Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ninety Days

Ninety Days

This morning I had nearly finished my breakfast before my dear husband appeared. D’you know why? He was trying to decide which tie to put on. Sometimes he tries on twenty different ties before he comes to a definite decision. He changes his ties even more often than he changes his ministers.
I had nearly finished my toast and marmalade when he finally appeared, flicking specks of invisible dust from his lapel. ‘Good morning, darling,’ I said.
‘If you say so,’ he replied. ‘What’s in the papers this morning?’
The Boast has got a long editorial…’
‘That’s nothing new,’ he chuckled, ‘It always has a long editorial. Nobody to edit the editor, that’s the problem.’
‘Ninety days of broken promises.’
‘What did you say dear?’
‘That’s the title of the editorial. Ninety days of broken promises.’
‘Would you mind, my dear,’ he replied, ‘pouring me a cup of tea.’
‘Ninety days of broken promises,’ I repeated, as I poured him a cup to tea.
‘Who’s been breaking their promises?’
‘You, my dearest. He’s talking about you.’
He hung his head for a moment. Then looked up, and looked me straight in the eye. I’m very worried. Everybody will be talking about it.’
‘Talking about what, darling?’
‘This green tie. My mother always told me never to wear green with blue. Does it clash? I had put on the red one, but it seem rather dull. Rather Mwanawasarish. Should I change it before I appear before the cameras?’
My poor darling, I thought. All these years he’s been preparing for this job, but now he’s finally got there, it all seems too much for him. All those years he was out of work, and I was buying him all those suits and ties, so he could parade in front of the mirror, practicing how to look presidential. All those years of practice, but still he can’t quite get it right.
‘Look darling,’ I said slowly, ‘I’m sure you’ll get over your tie problems eventually. But in the meantime, the editor seems to be worried about other things. All those things you promised to do in ninety days, and they just haven’t happened.
‘What is the silly fellow talking about?  I’ve appointed ninety commissions to investigate ninety members of the previous government. Already they’ve worked for ninety days and found Dollar Sillier with ninety motorbikes, Shitulene Musokelela with ninety salaries, and Nyamasoya with ninety houses. We even found Awful Litako with ninety billion in his belly after he tried to swallow the evidence. This editor had better shut up, or I’ll come looking for his ninety strange motor vehicles!’
‘But what about the new constitution in ninety days?’
‘No problem there. Within the stipulated ninety days I had appointed a commission of non-experts to make recommendations on the composition of a committee of experts to make recommendations to me personally on a road-map for a constitutional process so that I can, at my sole discretion, put these recommendations before the cabinet who can then, if they so wish, make recommendations to parliament so that parliament can then decide whether or not we should have a referendum so that the people themselves can decide whether or not we should have a new constitution making process which will then…’
But my poor dear husband’s voice tailed off, as his attention seemed to wander. After a long pause, he suddenly said ‘If I’m going to keep this green tie, then I should change into my dark brown suit.’
‘You know best darling,’ I replied. ‘The editor is also raising the question of your directive to authorise street trading, which he says contravenes the law. He is wondering whether the law is still made by act of parliament, or is now being made by decree in State House.’
My dear husband was now looking philosophically at the ceiling. ‘When it comes to wondering, there are so many thinks to wonder about. After my very successful minibus trip in Livingstone, I am now wondering whether to save fuel by travelling by bicycle.’
‘But darling, what about security?’
‘I could still have the six Mercs and twelve motorcycles in front and behind, and a helicopter overhead, in case of any act of subversion by the treasonable chiefs in North Western Province.’
‘But darling,’ I persisted, trying to get him back on track, ‘don’t you need to  answer the editor when he complains that you promised people that if they all voted for you then they would all be given jobs.’
‘That’s a deliberate misquote,’ sighed my dear husband. ‘What I actually said was that if they all voted for me then they would all give me a job. I must say I’m so grateful to you, my dear, for looking after me during those long years of unemployment.’
‘Thank you, darling. You know I love you so much. But just one last thing, before you go off and do a bit of hiring and firing, don’t you think you should make some response to these complaints about ninety days of broken promises?’
‘If you like, my dear, I shall appoint a commission of enquiry to investigate which newspapers have been complaining during the past ninety days, and to make recommendations on which editors should be fired.’
‘But before that, darling, don’t forget to change your tie.’
‘Not my tie. My suit. I’m going to change the suit.’
‘Yes, dear. You know best.’

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Chilufya Comedy Show

The Chilufya Comedy Show

‘Come quick,’ Sara shouted, ‘you’re missing the Chilufya Comedy Show!’ I rushed to the sitting room, and settled down in front of the TV.

There on the screen, standing behind his famous desk, surrounded by his comedy team, with a stern expression on his face, was our favourite comedian, Constable Chilufya.

In front of the desk stood a bent old man with a bald head. His left hand clutched a stick to prevent him falling over, but his right hand was raised high, holding a bible. Saliva dribbled down his chin as he pronounced the sacred oath of office, ‘I solemnly swear to keep government secrets.’

‘And I hope you do,’ said Constable Chilufya severely. ‘I don’t want any loose or careless talk in my government. For example, yesterday I overheard somebody gossiping that the previous minister was receiving three salaries, that his qualifications were fake, and that he was previously fired from Yunza for stealing students’ bicycles. Now this is the sort of information which must be kept strictly secret, otherwise it could undermine investor confidence.’

