How I nearly pulled the plug on Obama... and other stories

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

In the second of our two-part series, The Independent's foreign correspondents pick their biggest adventures of 2012 - from a close encounter with the President to a night-time tour of a former war zone

The US election, by David Usborne

It was a hairy moment. Barack Obama was about to deliver his victory address in Chicago and I was stumbling around in the dark under the scaffolding platform for the television cameras. I was pushing towards the front edge hoping for clear view of the President when I felt a thick cable looping around my neck. It was almost electrocution for me and blank screens for the nation.

As I look back at the election it is the assorted screw-ups and follies that come to mind first. The best of those moments I did not actually witness. It happened at a dinner for fat-cat Republican donors in Boca Raton, Florida, when Mitt Romney said something deeply dismissive about 47 per cent of Americans.

I was at the primary debate in Michigan in January, however, when Rick Perry, the Texas governor, began a sentence with a pledge to close down three government departments in Washington and ended it with an "Oops" that was heard from coast to coast. He could recall only two. He withdrew from the race the next day.

There is usually schadenfreude attached to those days when a candidate, who for months has been evincing such confidence about their suitability for the highest office in the land, has to concede that actually they are not quite up to scratch. Why Michele Bachmann ever thought she was up to the task remains a mystery. It's juicier still if they pull out under a whiff of extra-marital scandal. Remember pizza giant Herman Cain?

The threat of storms forced Mr Obama to move his big acceptance speech in Charlotte indoors, but far more consequential was his out-to-lunch performance at the first presidential debate in Denver. Like everyone I went there assuming the country would see the same Romney I had come to know – wooden, listless and generally unappealing. That it was the President who played that part was altogether flummoxing. In the end, of course, Mr Obama recovered from his errors. Mr Romney did not.

Jaipur Literary Festival, by Peter Popham

It was funny: we were all there to talk about ourselves – or, to be generous, about the great themes our great tomes brought stunningly to life. We were all authors, with the famished ego-hunger common to the tribe. Yet we ended up spending most of our time and emotional energy talking about Another: the biggest beast of the lot.

The Jaipur International Book Festival is, as it declares: "The most prestigious celebration of national and international literature to be held in India." And I was there, not to report it for The Independent but to participate, discussing my newly published biography of Aung San Suu Kyi, The Lady and the Peacock.

Yet no sooner had we landed at Jaipur airport than my mobile rang. Independent foreign desk on the line: can you give us a page lead about Salman Rushdie?

Sorry, about who? "Rushdie, you know he's supposed to be speaking but Muslim groups have called for his visa to be cancelled and there's doubt about whether he'll show up…"

Born and raised in Bombay, Rushdie had in fact made several visits to his homeland since the Iranian fatwa. The bad luck this time was that elections were scheduled for Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, which has long been a stronghold of the Congress Party, and where Muslims account for 18 per cent of the population. If Rushdie came in the teeth of Muslim rage there was a strong risk that the Congress – in power at the centre – would suffer at the polls. We suspected the mischief was being stoked by the Hindu nationalist BJP.

Would he come or wouldn't he? How would it look if the festival dis-invited him? Should we protest? Would we be arrested if we read publicly from The Satanic Verses? Nobody wanted to talk about anything else. Rushdie, in absentia, carried all before him.

The looting of Egypt's biggest museum, by Patrick Cockburn

Revolutions and wars are a good moment to visit museums and historic sites at other times swamped by tourists. So it has been with the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, particularly the treasures from the tomb of Tutankhamun, display cabinets that in pre-revolutionary times were difficult to see because of the jostling crowds.

In fact the Tutankhamun treasures could easily have become a casualty of Egypt's revolution, because on 28 January 2011 police and security guards vanished from Cairo's streets. It was the day that made the regime's fall inevitable. Among those who departed were guards from the Egyptian Museum.

