Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Heart of Darkness

The Heart of Darkness
Avid Avarice was feeling very pleased with himself, as he sat in the back of his chauffeur driven limousine, reading the Financial Times. Any observer might have wondered why Avid Avarice was oozing with self-satisfaction. After all, it was only the previous evening that he had paid a cool K250,000 to eat a soggy and tasteless buffet supper at the Dinner of the Drones and Parasites, and spent three hours listening to their vapid but pompous speeches.
But in this strange country of Zed, these Drones and Parasites were the most high and mighty in the land. Hob-knobbing with them was the route to Avid Avarice’s most avid goal – to meet the Godfather, the man whose hand lay behind everything in the land of Zed. To do a deal with the Godfather was the route to undreamed of wealth. But to annoy the Godfather was the route to destruction. So our skinny little Avid Avarice, a new investor from Sindia, was playing for high stakes.
The highlight of the Dinner of the Drones and Parasites was the Auction of the Godfather Lunch. The highest bid would buy a lunch invitation to the GreatMansion of the Godfather.
And so of course it came to pass that Avid Avarice’s limousine was now gliding down the Grand Drive towards the Great Mansion. As his car drew up under the portico, a black suited lackey opened the car door, and ushered Avarice inside, through the beautiful sun-lit mansion, until they came to a dark staircase leading down into the basement. ‘Excuse me,’ said Avarice nervously, ‘aren’t we having lunch up here?’
‘Upstairs,’ grunted the lackey, ‘is only for meetings with ambassadors and donors, but all deals are done in the nightclub downstairs. We call it the Heart of Darkness.’
As his eyes adjusted to the half-light, Avarice saw a large man in dark suit and shades, sitting alone at the end of a dark mahogany table. ‘Mr Avarice, I presume,’ he said in a gruff voice. ‘I’ve been expecting you, please sit down.’
‘Thank you, nice to meet you,’ said Avarice, rather nervously, looking round at the bare table. ‘Er, um, are we having lunch upstairs?’
‘Lunch?’ sneered the Godfather. ‘Did you imagine that I was going to give you lunch? No, that’s not the way it works. I’m here to see what you’ve brought to the table!’
‘Well, er,’ began Avarice, ‘I’ve just come to pay my respects to the Great Godfather.’
‘I like the word pay,’ said the Godfather, now seeming more friendly. ‘A business can easily collapse if it doesn’t pay for protection.’ He snapped his fingers, and out of the darkness appeared a beautiful young waitress, wearing only a small grass skirt and a pair of high heels. ‘A recent gift from Swaziland,’ explained the Godfather.
‘A very beautiful pair of, er, erum, ah, pair of high heels,’ stuttered Avarice.
‘Beauty,’ ordered the Godfather, ‘bring us a double Blue Label and a double gin and tonic.’
‘If you’re going to make good profit,’ continued the Godfather, ‘you have to keep your costs down.’
‘Exactly,’ said Avarice. ‘It’s just the same in Sindia.’
‘Demands for higher wages can ruin the business. But on the other hand it’s expensive to buy the union leaders, or to employ the police to put down a strike and arrest the agitators.’
As he was speaking, Beauty returned and put the whisky in front of the Godfather. Then she took a gulp from the gin and tonic, and promptly sat down on Avarice’s lap, entwined her arms around him, and inserted her tongue into his ear.
‘Your Exploitation Copper Mine,’ continued the Godfather, apparently oblivious of Avarice’s predicament, ‘could easily become unprofitable if the mine inspectors demanded proper ventilation or protective clothing.’
‘Ah, ah, yes,’ spluttered Avarice, as he struggled to partially disengage himself from Beauty, ‘She’s a very friendly girl. Protective clothing would just get in the way of doing the job.’
‘And of course, in addition to the enabling environment, I can ensure that you will have easy entry wherever you go.’
‘I don’t know what to say,’ panted Avarice, gasping for breath, ‘I’m a bit weighed down by the occasion.
‘Better if you sit on her lap,’ advised the Godfather. ‘She’s a big girl for a little squirt like you.’
‘So this enabling environment,’ gulped Avarice. ‘Is that all I get for my 500 million I paid?’
‘The five hundred million was just to get here,’ said the Godfather sternly. ‘For my protection you have to put 50% of the shares in my name.’
‘What!’ squealed Avarice. ‘Why should I do that?’
‘Because, if you do, I shall give you first option on all the new mines to be opened.’
‘But suppose I get arrested, you know, for destroying the environment, poisoning the river, killing the workers, or some false accusation like that.’
‘Don’t worry. With this sort of money we can get nolle prosequis, or acquittals, rely on bent judges, and so on.’
‘Even buy judges?’
‘Judges here have low salaries, they can be bought quite cheap.’
‘OK,’ said Avarice, ‘It’s a deal. Provided I can also have Beauty.’
‘Of course,’ said the Godfather, as they shook hands, ‘you can eat her for lunch. Just be careful she doesn’t eat you.’
‘Just as a point of interest,’ said Avarice, as Beauty picked him up and made for the stairs. ‘What do you do with all the money?’
‘Half of it goes to new schools and clinics,’ he said proudly.
‘And what about the other half?’ said Avarice suspiciously.
‘The other half,’ replied the Godfather, ‘is devoted to the fight against corruption.’




Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Godfather


The Godfather
‘What’s showing on TVZ tonight?’ I asked.
‘The Godfather,’ replied Sara.
‘That film,’ I said. ‘must be about forty years old.’
‘Quite recent,’ said Sara. ‘TVZ is trying to modernize.’
Sure enough, when the titles came up, there was The Godfather, directed by Francis Ford Copolla, starring Marlon Brando and Al Pacino.
And there was the famous opening scene. A busy city street, along which comes a speeding black limousine, coming to a screeching halt outside the Laundry Bank. Out jump eight men all wearing black suits and dark glasses, wielding machine guns as they dash into the bank, with people scattering in all directions.
Inside the bank customers and tellers hit the floor as alarm bells start to ring. ‘Carry on as normal,’ shouts the leader of the gang, ‘we’re not going to interfere with business operations!’
Up to the next floor they dash, as managers and their secretaries now hit the floor. ‘Carry on as normal,’ repeats the leader, ‘we’re not here to frighten you, we’re here to protect you from thieves and gangsters.’
And so this sequence is repeated at each successive floor of ascending authority, until they finally burst into the huge penthouse office of the Chairman, the crafty little Razor Mataki, who is found lying on a sheepskin rug, where his personal secretary is attending to his personal needs.
‘I presume you’ve brought an invitation for me to meet the Godfather,’ squeaks Mataki bravely, as he is simultaneously bound, blindfolded and bundled out of the building, into the limousine.
Now we move to the huge subterranean bar and nightclub which form the basement of the Godfather’s mansion, the infamous Plot Zero. At a large mahogany table presides the huge flabby Godfather, impassively chomping on a cigar and nursing a bourbon, as Mataki is plonked in front of him, and the blindfold removed.
‘The Godfather extended his hand as if in greeting, and then squeezed Mataki’s hand until he squealed. ‘Haven’t we met before?’ he asked, in a friendly tone.
‘I don’t think so,’ Mataki whimpered.
‘I remember now,’ said the Godfather with a smile. It was back inMinnesota, about twenty years ago, when you were the local branch manager. I defaulted on a loan, and you foreclosed on my house, leaving me destitute.’
‘Terribly sorry,’ said Mataki, as he rubbed his injured hand.
‘Don’t worry, old chap,’ he said, ‘I’m not the sort of person to bear a grudge.’ He took the bottle of bourbon, and filled a glass. ‘Here, have a drink!’
‘I don’t drink,’ replied the plucky little Mataki.
‘It’s all the same to me,’ replied the Godfather graciously, as he looked round at the heavies surrounding the table. ‘But these gentlemen don’t take kindly to people who refuse my hospitality.
‘Now,’ began the Godfather, as Mataki sipped and spluttered. ‘I’ve invited you here for a little business discussion. As the Godfather of the Nation I provide protection to all businesses in the country. But I have been disappointed to find that I don’t seem to have any arrangement with the Laundry Bank…’
‘I should explain that…’ began Mataki, but then felt a gun butt in his butt.
‘Please don’t interrupt me,’ said the Godfather politely. ‘These gentlemen don’t understand any lack of respect for the Godfather of the Nation. As I was saying, I wonder why you haven’t visited me here, and offered me some of the well-known services of the Laundry Bank?’
‘How can I help?’ asked the hapless Mataki.
‘I understand,’ smiled the Godfather. ‘that your bank runs a discreet laundry facility for favoured customers.’
Mataki looked round at the heavies. ‘Yes,’ he replied.
‘Well,’ continued the Godfather, ‘I sometimes receive large donations from friends and admirers, and I need a discreet account for recycling funds into legitimate business.
‘In addition, as commander-in-chief of the National Protection Service, I protect all big business from paying taxes, from paying wage increases, and from experiencing workers protests or strikes. So returns from this side of the business would entail quite large amounts of money being paid into your bank.’
‘I understand,’ said Mataki, venturing another sip of 50% proof.
‘Of course, in return, I expect some consideration. I would require a 20% shareholding in the bank. Secondly, as a major shareholder, I would expect the Board’s favourable consideration of unsecured loans to expand my investments on the London Stock Exchange. Thirdly, I would expect that you would call in all your present loans to any person who has criticized my good work for the nation. Fourthly, I would require information on the accounts of any of my enemies presently using your laundry services, so that these criminals can be prosecuted.’
‘And if I don’t agree?’ said Mataki, as one of the heavies gave him a good clip round the ear.
‘Look,’ said the Godfather, in a kindly voice, ‘you should know that you are already under my protection. Luckily the Chief Inspector of Banks is on my payroll. I have told him that I am protecting your bank, and all is well. But if I were to tell him that all is not well, he could suddenly notice all the things he had previously overlooked.’
‘Poor Mataki,’ said Sara. ‘He’s damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t.’
‘It’s bad enough,’ I said, ‘living in a police state. But see what happens if you live in a criminal state.’
‘Terrible,’ said Sara. ‘Let’s hope that never happens here.’



Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Mutant

The Mutant
‘Don’t turn off the TV,’ I said, ‘Frank Mubushisha is interviewing Flux Mutant. He’s the one who says that only he can understand windfall tax, the rest of us are too stupid.’
‘He’s talking out of his backside!’ snorted Sara.
‘This evening,’ began Frank, ‘I’m privileged, you know, to be able to interview the Minister for Upside-Down Economics, you know, the Honorable Flux Mutant. Good evening, Honorable Minister.’
‘Good evening viewers,’ replied the Mutant.
‘He looks like a robot,’ Sara complained. ‘His mechanical voice sounds like a computer simulation.’
‘First of all, Mr Minister,’ said Frank, ‘people you know would like to know, you know, why you said, you know, that we’re all too stupid to understand windfall tax.’
‘People think that the windfall tax will make us rich,’ began the computer generated voice of the mutant, but then he stopped himself in mid-sentence. ‘No, I shouldn’t say that people think. People don’t think. People claim, people say, people wish, people dream, but people don’t think.’
‘But you, you know, you can think.’
‘Exactly,’ said the Mutant, in his machine monotone, ‘You know that I know that I can think. I have worked out that if we charge the mines windfall tax, then their profits will drop. Then their share prices and dividends will drop. Then our number of investors will drop. Then our economic growth will drop. Then we shall all be worse off.’
‘He’s talking out his arse,’ declared Sara.
‘But you know,’ said Frank, ‘some people say, you know, that we must tax the mines to provide for schools and hospitals.’
‘Quite the opposite,’ came the continuing flux of words from the Flux Mutant. ‘Mines don’t need schools or hospitals, they just need copper ore. It is people that need schools and hospitals, so they must be the ones to pay for them. This is just simple economics.’
‘Some people say, you know, that this is upside-down economics, you know.’
‘Yes, I know,’ replied the Mutant. ‘But you know that I know that they don’t know, it’s only me that knows, you know.’
‘I know you know,’ said Frank bravely, scratching his bald head. ‘I’m told, you know, that you have even worked out that lower wages increase employment.’
‘Quite correct,’ replied the Machine Mutant. ‘If you pay a man starvation wages then his wife has to grow food to feed the family, and his children have to set up tuntemba to sell produce to earn money to buy their school uniforms. So in the end, all the family are fully employed in economic ventures. This is what we mean by economic empowerment.’
‘But as the country becomes richer, you know,’ said Frank hopefully, ‘money, you know, will begin to trickle down from the rich to the poor.’
‘Quite the opposite,’ continued the monotonous discharge of all-knowing economics. ‘It is only when the workers become poorer that they work harder to earn more wages, and when they worker harder they produce more profit, which makes the country richer.’
‘I am amazed, you know,’ said Frank, ‘at your quite different perspective on economic theory. Let’s go back, you know, to where it all began. Where did it all start, you know? And where were you born, you know? And did you have parents, you know?’
‘I resulted from a computer experiment at Yunza,’ replied the Mutant. ‘My father was Professor of Computer Science and my mother was a computer. Father was trying to get computers to reproduce themselves, to get rid of the need for humans…’
‘So you mean, you know, that you are really a computer?’
‘Not exactly,’ said the mechanical voice. ‘Father accidentally introduced a virus into mother, and she produced a mutant.’
‘I told you,’ screeched Sara, ‘he’s actually a machine!’
‘Half human, half computer?’ asked Frank.
‘No, half virus, half computer,’ replied the Mutant.
‘So this,’ suggested Frank, ‘explains, you know, why you have such, you know, an upside-down view of economics?’
‘Not having a heart enables me to take an objective and dispassionate view of the production of goods and services, without being distracted by the human concerns or emotions that confuse other theorists.’
‘But why is everything so upside-down?’
‘My father the professor, being sick with the virus, wired all the positives and negatives the wrong way round. That’s why I have to sit on my head and talk out of my rear.’
‘I told you!’ shouted Sara, ‘He eats economic theory with his mouth, and upside-down theory discharges continuously out of his arse. No wonder he knows all about windfall tax, it was his wind that blew it away!’
‘And tomorrow,’ said Frank, ‘you’re off to Oslo to receive the Nobel Prize for Upside Down Achievement. Last year Barack Obama won the Upside-Down Peace Prize for waging war in Afghanistan. And this year you’re the winner of the Upside-Down Economics Prize for bringing poverty and starvation to Zed.’
‘I have devoted my life to my country,’ declared the Mutant.
‘What an arsehole,’ said Sara.
‘And the prize, you know,’ said Frank, ‘is worth seventy million dollars, you know. What will you do with all that money?’
‘I shall buy more KCM shares on the London Stock Exchange in order to gain a controlling interest,’ said the Mutant, as a smile finally spread across his smooth mechanical bottom.
‘Then he’ll bring down the wages to increase profits,’ Sara screeched.
‘He may be an arsehole,’ I said, ‘but he’s not stupid.’
________________________
[Special thanks to Namukolo Chipola and Patrick Pami for their contributions to the Facebook discussion on backside mutant economics]




Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Parable of the Popo


The Parable of the Popo
It was Saturday afternoon in Chainda, and a group of people were sitting in a circle under a large acacia tree. ‘Mubanga,’ said one of the group, ‘I think you had volunteered to give us a reading from the New Kalaki Testament.’
Mubanga opened a well-thumbed volume and began. ‘The reading this evening is from the Gospel According to St Kalaki, Chapter 13, Verses 1-27, often referred to as The Parable of the Popo.’
‘And so it came to pass,’ began Mubanga, ‘that the word of God became difficult to read in Europe, because they had reached the Dark Ages, and it was very dark indeed. But there arose amongst the people one who called himself Popo, who went amongst the people and spoke unto them, saying I am Popo, appointed by your Father in Heaven as Light of the Lord to read the Word of God in this terrible darkness.
‘And Popo said unto them, I shall read and interpret the Word for you, and give you the rules on how you should live. Put your trust in me and I shall get you into Heaven. Otherwise you are stumbling and bumping around in the dark and you will surely fall down into Hell and burn forever.
‘And so it came to pass that Popo soon had a thriving business, for the people were sore afraid of falling down into Hell. Before long he had built his own meeting place, which he called a church. This is where the Christians came to receive their instructions, for which they would pay Popo, who soon became very rich.
‘And so the Popo Church soon became the most successful franchise of its day, much bigger than MacDonalds or Coca-Cola. Within ten years Popo had churches all over Europe, for which he had appointed managers whom he called priests, bishops and cardinals, according to the amount of money they collected. And like Moses, he lived for over a thousand years, because he could afford all the best medicines.
‘But all good things come to an end. After a thousand years of prosperity, the Popo Franchise was hit by an unexpected recession. All this came to pass after Marco Polo came back from China with some one-finger gloves, made of the finest silk. These were called ‘condoms’, being named after the Chinese manufacturer, Chon Dom.
‘For lo and behold, this magic condom, when unfurled upon a rampant manhood, could prevent the conception which resulted from the bouncing carnal embrace which was the main nocturnal pleasure of the people.
‘But agony for Popo, for this simple condom soon caused a slump in the fortunes of the once prosperous Popo Franchise. The revenue from christenings and funerals was down, and the population was shrinking. So the Pope wrote an Encyclical Letter explaining that the condom was the work of the devil, and that carnal unions were intended by God to produce more Christians, and not for providing pleasure. The condom was banned.
‘But the ways of the Lord are strange, for more trials and tribulations now befell old Popo. The Christians preferred more pleasure and less children, so they didn’t like his instructions and stopped coming to Popo’s church. So his revenue fell further.
‘But in these times of tribulations, worse was to come. People began dying from a strange disease, further reducing Popo’s takings in the collection plate. And since this disease was transmitted during carnal union, only the condom could stop the disease spreading. Now old Popo fell into serious error. Instead of permitting the condom, he instead banned all carnal union except for the purpose of procreation, and when issued with a licence by Popo.
‘But the disease stubbornly refused to obey Popo’s commands, instead spreading rapidly amongst the priests, bishops and nuns, strangely defying their chastity. With a shortage of both priests and congregations, the Popo Church now couldn’t even collect enough money to feed the bishops’ children in the Popo Orphanage.
‘Poor old Popo was now in despair. As a last resort, he decided to do something he hadn’t done for years. He knelt down to pray.
‘And even for Popo, if you have faith, the Lord will give you a miracle. No sooner had Popo knelt down than Jesus appeared before him. And Popo spoke to him, saying Jesus, thank God you’ve come. These people are refusing all my commands and doing as they please. What shall I do?
‘And Jesus spoke gently to him, saying Poor old Popo, you have misunderstood my Testament. I spoke in parables in order to prod the moral conscience of the people, and to remind them of the Word of the Lord, but then I always left them to make their own decisions.
‘And so it came to pass that the next day old Popo issued his last Encyclical, in the form of a brief statement in which he declared that In all matters of morality, Christians must decide their own course of conduct, according to their own conscience, their own reading of the Word, their own special circumstances, and their own relationship with God.’
‘So what does this parable mean to us?’ asked Mubanga, as she closed the book.
‘It means,’ said Prisca, ‘that we have no need of priests, bishops and Popos.
‘It means,’ said Bwalya, ‘that we have no need of churches, alters, or statues.
‘It means,’ said Phiri, ‘that we are members of the New Democratic Church’.
‘It means,’ said Chaloka, ‘that we can sit under a tree and decide things for ourselves.
‘It means,’ said Luwaya, ‘that we can be Christians every day of the week, and not just on Sundays.’
‘It means,’ said Suwilanje, with a gleam in her eye, ‘that we can use condoms.’