‘Ha ha,’ I laughed. ‘His humour has a fine sense of irony.’

‘Yes,’ laughed Sara. ‘And I like the way he keeps a straight face.’

‘Yes, Your Most Sacred Excellency,’ said the poor old man, as he tried to step backwards but tripped over his own walking stick. The Protocol Officer managed to catch him as he fell, and carry him out of the room.’

‘You see,’ said Constable Chilufya, ‘how soft hearted I am to re-appoint these ancient hangovers from an earlier age. Their pension funds were looted by the previous fake government, so I can only keep them alive by giving them fake jobs in my government.’

‘Even his lackeys,’ I laughed, ‘they also manage to keep straight faces.’

‘It's all part of the discipline of the comedy team,’ explained Sara. ‘But see how some of them are looking at their boots, or looking out of the window. They’re actually bursting to laugh, but they know they mustn’t! The whole joke is to make it look serious!’

As we were talking, the consummate comedian turned with deadpan expression to his next victim. ‘Mr Kwindili, as the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, you need to be respectful and diplomatic towards your subordinates. If you don’t respect your subordinates, they will never respect you.’ But having said that, Constable Chilufya looked slowly and menacingly around the room. ‘Talking of subordinates,’ he said, ‘where is my Secretary to the Cabinet this morning? The incompetent buffoon has been avoiding me ever since I discovered that he allowed a fake buyer to steal fake gold from right under his fat nose. Find the slippery fellow and bring him here immediately!’

Now up stepped up an old woman in a faded PF chitenge. She held the bible high, saying ‘I swear to find jobs for all my relatives.’

‘He’s actually appointing a woman!’ I exclaimed.

‘See what job she gets,’ Sara sneered.

‘Mrs Bwalya, I mean, er, Ms Kabanshi, I have appointed you to a very responsible position in the Ministry of Finance, as Chief Cleaner. But I have to warn you right now not to misuse your position in order to poke your nose in wrong places, or try to clean up this notoriously dirty ministry. Only yesterday I fired the previous Cleaner with immediate effect after she went into the fake Minister’s office and found him printing untold trillions of fake money on an old fake Gestetner duplicating machine. If news of this scandal had leaked out then the country could have suffered capital flight, a fall in the value of the kwacha, and possibly general financial panic.’

‘If people took him seriously,’ I laughed, ‘ he really could cause a financial collapse!’

‘Don’t be silly,’ laughed Sara. ‘Everybody knows it’s just a comedy show.’

Now up to the desk waddled a fat middle-aged man, whose open mouth and vacant expression belied the cunning in his beady little eyes. He held high the bible, saying ‘I swear to put an end to all the nonsense in this government.’

Constable Chilufya looked at him, seemingly puzzled. ‘Are you the new head of the DEC or the ACC? You can’t be the new Chief Justice, I’m not due to fire the crooked old fellow until next week. Were you given a letter of appointment? Let me see it. It might be a fake.’

‘I am Mr Sarcastic Sikota,’ he replied, ‘and I am here on behalf of my client Mr Sanctimonious Mumbo Jumbo, formerly Ambassador to Alaska, whom you have publicly accused of selling fake snow to the Eskimos. You have claimed that the evidence for these crimes was collected when the Director for Eskimo Corruption, the DEC, was sent on a fishing expedition to Alaska. Since these fake allegations have destroyed my client’s career as an ambassador, my client is claiming damages of one trillion to rebuild his career as a fake pastor.’

At this point Constable Chilufya leant forward and shook the hand of Sarcastic Sikota. ‘Ah, now I remember. I am swearing you in as Leader of the Task Force. Your job is to clear out all the nonsense and corruption from my government!’

‘Didn’t he appoint a new Task Force Leader last week?’ I laughed.

‘That one,’ laughed Sara, ‘turned out to be a fake.’

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Beast of Lingalinga

The Beast of Lingalinga

Lingalonga was a very strange land. It consisted of two cities, Lingalinga and Longalonga. But these two cities were complete opposites. Longalonga was a huge city of massive mansions and large green gardens, all built on rolling hills, but with very few people. These few people looked down on the little city of Lingalinga, where millions of people lived in little houses all squashed together, with no gardens at all. And no green grass, only dust.

The few people of Longalonga never did any work. They were the ruling class. If they wanted any money they would just phone Washington, and money would come. But although they never worked, they were never idle. They were always busy with cocktail parties, golf tournaments, charity feasts, recitals and that sort of thing. They very much liked organizing conferences to discuss the appalling problems in nearby Lingalinga. It hardly needs to be said that the people of Longalonga lived much longer than those in Lingalinga, which was why it was called Longalonga.

Things were very different in Lingalinga, where people had to work all day from morning to night. They had to provide the bricks and cement and gates and pipes and all the materials to build the huge mansions in Longalonga. And they also provided domestic services, and sometimes even sexual services for the nearby ruling class. They worked hard for little money, and could only afford to build tiny houses for themselves. There was so much sickness and poverty that the people of Lingalinga did not linger longer, which was why it was called Lingalinga.

But the main problem was the Beast of Lingalinga, which was so-called because it lingered in Lingalinga and was never seen in Longalonga. During the daytime there was no problem. The people went about their work happily, looking after the ruling class, laughing and singing as if they had not a care in the world. But at night came the Beast.