A guide explained to me earlier this year that thieves then quickly climbed onto the roof of museum, broke through a window and let themselves down about 30 feet to the floor. They landed right in the middle of the Tutankhamun display with his golden sarcophagus, jewellery, chair and other wonders. But after 3,500 years even these looked a bit dowdy to the thieves. They took a few items – I think some golden trumpets. But they found the objects on display in the gift shop, such as the gaudy and freshly painted heads of Nefertiti, much more attractive. They took as many of these $100 curios as they could carry, shinned up their rope and disappeared, leaving the priceless treasures of Tutankhamun's tomb largely untouched and unharmed.

On patrol with the Aboriginal Army unit, by Kathy Marks

Australia is home to the world's 10 most poisonous snakes. I thought of that as I unrolled my "swag" – a canvas cocoon incorporating mattress, pillow and sleeping bag – on the scrubby red-brown earth.

Inside, I gazed up at the star-studded Outback sky and revelled in the silence, which was broken only by the howling of dingoes and the snores of my companions.

I was in the Kimberley region of north-western Australia, reporting on the remarkable Army unit Norforce, which patrols the country's wild and tropical "Top End". Norforce is one of the few organisations in Australia dominated by Aboriginal men and women; I had wanted to write about it for years, and my wish had been granted.

Norforce's Kimberley Squadron was on a training exercise in an exceedingly remote and inhospitable spot, a day's journey on bone-rattling dirt roads from the nearest town. The squadron was to spend 10 days here and I tagged along for four of them, sleeping outside without toilets or phone reception.

Watching indigenous people, including officers, working alongside and on equal terms with their white counterparts was a unique experience. And, I'm glad to say, I didn't see a single snake or crocodile.

My encounter with Georgia's zebra-loving leader, by Shaun Walker

Working in Russia you deal with a lot of opaque politicians and businessmen, and it is rare to get a glimpse into their private worlds. So it was a dream come true when Bidzina Ivanishvili, formerly one of Russia's most reclusive oligarchs, announced he was running for prime minister in his native Georgia. Ivanishvili, who had never given interviews or even appeared in public, suddenly had to put himself in the spotlight, and I was excited to travel to Georgia and take a tour of his Black Sea estate over the summer, a few months before the elections he would go on to win.

All the rumours about his exotic pet collection proved true: we met Zelda the zebra, as well as parrots, flamingos and peacocks.

Georgia is a fascinating country; in a region of dictatorships, it is one of the only post-Soviet nations to have achieved something close to a democracy. Mikheil Saakashvili led the Rose Revolution in 2003, and although his regime was now becoming unpopular, and people like Ivanishvili accused it of being a tyranny, the way people are happy to criticise their leaders is different to Russia or other countries nearby.

I found Ivanishvili charming, but detached from reality. His main criticism of Saakashvili? "He does not know what love is." Now he is Prime Minister, it will be fascinating to see whether this eccentricity, will help him or hinder his life in politics.

A night-time tour of Mogadishu, by Dan Howden

It was a night out like no other. The head of Somalia's intelligence service wanted to show me that Mogadishu was safe, even after dark, and invited me to come and see for myself. We set out in a convoy of four vehicles with a truck-mounted anti-aircraft battery bringing up the rear. I was sandwiched between two bodyguards hanging their assault rifles out of open windows. Outside on a warm August night I caught my first glimpses of the streets of the Somali capital by night.

We trundled past freshly painted restaurant signs; Ethiopian reggae blaring from a street corner in the bombed-out neighbourhood of Shangani.

There was time to stop at the Sixa ice-cream parlour on 21 October Avenue where at 10pm customers were still filing in for an evening treat. Shopkeeper Omar Nur Mahmoud's signature cup was the Neapolitan, a nod to Somalia's past as an Italian colony. The traditional trio of strawberry, chocolate and vanilla were present as colours not flavours – all three tasted of the same sugary cardamom. Next door in his barber shop, Bashir Said was watching English football on TV. In what many think is one of the most dangerous cities in the world, his main concern was that his beloved Arsenal had drawn a blank against Sunderland.

It was the most convincing evidence I had seen of a revival in the most ruined city in the world. A recovery that defied politics and logic, as well as the occasional suicide bombings. These images will remain as my most hopeful memories of 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
Arts and Entertainment
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat