalize from the worst situations to all of Africa.