By eight o’clock at night the good people of Lingalinga would lock up their houses and turn off the lights and go to bed and hide under the blankets, because they knew the Beast was on the prowl. Parents would warn their children that if they misbehaved, the Beast would come and get them. And he would.

Any man walking on the road at night might be pounced upon by the Beast, and taken away to the monster’s lair, where the Beast would pull the man’s balls until he admitted being a thief. If the Beast could catch a lady of the night, she would be dragged away to his filthy lair and raped. If the Beast was in a bad mood, he could shoot bullets out of his nose, and kill you on the spot.

Sometimes a gang of hotheads would spot the Beast at his evil deeds, and would try to chase him away with stones. But then the vile Beast would raise his enormous rear into the air and let fly with a poisonous gas, to lie over the land like a yellow blanket, causing all the good people of Lingalinga to spend the next day coughing and vomiting, or in some cases dying.

And when such disturbances and riots occurred, the ruling class would become very agitated, complaining one to another about having to make breakfast for themselves because the maid hadn’t turned up. And later in the day they would be found at their cocktail parties, tipping gin martinis down their fat throats and discussing the problems of Lingalinga, saying such things as ‘They all drink too much, that’s their problem!’ Others would say ‘They should work harder and build themselves proper houses’. But the more shrewd would say ‘This is a good opportunity to get a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to research into their problems’, to which another might reply ‘Oh My God, I shall have to charge five hundred dollars a day to go into that stinking place’.

But the good people of Lingalinga already knew the cause of all their problems. It was the Beast! The only question was, how to get rid of it? And where did the ghastly thing come from? Then up stood a young man, Mr Obama Kaponya, and said ‘this Beast has been sent by the King to terrorise us!’

‘But the people answered him, saying ‘No, no, why should our lovely King do such a thing to his beloved people?’

And Obama Kaponya said ‘Because he wants to kill us all, and give all our building work to the Chinese!’

And the people said ‘That’s it! Now we see it! Manje tachiona!’

But others protested, saying ‘But what can we do? We don’t appoint the King! We can’t do anything!’

‘Yes we can!’ declared Obama Kaponya. ‘Next week is the election! Vote him out! We shall appoint a new King! A King who loves us, and doesn’t send the Beast to terrorise us!’

And of course the people of Lingalinga were many, and the ruling class were few! So they voted in a new King who really loved the people. And when the new King was sworn in by four Catholic Bishops, the whole of Lingalinga rose in celebration. They celebrated all through the day, and they celebrated all through the night, and they continued to celebrate all through the next day. And they were quite ready to continue celebrating all through the next night.

But then the Beast came back.

The Beast of Lingalinga

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Buried Treasure

Buried Treasure
‘Grandpa,’ said Thoko, ‘My teacher is always talking about Judgment Day. She says on Judgment Day we shall all have to answer for our sins. But when is Judgment Day? Is it coming soon?’
‘Judgment Day,’ I explained, ‘comes every five years. In a Christian Nation, it’s the name we give to Election Day. That’s the day when we all make a judgment on the sins of government, and decide whether to throw them out.’
‘My teacher didn’t say anything about elections,’ objected Thoko. ‘She says that it’s the day when all the graves have to be opened.’
‘That’s right,’ I said, ‘I was coming to that. You see, bad governments bury all their sins and mistakes in the ground. So the first job of the new government is to find all these graves and open them up, so that the sins of the previous government can be revealed and investigated.’
‘Huh,’ laughed Thoko. ‘You’re just making up one of your stories. When I was a little girl I used to believe all your stories!’
‘You don’t believe your own Granpa!’ I exclaimed, as I picked up a copy ofThe Boast. ‘Look at the front page! Two billion in fifty pin notes, dug up on a farm of former minister Mr Awful Litako!’
‘Good gracious,’ said Thoko, as she picked up the paper. ‘The money was even found in a coffin, down in a grave, with concrete poured on top! What on Earth was he doing? Why bury money? Had he stolen it? Is he a witch?’
‘Nobody knows,’ I replied. ‘Some people say that he believes that money grows on trees, so he planted all this money to grow an orchard of money trees. It was seed money for his development programme!’
‘Silly man,’ laughed Thoko. ‘Seeds can’t germinate inside a coffin!’
‘But he doesn’t know that!’ I laughed. ‘He’s not an educated person like you. He never completed his Grade Seven.’
‘So what else has been dug up?’
‘Graves are being found over the country. Huge graves full of bicycles and motorbikes!’
‘But why bury bicycles?’
‘Some people say that the sinners planned to flee to Malawi before their sins were discovered.
‘Have any other sins been dug up?’
‘Lots of them. The entire Task Force, which is supposed to look for suspicious graves, was found dead and buried.’
‘Wasn’t that against the Constitution?’
‘The Constitution?’ I laughed. ‘The New Constitution was also murdered and buried. The coffin was lowered into a very deep grave and covered with twenty metres of concrete. On top was built a heavy marble mausoleum, which was so large and magnificent that it took eight years to build and cost over seven hundred billion. On it was carved the words Freedom and Justice For All.
‘And did the former president know about all this?’
‘According to what they have dug up, he never was the president!’
‘What? Has he been dug up? When did he die? Did they find somebody else in the grave?’
‘He’s still alive, so instead they dug up his parents from their grave. And the parents admitted that they were foreigners!’
‘Now I really don’t believe you,’ laughed Thoko. ‘How could dead people have talked?’
‘The police have their methods,’ I replied grimly.
‘But how were all these dirty secrets buried for years without anybody knowing?’
‘The government bought a hundred black hearses from the Chinese government,’ I explained. ‘They would move around at the dead of night, supervised by the deadly Red-Lipped Snake.’
‘So now all of these graves have to be dug up?’
‘Exactly. There are probably thousands of them, and it’s the job of the new PF government to dig up all of them. PF means Pathology and Forensics. All government departments are now fully occupied with digging up the buried treasure, exposing the dirty secrets, re-discovering the judiciary, and investigating and prosecuting the culprits.’
‘But is the entire government supposed to be occupied with all this digging?’ wondered Thoko.
‘Of course. That’s what we elected them to do. That’s what Judgment Day is all about. The whole nation is waiting for the court cases. In the absence of any proper TV station, it’s our only form of public entertainment.’
‘But they can’t be doing this for five years!’ exclaimed Thoko. ‘What about all their election promises?’
‘Once all the exhumations have finished, they have to begin the burials.’
‘Don’t you mean re-burials?’ Thoko wondered.
‘Quite a few re-burials,’ I admitted. ‘Having exhumed the New Constitution, it will have to be re-buried. In fact the Constitution Re-Burial Committee has already been appointed, complete with three bishops to arrange the funeral. Similarly the Barotseland Agreement, having been dug up, and caused a great stink, now has to be quickly re-buried.’
‘But also some new burials?’
‘Of course,’ I said. ‘We already need burials for Windfall Tax, Minimum Wage, Gender Equality and Free Schooling. Even as we speak, the Government Printer is busy producing the funeral notices.’
‘What about More Money in our Pockets?’
‘That has already been buried at somebody’s farm. The next government will have to find out where.’
‘And while the government is busy with all this digging and burying,’ said Thoko sadly, ‘the Chinese continue to dig up our copper free of charge, and bury it in China.’
‘We shall get it all back one day,’ I said.
‘When?’ she asked.
‘On the Final Judgment Day,’ I replied.