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Presidential Trip


Presidential Trip
At last I was able to appreciate One Zedia One Nation. At last I was sitting in the great aeroplane, waiting for take-off.
And at last President Nyamasoya finished saying a long farewell to all the leaders who were being left behind on the tarmac, all of them shedding genuine tears of sadness that the 747 could take only 400 free-loaders. So now the president and his party came aboard and settled down in the presidential suite upstairs. The hatch was closed and One Zedia One Nation finally began to move. A cheer arose as the mighty craft finally lifted into the air.
In One Zedia One Nation all sections of society were represented. The starving student leaders, who had always been complaining about meager meal allowances, could now feast themselves and forget about the burden of leadership. Similarly the union leaders were now comfortably cushioned from the plight of the workers. The religious leaders could forget about the troubles of their starving flock, and experience the weighty moral dilemmas of the parasitic class. The lawyers, who had railed against corrupt judges, could now begin to understand how easy it is to get corrupted. And even sour Kalaki, after a few free brandies and a plate of prawns, could begin to appreciate why One Zedia One Nation was such an enormously expensive venture.
Soon the president’s press secretary, Dickhead Jelly, came down to address us. ‘In four hours we are due to arrive in Bahrain, where the president has been invited by the Prince to discuss funding for the new mine in Mukuba. For the three days in Bahrain you will be given an allowance of ten thousand dollars to cover your per diem, food allowance, drink allowance, spending allowance, entertainment allowance, travel allowance, titillation allowance, incidental expenses, and of course any unforeseen expenses which may suddenly arise late at night. When you disembark, just collect your brown envelope from the tin trunk marked Global Fund.
A couple of hours later Dickhead appeared again. ‘Due to a navigational error our destination is now Brazil. So in four hours we shall be landing in Rio de Janeiro, where our president has been invited by President Lula da Silva to discuss the funding of the new mine in Mukuba.’
Of course this announcement put the plane into a buzz of chatter. I turned to the PS on my right. ‘This is what happens when you appoint your Ngoni nephew as the pilot.’
‘If you don’t have any constructive criticism,’ he said sternly, ‘it’s better to remain quiet.’
I turned to the Pentecostal bishop on my left. ‘What do you say about this unexpected U-turn?’
Rio should be much more fun,’ he chuckled.
And sure enough, a few hundred bottles later, we all landed in Rio. The president and his party got off first. Through the window I could see him being greeted by a long line of dignitaries, then solemnly inspecting a line of luggage trolleys. Then he squeezed his awkward bulk into a Benz, and drove off.
The next morning I went to the Ministry of Presidential Affairs and spoke to the man at the reception. ‘Excuse me,’ I said, ‘Could you tell me where I can find the meeting between President Lula and the visiting President Nyamasoya?’
‘I think sir,’ he said politely, ‘that you may be a bit out of date. Our president is now Madame Dilma Rouseff. Mr Lula da Silva retired two weeks ago.’
‘Really?’ I said, kicking myself that I had believed something that Dickhead had told me. ‘Do you happen to know his new address?’
‘He’s moved to 36 Retirement Avenue,’ he replied.
So I took a taxi, and within twenty minutes I was knocking on the door of a neat little semi-detached house in the suburbs. A nice lady in an apron opened the door. ‘Mrs da Silva?’ I asked.
‘If you want Lula,’ she replied, ‘he’s in the garden planting his potatoes.’
I walked through, into the back garden. ‘Mr da Silva?’ I said. ‘I’m Kalaki from the Zedia Watchdog.
He wiped his hand on the back of his trousers, and we shook hands. ‘How can I help you?’ he asked.
‘I’m told you invited President Nyamasoya to visit you?’
‘He also claimed that to me, and he was only two hours from landing. I had to tell him that there must be some misunderstanding, and I’m no longer president.’
‘But he seemed to be expected,’ I said. ‘When he stepped down from the plane he was greeted by a long line of dignitaries.’
‘My brother is in charge of catering at the airport, so I phoned him and asked him to quickly improvise something, Those dignitaries were just a long line of waiters and porters, who also invented the splendid ceremony of inspecting the trolleys!’
__________________________
Three days later and I was back home watching the TV News, when on came Dollar Sillier. ‘Our beloved Nyamasoya,’ she announced, ‘has just returned from a very hardworking and successful trip to Brazil, where his friend Lula has pledged to invest in the new mine at Mukuba.’
‘Is that true?’ asked Sara.
‘Not entirely,’ I laughed. ‘Lula is also the nickname of Lulu Lala, the famous lap dancer at the Red Light Nightclub in downtown Rio. She’s the one who signed the agreement.’
‘Can she afford such a big investment?’
‘Oh yes,’ I laughed. ‘She’s now a very rich girl.’



Tuesday, November 16, 2010

THE POLICE STATION


The Police Station
It was Saturday afternoon, and I was slumped in front of the TV with only a glass of brandy for company, when I heard a knock, and then a voice said ‘Odi?’
‘Odini,’ I replied, as into the room stepped a flashily dressed young man in a white linen suit, red silk shirt, and long pointed shiny black shoes with gold buckles.
‘Hullo Unko Kalaki,’ he said, stretching out a hand, ‘where’s Aunty Sara?’
‘Gone off somewhere to put the world to rights,’ I sighed.
‘I know you don’t remember me,’ he said, as I directed him towards a battered sofa. ‘I’m your nephew Dingiswayo, Aunty Jane’s second born!’
‘Now I remember,’ I laughed. ‘You’re Dirty Dingi, the one that got expelled from Lunami Secondary for killing and cooking the headmaster’s dog.’
‘That was long ago, Unko,’ he grinned, showing me several gold teeth. ‘I’m now a policeman! I’m Inspector Dingiswayo Kanunka, Officer-in-Charge at Lingalonga Police Post!’
‘Well done!’ I said, as I poured him a brandy. ‘I knew from your early days of thievery that you’d do well! But how did you manage to rise so quickly to such an elevated position in society?’
‘I bought the business for only 200 million last year!’
‘For 200 million?’ I gasped. ‘How is that possible?’
‘It wasn’t difficult,’ he laughed. ‘The previous year I had brought in four hot Mercs from Joburg. So I thought I’d invest the proceeds into a respectable little business.’
‘No, I meant how is it possible to buy a police post?’
‘You’re so out of date, Unko,’ laughed Dirty Dingi. ‘It’s all part of the government’s privatisation policy, introduced by little Kafupi. The Police Farce is now run on a franchise system, just like O’Hagans or Rhapsody’s.’
‘How can a police post be like Rhapsody’s.’
‘Simple,’ laughed Dirty Dingi. ‘Rhapsody’s is part of a franchise company that provides the menu, training and d├ęcor. In the same way Lingalonga Police Post is an independent business, except that it is provided with uniforms, guns and tear gas canisters by the franchise company, the Police Farce.’
‘So you went for special training?’
‘Of course. I had to learn how to hit people with batons, stamp on them, fire tear gas at them, shoot them, and so on. All the essential police services that the government provides to the people.’
‘So how does your business make money?’
‘In all sorts of ways. With our road blocks we charge motorists for passing through Lingalonga. We charge unlicensed liquor traders for protection from prosecution. We charge complainants for the service of locking up suspects, and then charge the suspect’s family for letting them out again. The business is a little gold mine.’
‘Don’t you have to charge suspects and take them to court?’
‘This is called community policing, so we administer our own punishments as an immediate deterrent. After we’ve finished with them they’re in no condition to go to court.’
‘What about the women prisoners, do they get the same treatment?’
‘We are very gender aware,’ he leered, as he licked his lips and checked his zip. ‘For the ladies we provide a very special service.’
‘What about this recent riot in Sewage Compound, where the police had to flee?’
‘It seems the Sewage police were over zealous in their work. At KigaliTraining School we were trained to beat with sticks but not axes, whip with belts but not barbed wire, squeeze testicles but not pull them off. So I always follow the rules so as not to annoy the citizens.’
‘So you never take people to court?’
‘Only in special cases. For instance, if one of our thieves strays into Kabulonga and steals from the rich, then of course that’s a court case. If we don’t protect the rich from the poor then the entire economic system would collapse. And of course if the leadership wants to fix somebody, then it is our national duty to find something they have done wrong, and immediately hand them over to the court. These are not matters for our own profit, but our obligations to the overall franchise company, the Police Farce.’
‘Well,’ I said, ‘I must congratulate you on running such a profitable little business. I can see that, in the present political climate, you’re just the sort of person who is going to go far.’
‘That’s why I came to see Aunty,’ he answered in a confidential tone. ‘I’m planning to stand as member of parliament for Lingalonga at the next election, so I’ll need campaign funds for bribing voters.’
‘And what will be your campaign manifesto?’
‘I shall tell them that if they vote for me they will get electricity, a clinic and a school – all the things they have only dreamed about. And I shall tell them that if I find anyone who intends to vote against me, I shall set the thugs of the Merciless Mad Dogs upon them.’
‘There you are!’ I said. ‘You already have your established methods and principles. So why change now, and start bribing people?’
‘I hadn’t thought of that,’ he said, as he stood up to go. ‘But you’re right. My principle has always been that people must pay me, but I never pay them.’
‘Better to avoid bribery,’ I said, as I opened the door for him.
‘Thanks for the advice, Unko,’ he replied. ‘We must all continue the fight against corruption.’



Thursday, November 11, 2010

SLICE IT OFF!


Slice It Off!

