Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Good King

The Good King
‘Grandpa,’ said Thoko, ‘you remember that story you told me last week…’
‘Which story was that?’
‘You know, the story of King Nyamasoya, who appointed dogs as his ministers.’
‘What about it?’
‘Well,’ said Thoko, ‘my teacher says that History is the story of Good Kings and Bad Kings. So I told my class the story of Nyamasoya, and we all agreed that he was a Bad King.’
‘History is not that simple,’ I said. ‘Some people mean well, even when they mess up terribly. You have to hear both sides of the story, and to understand events from the point of view of people living at that time.’
‘Poof,’ scoffed Thoko. ‘Anybody can see that having dogs as ministers is not a Good Thing.’
‘Of course not,’ I agreed. ‘But why did he do it?’
‘He did it,’ said Thoko, ‘because he was Very Bad.’
‘It’s a circular argument to say he was bad because he was bad,’ I protested. ‘Do you know that Nyamasoya, when he was a young man, was very much against Kings and Things. He used to say that all people should be equal, and no king should have the power to lord it over others.’
‘Was he even against Good Kings?’
‘Every king,’ I said, ‘claims to be a Good King. He always claims to have been appointed by God to work for the good of the people, as the Father of the Nation. But if you look closely you find that every king is really a Bad King, oppressing his people and stealing their money for his own luxury.’
‘So why don’t people just get rid of Bad Kings?’
‘That’s the very question which the young Nyamasoya used to ask himself!’
‘And what was his answer?’ asked Thoko impatiently.
‘He realized that people support their king because they don’t want to believe that their beloved Father of the Nation is really a rotten crook and a thief. They can’t believe that God, who appointed their king, would make such a stupid mistake. They can’t believe that they have been respecting a leader who despises them. They can’t believe that they were so foolish as to allow some shabby little swindler to usurp the throne.’
‘They have to believe in the king if they are to believe in themselves,’ suggested Thoko.
‘Exactly. So they respect the king. It’s only after a Good King is dead that anybody dares to suggest that he was really a Bad King.’
‘But suppose somebody blurts out the truth when the king is still alive?’ Thoko wondered.
‘Of course they would be locked up immediately!’ I said. ‘Bad Kings are always very much against anybody speaking the truth.’
‘But you say that Nyamasoya, as a young man, was against this system of living under the tyranny of despotic kings. Did he dare to speak out?’
‘He saw what had happened to others,’ I explained. ‘So he had a more crafty idea. He resolved to become king himself.’
‘So that he could become a Good King?’
‘Exactly. A Good King needs a Great Vision, and Nyamasoya’s Great Vision was to destroy the entire system of monarchy from within. But to do this, he first had to get himself onto the throne. And so he spent a careful and patient fifty years in politics, cultivating the friendship of all the crooked, crafty, thieving and lying politicians. He was so convincing in his performance that nobody ever suspected that he had good intentions. So, when the King Muwelewele died, they made Nyamasoya king!’
‘And did he achieve his Great Vision of destroying the monarchy?’
‘His simple strategy was to destroy the people’s deep faith in the monarchy and their natural respect for the king. He knew that once this faith collapsed, the monarchy would also collapse. So every action he took was designed to be so self-evidently wrong and stupid that even the most simple-minded and trusting person would finally lose faith in the monarchy.’
‘What exactly did he do?’
‘Appointing vicious dogs as his ministers was just the first step. Then he began a policy of throwing innocent people in jail, and letting out the most notorious criminals.’
‘How did he do that?’
‘He corrupted the judges, who were scared of the vicious dogs.’
‘And did he ever speak to the people to try to explain his actions?’
‘Never. Instead he sent the Red-Lipped Snake all around the country to represent the king. People were absolutely petrified by the strange sight of this weird animal trying to talk like a human, with an empty suit hanging from his body. Women rolled on the ground in terror, while grown men fled into the forest.’
‘But didn’t Nyamasoya do anything positive or beneficial?’