…Eating the Money…

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Constable Chilufya Takes Charge

Constable Chilufya
Takes Charge
Dear Diary, I’m getting increasingly worried about my dear husband. When he came down the stairs this morning he was swinging his arms and shouting ‘Left right, left right.’ At the bottom of the stairs it was ‘Left turn!’ as he marched to the French window, saluted the flag in the front garden and shouted ‘One Zambia, One Chilufya!’
‘Sit down, dear,’ I said, ‘and eat your cornflakes. You’ve got a busy day of hiring and firing, you don’t want to over excite yourself too early in the day.’
‘How can I be in charge of the nation on a bowl of cornflakes?’ he shouted, ‘bring me a T-bone steak!’
‘Don’t you shout at me as if I’m your Cabinet Secretary,’ I told him. ‘I’m your wife and your doctor. It’s my job to control your temper and your cholesterol, so you don’t have another bad turn. We wouldn’t want our country to be deprived of such a Great Leader after waiting for all these forty-seven years.’
‘You’ve got a good point there,’ he said, as he quietened down, and stroked his battered chin pensively. ‘We don’t want a mere T-bone steak to interfere with my destiny. I remember the day I was dismissed as a police constable, and how I vowed to become president and dismiss everybody and…’
‘On this subject of hiring and firing,’ I interrupted him, ‘you had better stop this unfortunate and awkward habit you have developed of appointing a person one day and firing them the next. People are saying you don’t know what you’re doing.’
‘Hah,’ he sneered derisively, ‘it’s only you who doesn’t know what I’m doing. Don’t you realize that every now and again I deliberately pick some notorious crook, or otherwise a driveling idiot, and appoint them to a position that needs both brains and honesty. As soon as there is a public outcry I reverse the appointment, then everybody praises me as a listening leader.’
‘How clever of you, my dear,’ I replied, as I poured him another cup of tea. ‘Although sometimes you don’t reverse the appointment.’
‘Sometimes, of course, it is necessary to demonstrate the power of the Great Leader, who cannot jump to every whim of the ignorant mob. We mustn’t carry democracy too far.’
‘How wise you are in these matters,’ I said. ‘I hadn’t thought of these complexities that come so easily to your astute political brain. I’m only a simple medical doctor. But even so, my dear, I wonder whether you really need all these commissions of inquiry.’
‘Really my dear? What is your medical advice? Should I amputate them?’
‘Well, silly me, I just thought that perhaps these problems could be dealt with by parliamentary committees of inquiry.’
‘Hah!’ he scoffed, spilling his tea all over his latest shiny suit. ‘Typical of a woman! What a foolish suggestion! Haven’t you noticed that I haven’t got a majority in parliament! Already they’ve got too much control! And now you want me to give them control over my inquiries! Any more cheek from them and I shall dissolve parliament entirely. I shall send them back to their constituencies. If they can still find them. Some of them were taken there by helicopter and will never be able to find them again.’
‘A lot of questions are being asked in parliament. And your friend Dotty Scotty doesn’t seem able to answer them properly. He opens and closes his mouth without saying anything, like a fish out of water.’
‘Don’t make fun of my dear friend Dotty,’ he laughed affectionately. ‘His English isn’t very good. He does much better in Bemba.’
‘I’ve got an idea!’ I said. ‘Why not have judicial inquiries?’
‘How little you understand these things,’ he scoffed. ‘When I appoint my commissioners, I always outline the findings which I expect to find in their report. Now the judiciary claims to be independent, so it’s enormously expensive to get them to behave otherwise. This country doesn’t need all this endless talk in parliament and in the courts. All we need is a strong leader like me to put things right.’
‘Half a minute,’ I said. ‘What about the new constitution. Isn’t there a big danger that it could limit the powers of the Great Leader?’
‘A very big danger,’ he laughed.
‘So what are you doing about it?’
‘I’ve already done it,’ he laughed. ‘I’ve appointed another commission of inquiry to suggest a new constitution.’
‘I thought it was a committee of experts?’
‘My dear, you need to have a more skeptical approach to political vocabulary. In this case, committee of experts actually means commission of idiots. But to bring a bit of sense to the committee I’ve taken the trouble to include three Catholic Bishops.’
‘Do they know anything about constitutions?’
‘Absolutely nothing. They are implacably opposed to constitutions, instead believing that I need to be guided only by the Ten Commandments, and of course by the Lord My God who in his Great Wisdom appointed me as the Great Leader.’
‘You were appointed by God?’
‘Of course. It is God who gave me my enormous belief in myself, and my enormous power over my people. Me, God, and my Commissions, we’re going to clean up this country, which has been going to the dogs.’
‘Going to the dogs?’ I laughed. ‘There aren’t any dogs!’
‘No dogs?’
‘No,’ I said. ‘They’ve all been eaten by the Chinese.’

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Getting to the Top

Getting to the Top
‘Good gracious,’ I said, ‘you were at Yunza all those years, just down the road, and we never knew!’
James Nkoma, the son of Sara’s cousin Emily, had finally tracked us down. Sara had spent most of the afternoon catching up on the story of his mother, Sara’s long lost cousin Emily, who had made rather an unfortunate marriage and disappeared from sight. But apparently, after her husband died, she’d been doing very well.
So now, while Sara was away in the bedroom trying to dig out some old family photos, I thought I’d dig into his educational background. ‘So what did you study at Yunza?’ I wondered.
‘History,’ he said. ‘I got a distinction in Modern Medieval History!’
‘Congrats!’ I exclaimed. ‘Have another biscuit! I hadn’t even realized there was anything modern about medieval history!’
‘It’s modern for Yunza,’ he explained. ‘Previously they hadn’t gone beyond Roman History.’
‘Getting to Yunza, that must have been a long and winding road. Where did it all start? Mbuzi Primary School?’
‘That’s right. I came out top with 795 marks. I remember there were only twelve of us on that bus the morning we set out for Lundazi Secondary School. All the others came out to wave us goodbye. But we never looked back.’
‘Can you remember any of them?’
‘I remember my friend Mkandawire, good at everything, except that he simply fractured when he came to fractions.’
‘Couldn’t you have helped him?’
‘I’d have liked to. But if you help somebody, they might get ahead of you!’
‘What happened to Mkandawire?’
‘I’ve completely lost touch. But I know he’s got the only car showroom in Lundazi. Importing from Dubai, through Malawi.’
‘So what do you remember from Lundazi Secondary?’
‘I remember one boy, Dingiswayo, Stinkiswayo we used to call him, asking the teacher why we had to learn to solve quadratic equations. To decide who gets to the top, answered the teacher.’
‘And did Dingiswayo get to the top?’ I wondered.
James lowered his voice. ‘He was more interested in bottoms!’
‘So what’s he doing now?’
‘Running a string of guest houses along the Great Beast Road.’
‘So next you were headed for Yunza?’
‘Six points. Left the rest of the school behind.’
‘What happened to the others?’
‘They got distracted. Became delinquents. But I wanted to get to the top and serve my country.’
‘But you also left the maths behind.’
‘At Yunza I came up against the square root of minus one, and entirely lost faith in the rationality of maths. So I decided to find some other way to serve my country at the highest level.’
‘So in what lofty capacity are you now using your high level knowledge for the benefit of the nation?’
He lowered his voice. ‘That’s the problem, Uncle. It’s been two years since I graduated, and I can’t find a job. That’s why I came to see Aunty, I’m told she’s got connections.’
‘Where have you applied?’
‘To the civil service, for hundreds of jobs. Not even an interview.’
‘Those are political jobs,’ I explained, ‘awarded for dubious political service, or even worse. Besides, ministers don’t want people more educated than themselves.’
‘I can’t even get a job in the private sector.’
‘That’s because you don’t have relatives in management.’
‘But I’ve got a degree!’
‘So do all their nephews and nieces!’
‘I never thought of that. Then what about the mines?’
‘Really, James, everybody knows that the main reason they bought the mines in the first place was to provide jobs for their own unemployed graduates back home.’
‘Then I’ll just have to start my own business! Lend me some money, Uncle!’
‘Look,’ I said, ‘entrepreneurship needs somebody with their own ideas, and imagination. You’ve just spent the past twenty years under the hammer of schooling which was specially designed to knock out the smallest sign of any initiative or imagination. It’s far too late for you to recover from what has been done to you.’
‘I suppose you’re right,’ he sighed. ‘Otherwise I’d have thought of something by now.’
Just then we were interrupted by Sara coming back triumphantly bearing a battered shoe box full of old photographs. ‘Look at this, James,’ she said, putting a yellowing photo under his nose, ‘That’s your mother’s grandmother Ethel, who started her own church and wrote a book about it!’
James looked at the photo and seemed to perk up a bit. ‘Did she have a degree?’ he asked.
‘Of course not!’ Sara laughed. ‘She was a Standard Four!’
‘James has got a very nice history degree,’ I said, ‘but can’t find a job.’
‘Don’t worry about that!’ said Sara. ‘Go back to Yunza and get one of those nice little conveyor belt PhDs, on the history of PhDs, or something like that. Then apply for a job as a university lecturer. Supersata is setting up ten new universities all over the place, Mpulungu, Shang’ombo, Ng’ombe and even Mpika! All unemployed graduates will be made lecturers. A huge national investment and a brilliant idea to solve the problem! Good old Supersata! What a genius!
‘Half a minute,’ I said slowly. ‘That may solve the problem for now. But after ten years we shall have a worse problem, with ten times as many unemployed graduates!’
‘But by that time,’ laughed Sara, ‘Supersata will be out of office!’
‘And I shall be a Vice-Chancellor!’ declared James.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘You’ll get to the top!’

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

State House Disease

State House Disease
‘It happens every time,’ sighed Towani, ‘we elect somebody to State House who promises to do as we ask, but no sooner has he walked through the door than he begins to do the opposite!’
‘And it’s always a he,’ said Sara. ‘When we get a she, things will be different.’
‘Pass me the potatoes,’ I said, ‘before the president puts a tax on them.’
We were having a family lunch on the veranda, which is the best place to put the world to rights, since it can’t be done at State House. ‘Maybe,’ I said, ‘there’s something wrong with State House. Maybe the building has a malign effect on people. Ghosts, evil spirits, nasty smells, unwashed underpants from the previous occupant and that sort of thing.’
Kupela waved her fork in the air. ‘Speaking as a microbiologist…’
‘Speaking as a microbiologist…’ I mocked.
‘What is a microbiologist?’ asked Thoko.
‘A microbiologist,’ I explained, ‘is an extremely small biologist.’
‘It is very likely,’ persisted Kupela, ‘that the new arrival soon succumbs to all the microbes and parasites which have built up over the years.’
‘Maybe the house is still suffering from Nyamasoyitis and Muwelewelitis,’ I suggested.
‘The lingering smell of colonialism,’ suggested Towani. ‘Even Michael said he noticed a foul stench when he first walked in, and promised a clean up.’
‘But maybe the stench overpowered him,’ Sara sneered.
‘There’s no need to bring smelly ideology into a purely biological problem,’ said Kupela. ‘An old house like that is automatically full of all sorts of viruses, bacteria and fungi floating round in the air, and hanging on the curtains like invisible bunches of grapes. Then of course there are the parasites such as mice, rats, spiders, mites and mosquitoes.’
‘All lurking below the floorboards and above the ceilings,’ I suggested.
‘And especially,’ said Kupela, ‘in the drains and sewers. All the remains of the previous occupants, and all their diseases, waiting to come up and get you.’
‘We must respect all that is left to us from previous generations,’ I said. ‘It is called tradition. Presidents come and go, but all these microbes and parasites remain. They are the custodians of State House. They preserve the past, and pass it on to the next occupant, so as to maintain stability and continuity in society. We must respect and preserve our traditions. In fact we’ve now even got a minister to look after them.’
‘Gender discrimination,’ snarled Sara, ‘is a very nasty desease.’
‘We’re talking especially about State House diseases,’ said Towani. ‘Gender discrimination is everywhere.’
‘Especially in State House,’ Sara hissed.
‘I’m not sure about this disease theory,’ declared Towani, as she carefully examined the salad. ‘Does it explain how a man can walk into the house one day as a democrat elected by the people, but emerge the next morning as a king appointed by God?’
‘Diseases can change behaviour dreadfully,’ said Kupela. ‘Chicken pox makes people terribly bad-tempered, diarrhoea causes impatience, and pompositis famously causes extreme arrogance. A person’s behaviour can change in a day, and allergies are particularly erratic and unpredictable.’
‘How is that?’
‘An allergic person may be sent into a fit of sneezing by dust, but quite like the smell of flowers. Another may be allergic to corruption, but very attracted to the smell of money.’
‘I’m not sure I believe any of this,’ laughed Towani. ‘I’m old enough to have seen all five of our presidents, and nobody ever said they looked diseased.’
‘That’s because we have got used to their symptoms,’ explained Kupela. ‘We expect our presidents to be arrogant, selfish, deaf and bad-tempered. In any other person we would see the symptoms of various diseases, but in a president it appears quite normal.’
‘Perhaps it has become normal because these State House diseases have been passed on from one occupant to the next?’
‘Exactly,’ said Kupela.
‘But why doesn’t this State House disease spread out into the general population?’ I wondered. ‘Does State House arrogance make everybody arrogant? Does a president’s deafness turn everybody increasingly deaf, as he moves around the country spreading the disease?’
‘State House disease spreads alright,’ said Kupela. ‘But the strange peculiarity of State House disease is that it has the opposite symptoms in the general population. If the president talks all the time, the people have to stop talking and listen instead. As he becomes more deaf, they are the ones who have to hear. As he becomes more arrogant, they have to become more humble, and lick his boots. As he becomes more authoritarian, they believe more in democracy. As he becomes more satisfied with himself, they become more dissatisfied with him.’
‘But shall we ever clean out all the accumulated filth and disease from State House?’ wondered Thoko. ‘Maybe we should just go back to Sir Evelyn Hone and start again!’
‘Funny you should say that,’ I replied. ‘I read in today’s paper that the British Prime Minister has just appointed Lord Henry Bellingham as Minister for Africa! So obviously the British have resumed control!’
‘Then maybe he has appointed Michael as our new Governor!’
‘That would certainly explain a lot,’ said Sara, as she stabbed the table with her knife. ‘We voted for change, and now we’ve got it!’

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Supreme Leader

The Supreme Leader

Oh Dear Diary, When I came down to breakfast this morning I found my dear husband at the table, already dressed up in his Supersata suit, with his gold crown on his head, busy eating his cornflakes. ‘Good morning darling,’ I said, as I handed him The Post and gave him a little kiss on his battered old forehead. ‘Have a look at the news.’

‘I don’t need to read the news,’ he answered gruffly, ‘I am the news. I make the news, so that other people read about me.’

‘You should read this editorial here,’ I said, as I reached for a grapefruit, ‘it says that Michael should not be appointing …’

‘I’ll have him fired with immediate effect, or possible sooner,’ my dear husband snarled, in a quite frightening and quite unbecoming manner.

‘Half a minute’ I said, ‘I haven’t yet told you what the editor is saying.’

‘Oh yes you have! He can’t be calling me Michael! He must show some respect! My name is now His Excellency Machiavelli Chilufya Supersata SC!’

‘Ooh that’s nice dear,’ I said, trying to soothe him, ‘have you just appointed yourself State Council?’

‘SC means I am Supreme Commander,’ he shouted, as he pointed his spoon threateningly to all four corners of the compass, ‘I’m in charge of all twelve million people, including you!’

‘I’m glad you’ve included me,’ I said with a smile, ‘because I’ve got the same question as the editor. How can you be appointing Unsavory Chuma as your Personal Servant in Luapula when everybody knows he’s as bent as a cucumber? Previously you told everybody you were allergic to corruption! That you can’t stand the stink of it!’

He glowered at me from the other end of the royal table. ‘I can’t stand the stink of this Unsavory fellow. That’s why I sent him all the way to Luapula!’

‘Look, Michael,’ I said slowly, ‘in my job, I hear what people are saying. And I can tell you that they’re getting very fed up with you. You promised so much to the youth, then you pack your cabinet with ancient geriatrics and raise the retirement age. You promised positions for women, then you deliberately leave them out. You said you’d save us from the Chinese thieves and exploiters, then you give a slap-up lunch in their honour. You promised us more money in our pockets, but now you employ this Unsavory Plunderer to steal money from our pockets.’

‘I know you don’t understand these things,’ he growled, ‘you’ve only been trained to wipe babies’ bottoms at the hospital. You don’t understand politics or leadership. You just stick to your nappies and that sort of thing.’

‘Is that what you call leadership?’ I persisted. ‘Appointing a notorious and convicted crook?’

‘Look my dear, let me try to explain it to you. When I was on the campaign trail I had to promise everything to everybody. That’s how I got you into this comfortable house. But now that I am the Supreme Leader I don’t have to ask those people what they want, it is now my job to decide what they should be given.’

‘But can’t you at least give them some of the things they asked for, rather than do the opposite?’

‘Certainly not. I now have to establish myself as the Supreme Leader. I can’t be wasting my time receiving delegations of people all petitioning for different things. One group wants a new road, another wants a bridge, another a railway, and so on. It’s my job to make the decision, and when I do, a lot of people will get disappointed and angry.

‘But Michael,’ I said, ‘you are taking decisions which please nobody!’

‘Ah my dear,’ he said, ‘how little you understand the problems of a Supreme Leader. It is most important, at this early stage, to test the loyalty and discipline of my ministers and party members. The best test is to take a decision which is self-evidently ridiculous, and to see which one can be found whispering against me. This is how I can weed out those who have no loyalty. Such a situation identifies the subversive elements, who would seek to undermine my authority and challenge my position. As they whisper against me, they automatically and foolishly identify themselves. The subsequent purge removes the main danger, and teaches the meaning of loyalty to those few who are allowed to remain around their beloved Supreme Leader.’

‘So what’s you next earth shattering announcement to enrage the nation?’

‘I have been thinking about the problem of all these civil servants who come to work late, and then waste the entire morning chatting on Facebook. They only start work at midday.’

‘So does the Supreme Leader have a remedy?’

‘Certainly he does,’ he replied proudly. ‘This is a simple matter. I shall cancel mornings entirely and the whole country will move to a twelve hour day, beginning at noon, and having only afternoon and night. Tomorrow I shall instruct the Meteorological Department to adjust the speed of the sun so that daylight hours are reduced to six. With immediate effect.’

Oh Dear Diary, Does my poor dear husband really know what he is doing? I have a nasty feeling that, any day now, he is going to make a complete ass of himself.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I Was There!