‘In this morning’s meeting,’ said the President, ‘we shall be looking at the new policy proposals being put forward by the Unhealthy Minister, Mr Kapeto Simple.’
A groan went round the cabinet room. The ministers had been busy with fixing elections and other illegal activities, so this was the first time the cabinet had met in six months. ‘Our policy,’ sighed the Minister for Dodgy Contracts, ‘is to praise our President and thank him for all he has given us. So what’s all this about a new policy?’
‘A good point,’ agreed the President. ‘Our health policy is that I should be praised for opening a new hospital every week. This policy has been very costly, especially for the Republic of Ching Chang. So what more do you want?’
‘I am most humbly grateful, Your Most Excellent Excellency,’ began poor little Kapeto. ‘That you have afforded me a chance to speak. I am proposing a new AIDS policy, called Male Circumcision, to prevent HIV infection.’
‘Silly little fart wants to slice off our dicks!’ sneered Shikashiwa, Minister for Refuting Stories in The Post. ‘He’s not touching mine, it has thousands of admirers and I’m not having it mutilated.’
‘And we must remember,’ said Velvet Mango, ‘that ours are not ordinary members, they are members of parliament, who must always be able to stand up for the people!’
‘And how can our members exercise their right to freedom of movement?’ wondered the Minister for Sexual Affairs, ‘if doctors are lurking everywhere, waiting to slice our foreskins?’
‘My point exactly,’ grunted Shikashiwa. ‘Our members must have freedom to move up and down.’
‘Well?’ said the President, turning to Kapeto, ‘have we circumcised your new policy?’
‘Ha ha!’ they all laughed. ‘It’s been completely emasculated! Absolutely castrated! The new policy has been completely sliced off!’
‘Half a minute,’ squealed Kapeto. ‘Circumcision would be entirely voluntary. So for Shikashiwa, whose foreskin has been admired and enjoyed by so many, I’m sure we can all agree that he should keep it as a national treasure.’
‘Oh well,’ they laughed, ‘that’s alright then! Why didn’t you say so earlier?’
‘Furthermore,’ said Kapeto, ‘this policy shows a new vision.’
‘New vision?’ asked the President. ‘What’s that? Does circumcision improve eyesight?’
‘It entails a new view of the patient. Previously the government has taken responsibility for protecting people from disease.’
‘Then how is circumcision different?’
‘With this new policy,’ said Kapeto Simple, ‘it’s the man who’s the problem, and the onus is on him to take action. This entails a new vision, of seeing the patient as responsible, not the government.’
‘Excellent,’ said His Excellency. ‘Now the government can be more irresponsible!’
‘And not only that,’ said Kapeto, ‘but there’s a big market for foreskins in the Republic of Ching Chang, where dicks are too short for effective fertilization, and the population is going down. People will pay well to have an extra foreskin sown on.’
‘Or four foreskins,’ suggested Shikashiwa, ‘would allow more room for growth.’
‘Furthermore,’ said Kapeto, warming to his theme. ‘We here see a new principle in health policy, of not giving anything to the patient, but instead slicing a bit off.’
‘Excellent!’ exulted His Excellency. ‘But when are you other dull ministers going to emulate the Great Nyamasoya’s New Vision?’
‘With all due respect,’ said Strangulation Mushikilila, ‘My ministry already slices off 30% from workers’ packages, then another 17% from what’s left. And we’ve sliced old people off the face of the Earth by the simple expedient of swallowing their pensions.’
‘Don’t forget Miseducation,’ boasted Dollar Sillier, ‘where we’ve entirely sliced off the books, desks and teachers, leaving only the pupils and the buildings.’
‘Even so,’ said the President, ‘There’s a New Vision in slicing off bits of the people themselves. Think of all we could make in exporting kidneys, eyes, and livers. Why are we bothering with selling foreskins to Ching Chang when we could be exporting hearts to America.’
‘From an economic point of view,’ said Strangulation, ‘the value of such exports could be more than copper, and all of us here could become billionaires. And as the number of people decreased, this would solve the unemployment problem. The New Vision of Slicing Off could be our salvation, especially if we concentrate on slicing off the opposition!’
But the Minister of Injustice, the dreaded Red-lipped Snake, had not yet said anything. But now he spoke. ‘The problem,’ he said, ‘is the Anti-Corruption Act, where public servants have to explain how they acquired their assets. If a minister is found with ten thousand eyes and seven thousand kidneys and five thousand hearts, then he will be caught by the provisions of Section 37 of the Act!’
‘Simple!’ they all shouted. ‘Slice it off!’




Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Mobutu Prize

THE MOBUTU PRIZE

I was just about to turn off the TV news when up came the title of the next film: ‘President Nyamasoya wins prestigious Mobutu Prize at the Annual Awards of Corruption International in Kinshasa.’
‘Ha ha!’ I scoffed. ‘So Dickhead Jelly was right! He did win!’
As we watched, Henry Nglazi appeared on the red carpet outside the Plunderers Palace Hotel in Kinshasa. ‘The royal convoy of King Nyamasoya is arriving now’ announced Nglazi as twenty-four BMW limousines and four buses swept majestically towards the great portico of the Palace Hotel.
‘The poorer the country,’ said Sara, ‘the larger the retinue.’
‘We are expecting,’ said Nglazi, ‘the King to arrive with the Queen, all of his children from various wives, his ministers and advisers, as well as the entire Mama Yenge Dance Troupe.’
As the first car stopped at the red carpet, a uniformed lackey leapt out from the front, scurried round to open the rear door, and then saluted briskly as the huge Nyamasoya made several attempts to roll out of the car. But each time he rolled back in again. Finally he was pulled out by several members of the waiting delegation, and bussled into the hotel.
The next scene opened in the vast ballroom of the Plunderers Palace, where Nglazi informed us that the guests had just finished washing down lobster and ripe pheasant with gallons of French wine.
Now onto the stage climbed the Master of Ceremonies, Kateka Bakalamba, dressed as a large rat. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we now begin the presentation of the Mobutu Prize for Grand Corruption, the much coveted prize for which all Third World leaders have been competing for the past year.
‘As usual the Academy of Distinguished Plunderers has drawn up a list of five nominees, which I shall announce in no particular order.’ As he spoke the spotlight swung to the table of a wizened little thief, sitting next to a woman covered in diamonds. ‘The first nominee is the King of Ethiopia, His Excellency King Haille Gleedie, who sold the entire national food reserve to buy his wife those diamonds.’
‘Hurray!’ shouted the crowd. ‘What courage! What sacrifice!’
‘He is credited,’ said Sara, ‘with single handedly causing the 2009 Ethiopian famine.’
‘Now we have King Zooma of Azania,’ said Kateka, as the spotlightw fell on two bald skulls stuck together. ‘King Zooma is famous for buying twenty FI fighter jets at five million dollars each, for no known reason.’
'Ha ha!’ shouted the crowd. ‘We know the reason!’
‘Next,’ shouted Kateka, as the spotlight illuminated a man entirely covered in a white sheet, ‘we have Prince Abdullah bin Nabiel el Salim al-Din al Ayyubi bin Saud of Arabia, who has successfully rented out his country to America…
‘Booo!’ booed the crowd.
‘…and with the proceeds built a thousand brothels in Las Vegas!’
‘Hurray!’ shouted the crowd.
‘And fourthly,’ announced Kateka, as the spotlight illuminated a grey hairy man in a long green cloak, ‘we have the Prime Minister of Afghanistan, Mr Bribehigh, who used the proceeds from the entire national heroin crop to buy his re-election!’
‘Good investment!’ sang the crowd. ‘What is money for?’
‘And lastly,’ said Kateka, as the small spotlight struggled to illuminate a large rhinoceros, ‘we have the famous King Nyamasoya of Zed, who risked his throne to save the President of this Academy from jail!
‘Hurray!’ shouted the crowd.
‘Our illustrious President Kafupi Mupupu was charged with theft!’
‘Disgraceful!’ shouted the crowd. ‘No respect!’
‘But King Nyamsoya, our fifth nominee, corrupted the judiciary and got him off!’
‘Judges are cheap!’ chanted the crowd.
Now the spotlight returned to Kateka, as he dramatically and slowly drew a card out of a white envelope. ‘And the winner is … King Nyamasoya of the Republic of Zed!’
‘A worthy winner! A true defender of corruption!’ they chanted, as the Great King Nyamsoya was pushed up onto the stage by the entire Mama Yenge ensemble.
‘Speech! Speech!’ bayed the drunken mob of dignatories.
‘I just want to say,’ said King Nyamasoya, ‘that colonialists have tried to impose their oppressive policies of accountability and the rule of law. But in the Kingdom of Zed we have defended our sovereignty! We have defied them by abolishing the rule of law! And next week I shall pass a new law making corruption legal!’
‘Hurray!’ shouted the crowd. ‘Free at last! Free at last!’
‘And now,’ said Kateka, ‘I call upon our dear President Kafupi Mupupu to present our very precious prize, the Long Gold Finger, to King Nyamasoya!’
Now little Kafupi Mupupu climbed onto the stage. But he was not holding any prize, nor did he approach King Nyamasoya. Instead he walked up to Kateka and whispered in his ear. Then Kateka frowned, turned to the crowd, and announced ‘Unfortunately, it seems that the Long Gold Finger has been stolen!’
‘Boooo!’ shouted the crowd.
But as they were booing, there slid onto the stage a thin ghostly figure wearing a leopard skin jacket and leopard skin hat.
‘It’s Sese Sese!’ Sara hissed.
‘I declare,’ said the Ghost of Mobutu, ‘that President Kafupi Mupupu has already taken the prize! Therefore he must be the winner!’
‘Hurray!’ shouted the crowd, as the champagne popped.
‘So it seems,’ I said to Sara, ‘that Nyamsoya didn’t win the prize after all.’
‘Of course not,’ laughed Sara. ‘He can’t compete with Kafupi Mupupu.’
‘That’s what I thought,’ I said. ‘I knew Dickhead Jelly must have got it wrong.’

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Parable of the Shotgun


The Parable of the Shotgun
It was Sunday morning, and we were having a nice lazy lie in. Or so I thought. Until Sara suddenly leapt out of bed with a start. ‘It’s half past eight! We’re supposed to be at the nine o’clock service!’
‘Oh Christ,’ I said. ‘Can’t we give it a rest? We’ve already been to three funerals this week! I must be going to church more than the Pope!’
‘It’s Independence Day,’ said Sara.
‘Yes, dear,’ I said. ‘Independence. I remember that.’
By the time we had taken our seats on the hard penance of a wooden pew, the priest was already beginning a reading from the Holy Book. ‘The lesson this morning,’ he was saying, ‘is taken from the Gospel according to St Kalaki, Chapter Thirteen, Verses 1-25, commonly known as the Parable of the Shotgun.
‘And the Pharisee said unto Jesus, When you talk of independence, are you not inciting rebellion against the Romans? And blaspheming against your God who demands your obedience to all earthly authority?
‘And Jesus answered him, saying, There was once a peaceful land called Zombia, a land of milk and honey, where land was as free as air, and all the people respected one another, and where all disputes were settled amicably by the Chief.
‘But one day there came three wise men from the east, who had shotguns. And the citizens marveled at these strange weapons, for this was the first time that gunpowder had been seen in Zombia. So they called these strangers Shotguns, because they all carried shotguns.
‘And the peaceful people of Zombia were jerked out of their peace and tranquility by these shotguns, which could kill animals and even people, and which made such a loud bang that some people died of fright.
‘And because of their brutality, the Shotguns soon took over the previously peaceful land of Zombia. For the Shotguns had come looking for the copper which lay deep underground, which they needed for making more shotguns.
‘And the people were sore afraid of the Shotguns, so they went to the Chief to complain. But the induna at the palace gate spoke to the people, saying your Chief has gone up in a big machine in the sky to visit the Republic of Shotgunia, and won’t be back until next month.
‘So the people came back a month later, with a petition saying the Shotguns are paying us only one talent a day, but it costs ten talents to feed a family. Our wives have to grow the food to support us miners. And on top of this we have to pay hut tax, income tax, drinking tax, eating tax and everything tax. So the Shotguns are getting our copper free of charge and taking it to Shotgunia where they become rich. Whereas we, who used to be rich, have now become destitutes in our own land.
‘And every morning before we begin work on the mine we are forced to salute the Shotgun Flag and sing the Shotgun song:
Stand and shoot the Zombians,
How they flee,
See them dance in agony.
Victors in our struggle
For their rights,
We saw freedom’s flight.
Praise be to shotgun,
Shoot them, shoot them.
Praise their great copper,
Steal it, steal it.
Captives they stand,
Under the flag of our land.
Shotgun, praise to thee,
Zombians, work for free.
‘Please, O Chief, return our land to us, so that our copper may be ours, and so that we may never again be slaves of the shotgun.
‘But when the Chief came out of his palace to hear the people’s complaint, the people saw that he was also carrying a shotgun, and was wearing heavy copper bangles on his ankles. And the Chief threw the petition aside, and instead pulled a scroll out of his pocket which he read to the people. This is the Title Deed by which I have given all the copper to the Shotguns, and anybody who causes trouble will be guilty of treason!
‘Then the people were sore annoyed. But there arose amongst the people an Old Lion who was immune to bullets. And he organized all the young men to steal all the shotguns at the dead of night, and dance the cha-cha-cha upon the guns until they were all broken. And verily I say unto you, from that time no shotgun was ever allowed again into that land, and nobody ever again succeeded in stealing the independence of the good people of Zombia.’
Now the priest closed the Holy Book and looked up at the congregation. ‘The lesson today shows us that we must always value and guard our independence, or it will be taken away from us.’
We all sat there in silence. Until there came a great choking sob from an old man at the back. Then came a terrible wail. And then there rose up a great howl of grief from the entire congregation, filling the church until the roof began to shake. As people threw themselves onto the floor in despair, the priest crumpled into his chair, put his head in his hands, and wept. Then up stood six pall bearers, all dressed in black, picked up the coffin, and began to carry it slowly from the church.
And on the side of the coffin was written ‘INDEPENDENCE’.





Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Full Circle


Full Circle

‘I really can’t make it out.’ said Amock, ‘We seem to be back to 1940, with protesting miners being shot.’

‘It was just a matter of time before the bullets started flying,’ said Sara. ‘When workers are paid slave wages, strikes are illegal, and protests are illegal, then something’s going to blow up.’

‘What about the political aspect of it?’ Amock persisted. ‘How do we understand a ruling party allowing workers to be treated like dogs? These are the same workers from whom they need votes at the next election? Is there some explanation for all this which has passed us by?’

‘I’ll pour another round,’ I said, as I picked up the brandy bottle. ‘I think our imaginations need a bit of lubrication.’

So we sat there for a few moments in contemplative silence. ‘At least,’ said Sara, ‘this explains why the Chinese hearses were bought, to quickly remove dead miners from the scene. And mobile hospitals to quickly arrive, and attend to the dead and dying. Now people will understand why we needed these expensive imports, and thank the government for their great foresight in anticipating mine massacres.’

‘That still doesn’t get over the problem that people don’t vote for massacres,’ declared Amock. ‘But on the other hand, maybe they no longer need our votes, they can rely on rigging.’

‘That can’t be the answer,’ I said. ‘The basic mathematical formula for rigging, as first introduced in Velvet Mango’s classic work on Election Manipulation, established that rigging can increase a candidate’s vote by a theoretical maximum of only 10%.’

‘And this government,’ said Sara, ‘is probably facing a 95% swing against them. The only people who would vote for them would be coffin makers and undertakers.’

‘So it seems that we can’t explain the government’s behaviour,’ I said. ‘If there’s is no rational explanation, it must be mere stupidity.’

But so far Jennifer had said nothing. All she had done was to pour herself another brandy. But finally, she spoke. ‘Be careful who you call stupid,’ she said. ‘Maybe it’s us who are too stupid to understand the government’s clever plan. Maybe these ministers are not as stupid as they look.’

‘I certainly hope not,’ said Sara. ‘But do you have an alternative explanation?’

‘I think you’ve been focusing too narrowly on the mistreatment of workers,’ said Jennifer. ‘You have to look at the bigger picture.’

‘What bigger picture?’ I sneered. ‘Like taxing starving miners, but not taxing the rich mines? Isn’t the bigger picture the same, only worse!’

‘Perhaps,’ said Jennifer. ‘But what about all the new roads and new bridges that the government is building? What about the new hospitals and schools? How does that fit into your picture?’

‘That’s a good point,’ admitted Amock. ‘Maybe a lot of people will vote for these things, and forget about the mistreatment of the workers.’

‘Maybe,’ admitted Jennifer. ‘Maybe they will vote for these things because they think they will benefit from them.’

‘And won’t they?’ asked Sara.

‘Suppose these things are all part of the same plan,’ said Jennifer. ‘Suppose that the plan is to drive the Zambian workers out of the country, and replace them with Chinese! Then we can understand why we need a railway link to Maputo, and another to the Bangwelu railway and Luanda. And why are we building new roads into Angola? And new bridges at Chaiwa and Kasungula? Isn’t it because they are needed to export our workers by the million, and import the Chinese!’

‘So our workers are being treated like dogs on purpose, to chase them out of the country!’

‘Exactly,’ said Jennifer. ‘And this is just part of the bigger picture.’

‘Then why are we building so many schools and hospitals?’ I asked.

‘They’re all for the new Chinese workers!’ laughed Jennifer.

‘And will all the exported Zambians be able to find work abroad?’ Sara wondered.

‘They couldn’t find work here because their jobs were taken by highly paid foreigners. But if they go abroad, the Zambians will then be highly paid foreigners.’

‘So will these Chinese make Zambia rich?’

‘Hasn’t the Minister for Nkongole Budgets, little Mosquito Katwishi, already promised that we shall soon be a middle income country! But how is it going to be achieved? Let me tell you the secret! Once the Chinese own everything they will invest heavily. The copper money will stay here. New factories everywhere, full of Chinese workers. We shall be the new Hong Kong!’

‘But we shall become the Republic of Chinbia!’ exclaimed Sara. ‘Doesn’t Nyamasoya realize that the Chinese will take over the government? The remaining Zambians will be their house-servants and chola boys, and we shall be treated like dirt. We shall be a colony once again. Is that Vasco da Gama’s great plan? Is this his marvellous vision for our future?’

‘Of course it is!’ laughed Jennifer. ‘This is all that these old UNIP fellows know and understand. They understand colonies, and how to deal with them. So they will organize another struggle for independence, capture the rich colony from the Chinese, and bring back the one-party state! Once again we shall be a rich middle income country!’

‘What a relief!’ laughed Amock. ‘And what a great vision! Then we won’t be back in 1940 anymore! We shall have moved forward to 1964!’

‘And all much better off!’ said Jennifer.

I refilled all the glasses, and raised mine in the air. ‘Let’s all be upstanding! Let’s celebrate the Struggle for Independence!’

[Thanks to Isaac Makashinyi and Hachi Beekay, who both contributed ideas to this piece]