‘He was very careful to avoid anything like that. When there was a national disaster of massive flooding, he showed no interest at all. Instead he went away on a long luxurious holiday to the Kingdom of Ching.’
‘So the people rose against him?’
‘Under their new leader, Father Freak,’ I said, ‘they completely freaked out, and the monarchy was overthrown. So Nyamasoya achieved his Vision, and went down in history as a Good King.’
‘And did Father Freak become the new Father of the Nation?’
‘Oh yes,’ I said. ‘He claimed to have been appointed by God.’
‘Oh dear,’ said Thoko.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Republic of Mockracy

Republic of Mockracy
‘Grandpa,’ said Thoko, ‘it’s a long time since you told me a story.’
‘You’re in Grade Six now,’ I reminded her, ‘you’re too old for fairy tales. Now you have to learn history, which is real stories about real people.’
‘In that case,’ said Thoko, ‘give me a bit of real history.’
‘Once upon a time, a long time ago,’ I began, ‘King Nyamasoya ruled over the Republic of Mockracy…’
‘Half a minute,’ Thoko objected, ‘according to my teacher, a republic doesn’t have a king, it has a president. Otherwise its called a monarchy.’
‘Quite right,’ I agreed. ‘In fact Mockracy was originally supposed to be a democratic republic governed by a president. But Nyamasoya ignored the constitution and ruled like a king.’
‘So it was a mockery of a democracy,’ suggested Thoko.
‘Exactly,’ I agreed. ‘That was why it was called Mockracy.’
‘And was there an equally amusing reason for naming the king Nyamasoya?’
‘Definitely, I replied. ‘The king and all his ministers ate only meat, but his miserable subjects ate only soya.’
‘Why was that?’
‘Because the king had a huge appetite. Worse than that, all his ministers were dogs, who ate only meat. So there was no meat left over for anybody else.’
‘Let me get this straight,’ said Thoko seriously. ‘You say all his ministers were dogs. Now how did that happen?’
‘Nyamasoya,’ I explained, ‘was very old and tired and not very bright. He couldn’t face the prospect of having ministers with ideas different from his, or ministers who would criticise him, or contradict him, or try to oust him.’
‘As would happen in a democratic government,’ suggested Thoko.
‘Exactly,’ I said. ‘He just wanted boot-lickers and brown-nosers with no brains, who would accept his every command, irrespective of how stupid, and be unquestioningly loyal to him. He wanted ministers who would whimper and faun before the king, but growl viciously at all his enemies. A mindless cabinet for a mindless king!’
‘Dogs were the ideal solution!’ said Thoko.
‘Or so he thought,’ I laughed. ‘He thought he would have a quiet life. But you see, not being very bright, poor old Nyamasoya knew nothing of the vicious world of dog politics.’
‘Dog politics? Is there any such thing?’
‘There you are!’ I laughed. ‘Nyamasoya was just like you, he only knew of domesticated dogs like your soppy labrador Sonya, who eats out of your hand. But he knew nothing of dogs’ relations with each other. He knew nothing of dog-fights and dog packs. He knew nothing of how bulldogs and rottweilers can attack their owners.’
‘Dogs don’t always respect human rights,’ suggested Thoko.
‘The only principle of dog politics is dog-eat-dog. As far as humans are concerned, their only concern is to steal all our meat and eat it.’
‘So the dogs didn’t make very good ministers,’ suggested Thoko.
‘The king thought he had recruited proper hunting dogs, who would steal meat in order to bring it to their master. Instead he had recruited wild dogs and hyenas from the forest who kept all the meat for themselves.’
‘So his ministers were useless to him?’
‘They were only stealing for themselves. In the end he was reduced to employing his own relatives to go and steal meat for him, despite owning all these dogs. And ordinary people had nothing at all. The people were getting thinner and thinner, while the dogs were getting fatter and fatter. As the dogs ran increasingly out of control, things got worse and worse.’
‘So did the king finally take action to correct the situation?’
‘The king, being old and feeble minded, couldn’t think what to do. His only idea was to travel from one country to another, seeking advice from other kings on the best course of action.’
‘And did that help him?’
‘Oh yes. It saved him from being eaten by the wild dogs. He used to come home just to change his clothes, before quickly setting off on another foreign trip.’
‘But didn’t the people rebel?’
‘It was difficult. The Minister for Suppressing Human Revolts had put a particularly vicious little runt, called Whippet Bandit, in charge of the Canine Cadres, who were responsible for terrorising the townships. In the absence of the king, the country was now run by the Movement of Mad Dogs, the dreaded MMD, and no sound was allowed except the barking of dogs.’
‘But surely some brave soul must have protested!’ Thoko insisted.
‘You’re right,’ I admitted. ‘One brave priest raised a red card in protest.’
‘And did the dogs get the message?’
‘Oh Yes. When a dog sees red, it sees blood. The priest was eaten alive.’
‘And did Nyamasoya, in all his travels, finally find the solution to the problem?’
‘Oh yes. He finally reached China, and arranged for millions of Chinese to invade Mockracy and eat all the dogs.’
‘And did they?’
‘Oh yes. Not only that, they also dug up all the copper and cut down all the trees. Now the country is just desert.’
‘Is this really true history?’ Thoko asked suspiciously.
‘So much so,’ I replied, ‘that even to this day, when a country has been completely spoilt and ruined by thieves and idiots, people will say it has gone to the dogs.’

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

All the World’s a Stage

All the World’s a Stage
‘How am I supposed to understand what’s going on?’ Amock wondered. ‘Everyday the Daily Mail tells me that our democratic government is working well in the interest of everybody, and that’s why the country is developing fast. But everyday The Post explains that the government is just a gang of selfish thieves who have illegally captured the state in order to loot the treasury, and that’s why we’re wallowing in poverty and underdevelopment.’
‘I have the solution to your problem,’ I declared.
‘What’s that?’ he asked.
‘Just buy one newspaper,’ I replied.
‘That doesn’t solve the problem,’ Sara objected. ‘The question is, which of the two entirely opposite explanations is actually correct?’
‘Neither is correct,’ declared Jennifer.
‘You mean the truth is somewhere in between?’ suggested Amock.
‘Certainly not!’ scoffed Jennifer. ‘These newspapers have no power to reveal the truth because they are writing in a vocabulary which is irrelevant to the subject matter. They begin from incorrect assumptions, and proceed by inapplicable theory, to reach meaningless conclusions.’
‘Huh,’ said Sara, ‘what exactly is wrong with their analytical framework, and how should we instead understand government behaviour?’
‘These papers just ape their Western counterparts,’ explained Jennifer, ‘and try to explain politics in terms of democracy, which is conceived as competing parties, each with different programmes and ideologies, and each claiming to serve the common interest.’
‘And isn’t that what our politics is about?’ I wondered.
‘Of course not!’ laughed Jennifer. ‘Our politics is about entertaining people! This isZambia, where we like a laugh! Our newspapers scorn all this as the politics of insults, which they vainly try to analyse in terms of ideology and programmes, quite overlooking that such things do not exist outside of their editors’ imaginations.’
‘We already know about the politics of insults!’ I sneered. ‘Where is your great alternative thesis to explain the process of Zambian politics?
‘Insults,’ declared Jennifer, ‘are just the surface manifestation of a deeper discourse which is part of our traditional culture. For us, politics is pure theatre! It’s about making people laugh! It’s a symbolic contest in the form of drama, spectacle, comedy and farce!’
‘You’re just trying to make a grand excuse for the ridiculous!’ Amock laughed.
‘It seems ridiculous,’ said Jennifer, ‘only if you see politics as the pursuit of economic development. But as soon as you understand that government’s aim is to make people laugh, then you can suddenly make sense of government’s various activities. Why else would we have members of parliament in court for honking? A priest in court for distributing red cards? A reporter in court for not publishing a photo of a woman giving birth? A distinguished professor of law accused of contempt of court for advising a magistrate? A monkey pissing on the president? The government deliberately fomenting a riot? The Kuomboka Ceremony in Kanyama? Isn’t it obvious that all these are designed as entertainment?’
