I got Boris Johnson into trouble once, without meaning to. The two of us had been driven hither and thither across Uganda by Unicef in the back of an expensive Mercedes 4×4 to gaze at the fatuous projects they had delivered for the benighted natives. We had been chosen for the trip because we were perceived, rightly, to be unconvinced by the efficacy of some western foreign aid programmes and even less convinced — in my case, at least — by the UN.
Our chaperones were two humourless Scandinavian women who ferried us both from one remote village to the next: ‘Look, here we have built a women’s drop-in centre,’ one of them would remark proudly of a breezeblock edifice in some pitiful settle-ment which primarily needed a road, a school, some industry etc. But the Unicef women had an agenda and the Ugandans had bloody well better get on board with it. At each village the natives would be rounded up to meet us and explain how exceptionally grateful they were.
Shortly before we arrived at every stop, the Scandi harridans would smear thick layers of insulating cream on themselves, and then don rubber gloves and face masks. They urged us to do the same — there is bilharzia here, they said, and perhaps worse — but we declined. It seemed staggeringly rude. And so that is how these matrons greeted the natives each time — stepping out of an air-conditioned limo which cost the GDP of their entire country and shaking hands encased in rubber gloves because the black people are all diseased. And then lecturing them about women’s rights.
It eclipsed satire. This seemed to me racist, patronising and as fine a case of cultural neo-imperialism as you could ever wish to find.