‘Jennifer’s got a point,’ I admitted. ‘By the criteria of economic development, such activities are infuriatingly irrelevant or even counter-productive. But by theatrical criteria they are superb entertainment and high farce, and the government must be congratulated for a job well done.’
‘We know that everybody loved Kafupi, the cheeky little comedian,’ Sara admitted. ‘But could we say that the Great Elephant Muwelewele was entertaining?’
‘Not by intention,’ said Jennifer. ‘When he realised that people weren’t taking him seriously he would fall into a terrible rage, stuttering and spluttering, and then people would fall down on the floor laughing. Finally, as he began to understand what everybody wanted, he began to appoint professional comedians to his cabinet.’
‘Like Mouth Mulufyanya and Shifty Shikashiwa?’
‘Exactly. They perfected a re-enactment of Laurel and Hardy, where Shikashiwa would make a complete mess of everything and then Mulufyanya would try to explain what had happened. It had the whole nation in stitches.’
‘Then came the marvellous day,’ said Sara, ‘when Muwelewele went to Mfuwe, and dug up the old fossilised dinosaur, Nyamasoya, the greatest clown of the Jurassic Period. Everything he touches turns to disaster, but he remains blissfully unaware and walks calmly into the next disaster.’
‘Now that Nyamasoya is in charge,’ said Jennifer, ‘we are living in another Golden Age of Comedy. And the Red-Lipped Snake, since he was appointed Minister for Disasters, has successfully organised disastrous court cases all over the country. Every case is laughed out of court.’
‘But if politics is just theatre,’ Amock objected, ‘how do you explain all the stealing?’
‘That’s caused entirely by the donors,’ explained Jennifer. ‘They provide all the funding for our budget, but they won’t allocate anything for theatre because they can’t understand our Zambian culture. So when we have to take money for theatre, they call it stealing. It’s a clear example of wrong vocabulary arising from cross-cultural confusion.’
‘They’re stealing money for the next election,’ Amock insisted.
‘You’ve been reading too many newspapers,’ Jennifer snorted. ‘Don’t you realise that an election is just a huge expensive piece of theatre. It’s a great national festival of beer, costumes, soldiers, parading, police, speeches, petitions, drama, judges, and victory! It’s our Zambian version of the Oscars!’
‘And will it produce a change of government?’ asked Amock.
‘Of course not,’ declared Jennifer. ‘For good theatre, the cast always remains the same.’
‘So we shall continue to have comedy instead of development,’ Amock said sadly.
‘All the world should envy us!’ Jennifer declared. ‘We shall die laughing!’

Tuesday, March 9, 2010



‘Why do we have Women’s Day?’ wondered Amock, ‘Women have equal education nowadays, so if they don’t get to the top, its their own fault!’
‘That’s not a fault,’ I said. ‘They don’t compete for the top jobs because they accept that men are supposed to be in charge, and they know we’ll look after them.’
‘Typical of the oppressors,' sneered Jennifer, ‘claiming that the slaves are happy serving their masters! ’
‘Typical of women’s logic,’ laughed Amock, ‘trying to politicise the natural order of things, which began with Adam and Eve. Man is the head of the household!’
‘What complete rubbish!’ Sara scoffed. ‘Have you never heard of Matriarka?’
‘Never heard of it!’ declared Amock.
‘I suppose you dodged Greek history at Munali,’ Sara scoffed. ‘Otherwise you might have learnt of the ancient Greek city state of Matriarka, where women ruled for a thousand years, with men as their slaves.’
‘Maybe,’ said Amock. ‘But a woman still had to bring up her own children!’
‘On the contrary,’ said Sara, ‘that was the job of her husbands.’
‘Oh yes. In those days a man was allowed only one wife, but a woman could take several husbands. This was because a rich woman would need several husbands to produce all the food for the family and to look after the children, whereas her younger husbands would be kept entirely for sexual pleasure.’
‘What! Wasn’t a wife the property of her husband?’
‘Quite the opposite. Women chose their husbands and paid lobola for them. Men had to stay faithful to one wife, while at night the wife could roam the bars and nightclubs of Matriarka looking for sexually attractive young men as additional husbands.’
‘So the man had to try to attract a woman?’
‘Of course,’ said Sara. ‘Young men had to look beautiful to attract rich old women. Whereas women wore complete togas to hide their bodies, young men would parade almost naked, in order to flaunt their tight little bums and flex their pectoral muscles.’
‘Oh dear,’ said Amock. ‘I hope they weren’t completely exposed.’
‘Not completely,’ explained Sara. ‘A man’s bits had to be concealed inside a neat little soft leather pouch. Men would dance and sing and prance up and down, waggling their pouches, to try to arouse the interest of a rich woman.’
‘So size mattered?’
‘Oh yes,’ said Sara. ‘Men would stuff their pouches with falsies, while others even had extensions sown onto their equipment. Fathers would usually hang stones on the end of their sons’ bits, trying to stretch them longer. Young beauty kings would paint their lips and nails red and their faces orange, dye their hair purple, and hang beads from their pouches to make their bits look longer.’
‘And polish their buttocks with beeswax?’ I suggested.
‘Being a sexual slave is a serious matter,’ said Sara sternly. ‘A young man was sought to provide sexual entertainment and fertilization. Any sign of impotence of infertility would lead to divorce and disgrace, and banishment to the village.’
‘Half a minute,’ said Amock. ‘If rich women could afford so many husbands, then there must have been a shortage of men, leaving many women without husbands.’
‘Of course,’ agreed Sara. ‘Poor women could never afford a husband. Instead they would have to visit brothels, where resident gigolos would service them for a fee. A career as a gigolo was the only way a young man could achieve some independence, make his own money, and avoid the sexual slavery and drudgery of marriage.’
‘Wouldn’t the shortage of young men put up the price of lobola?’
‘Of course. Sometimes the shortage was so severe that rich women would buy little boys as young as ten, lock them in the bedroom, and give them pre-pubescent training in the arts of sexual athletics.’
‘Defilement!’ exclaimed Amock. ‘How did these Matriarkal women justify this dreadful sexual exploitation?’
‘They would say,’ explained Sara, ‘that this is the way things have always been done in Matriarka, and that they were looking after their men very nicely.’
‘But didn’t the men revolt?’
‘A few delinquent men, mainly of the gigolo variety, started a masculinist movement, demanding equal rights for men.’
‘And did the Matriarkal government agree?’
‘Not exactly. Instead they agreed to an annual public holiday called Men’s Day, when everybody would be allowed to mention men’s rights, provided they shut up for the rest of the year.’
‘And what were men allowed to do on Men’s Day? Were they free?’
‘Good gracious no!’ laughed Sara. ‘But they were allowed to march past the Great Queen and salute her Female Supremacy, after which she would then give them a good lecture on working harder. Then, as their reward, they were sent to the hospitals and clinics to scrub the floors.’
Amock looked at her suspiciously. ‘Is this real history, or is it a story you’ve just made up?’
‘Even the story of Adam and Eve is not history,’ she replied. ‘Somebody just made it up.’

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Elephant Politics

Elephant Politics

‘Did you hear Muvi TV News last night?’ asked Amock. ‘The MP for Mulobezi, a certain Mr Constituency Fund, says that elephants have invaded his constituency and are busy chasing the villagers and eating their maize. He’s pleading for the government to step in and protect the villagers.’
‘Huh,’ laughed Sara. ‘It’s not the job of ZAWA to protect villagers from elephants, but to protect elephants from villagers. The country earns a lot of money from Americans who come to stare at our elephants.’
‘The most absurd part of the story,’ said Amock, ‘is the name of the MP. How can he be called Mr Constituency Fund?’
‘I thought everybody knew the answer to that,’ laughed Sara. ‘It all arose because of the bank account which was named Constituency Fund. Then along comes this clever fellow who had the brilliant idea of changing his name to Constituency Fund. After that, he boldly walked into the bank, showed his registration card, signed for the money, and took the entire hundred million.’
‘Is that how he became the MP?’
‘Of course. During the election he bought plenty of beer for everybody and became the most popular man in the constituency. By the time they had sobered up they found that Constituency Fund was their MP, and that he had disappeared.’
‘It’s the same in all constituencies,’ Sara sighed. ‘Constituency Funds just disappear.’
‘Doesn’t that just summarises our system of government?’ I sighed. ‘The very government that is supposed to control the elephants is the very same government that has stolen the money needed to control the elephants. Until we stop all this rampant theft, we shall always be at the mercy of marauding elephants.’
‘Wrong!’ declared Jennifer.
‘Wrong?’ I wondered. ‘Does this story of elephant politics not reveal a larger and terrible truth? In this simple story we see the larger picture of how government is just a thief, stealing the money intended for general welfare. We are left helpless in the forest, at the mercy of the elephants.’
‘Wrong!’ Jennifer declared emphatically. ‘There is no government to protect us from the elephant! The government is the elephant! The good people of Mulobezi thought their MP would protect them from the elephant, not realising that he is the elephant! They haven’t realised what’s really going on!’
‘Even me,’ said Amock, ‘I’m also baffled.’
‘Just as he stole all the development funds,’ explained Jennifer, ‘so he’s also eaten all their maize. The poor people are calling on their MP to save them from poverty, not realising that he is the cause of it! He’s just a big fat monster who feeds off them, and is out to destroy them!’
‘You’re getting carried away with the theory of elephant politics,’ laughed Amock. ‘If Mr Constituency Fund destroys all the people, who will vote for him at the next election?’
‘Look,’ said Jennifer seriously, ‘you’re talking as if these elephants are people, who believe in parliamentary democracy. Just try to use your imagination, and see things from the point of view of the elephants. Elephants don’t need us humans, we are just a nuisance that gets in their way and spoils the forest.’
‘From their point of view,’ I conceded, ‘I suppose elephants have no interest in roads, schools, or hospitals.’
‘Aha!’ exclaimed Jennifer, ‘now you’re talking! And you may also have noticed that this government isn’t interested in roads, schools or hospitals. They’re not even interested in flooding, even when we’re up to our necks. We can drown in our own homes, or die of cholera, but the elephants won’t care. They can walk through floods, it doesn’t bother them! Have you ever heard of an elephant dying of cholera? Even in Zambia, it’s never happened! Why should they care about our problems?’
‘But you claimed that they want to destroy us! Now you’ve changed your tune! You’re just saying they don’t care about us. Now which is it?’
‘Look,’ said Jennifer. ‘Elephants are also scared of us. They may be strong with big brains, but they can’t beat us in a straight fight. We are too many and too dangerous. They have to be strategic. So they have decided to join our system, and corrupt it from within. They are using their elephant politics to take over the government, in order to gain control and starve us to death.’
‘It’s not that simple,’ said Sara, ‘the elephants also depend on us. They still need us humans to dig out the copper, to maintain their lifestyle of gluttony and feasting. But at the same time, this also makes them vulnerable. While they keep us as slaves to fill their huge bellies, we still have a chance to catch them in a drunken stupor, and snatch back our independence!’
‘These elephants may be monstrous,’ I said, ‘but they are a minority who can only hold power by subversion and deception. Once people realise what they’re up to, they’re finished. We can use our majority to change the constitution, and put in a new clause that nobody with a tail shall be elected to public office!’
‘And who,’ asked Jennifer, ‘will implement this new rule?’
‘The judiciary,’ Amock suggested.
‘The judiciary!’ she cackled. ‘Thereby hangs a tail!’