I Was There!
Independence Day, and I was slumped in front of the TV watching the beginning of the celebrations at State House, when in walked Sara wearing her best bubu. ‘Come on!’ she said, ‘we’re off to Plot One!’
‘What!’ I gasped. ‘Did you get an invitation?’
‘Hah!’ she laughed, ‘do you think those goons at the gate would dare to ask new ministers for their invitation?’
‘But we’re not ministers!’
‘We know that, but do they know that? There’s fifty new ministers and they’ve no idea who is who or which is which. When they see a confused old man with a beard, they’ll probably think you’re Fackson Shimenda!’
Half an hour later we were walking towards the gate, with Sara hissing at me ‘Try to look confused!’
As she spoke, the guard at the gate drew himself to attention and saluted, and the Protocol Officer moved forward to shake my hand. ‘Dotty Scotty, sir, welcome to the party! Is this your good wife, Lotty Scotty?’
‘Good gracious no,’ I laughed, ‘she can’t stand these rituals. This is Joyce Banda, the Vice President of Malawi. We have been very busy cementing good relations.’
‘Marvellous!’ laughed the Protocol Officer, ‘I just hope your wife doesn’t mind!’
'Dotty Scotty and I,' purred Joyce, 'are getting on so well together, that I'm thinking of staying here with him.'
‘Oh Christ!’ I said, as we reached the great circle of tents, ‘All the men are dressed in suits! They must be sweating like pigs!’
‘They don’t sweat,’ Sara sniggered, ‘they’re all cold blooded reptiles. Snakes that can wriggle out of anything, dinosaurs from previous regimes, lizards quicker than pickpockets and chameleons that change colour after every election.’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘Elections come and go, but the ruling class remains the same.’
As I was talking, a shushushu in a black suit, black tie and black shades tapped me on the shoulder. ‘Excuse me Mr Vice President sir, His Excellency has asked me to tell you that you’re not appropriately dressed for the occasion.’
‘What’s wrong?’ I wondered. ‘This is my best chitenge shirt!’
‘Exactly sir. H.E. has said that he doesn’t want people dressing like Africans. Follow me, sir, and I’ll find you a suit, so you can look more like a European.’
We followed him into an ante-room of State House. ‘I’m sorry this is the only suit left,’ he said. ‘The previous Excellency left this behind because he had grown too fat for it.’
‘It’s huge!’ I said, as I put it on, and Sara, I mean Joyce Banda, burst out laughing. ‘Better pull the belt tight or your trousers will fall down!’
‘Now you really look the part,’ she chuckled, as we walked back into the throng, ‘Dotty Scotty is known for always being badly dressed.’
People were now coming up to me, slobbering and fawning, saying ‘Should we call you Your Vice Excellency, or Your Excellency, Your Excellency?’
‘No,’ I told them, ‘The President is His Most Excellent Excellency, and I am His Almost Excellent Excellency.’
We walked grandly around, with people bowing and scraping on all sides, until we finally came to the Royal Tent. ‘Here’s my cell phone,’ I said, ‘you take my picture with Supersata, then I’ll send it to my Facebook friends on The Zambian People’s Pact, just to rub their ten thousand jealous noses into my extraordinary success.’
‘Hullo Kalaki,’ said Supersata, as we shook hands.
‘Shush,’ I said. ‘Everybody thinks I’m Dotty Scotty.
‘I know,’ he said. ‘I’ve just had a message from him at the gate saying he can’t get in. They’re accusing him of being Spectator Kalaki, and telling him to bugger off.’
‘Just as well,’ I said. ‘One Dotty Scotty is quite enough, two would get the entire nation completely confused.’
‘Kalaki,’ said Supersata.
‘Yes, Your Most Excellent Excellency,’ I replied, getting down on one knee.
‘I’ve got something for you,’ he said.
‘I was hoping you’d say that,’ I replied, ‘that’s why I came here for a bit of a grovel.’
‘I’m appointing you as my ambassador to Outer Mongolia!’
‘Oh thank you,Your Most Generous Excellency,’ I said, as I burst into tears of joy, and then rushed over to Sara, formerly Joyce Banda, to tell her the good news.
Outer Mongolia darling!’ I said. ‘The Auditor General has never managed to reach there! We’ll be rich! After all our years of struggle, now we can build our mansion in New Kasama!’
‘You silly bugger!’ she shouted, ‘You resisted when Muwelewele wanted to deport you to England, but now you celebrate when this one wants to deport you to Outer Mongolia!’
But as she was shouting at me, everybody else had fallen quiet. Supersata had begun his majestic walk to the rostrum, where he was about to honour a new batch of national heroes who had suddenly been discovered.
‘Our first hero this afternoon is Spectator Kalaki!’ he announced. I was bewildered! But humbled! I marched up to the rostrum, trying not to trip over Nyamasoya’s trousers, climbed up the steps, and stood in front of Supersata.
‘Spectator Kalaki!’ he announced, ‘You are a national hero. The PF victory was entirely due to your Facebook campaign.’ So saying, he took a fifty kwacha note from his wallet and stuck it in my front pocket. ‘Here’s more money in your pocket!’ he declared.
I saluted smartly, causing my trousers to fall down, so that when I turned to go down the steps my feet were caught in Nyamasoya’s trousers. The whole crowd cheered as I fell flat on my face, and then blacked out.
The next think I knew, I was staring up at Sara’s face, and I was back home. ‘Did the ambulance bring me back?’ I asked.
‘What are you blabbering about?’ she laughed. ‘You fell asleep in front of the telly.’

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Death of MMD

The Death of MMD

Yesterday we had a surprise visit from our former colleagues at Yunza, Birigit and Petrus, now retired to Germany.

‘How nice it is to see you again after all these years,’ said Sara, as we all sat down on the veranda. ‘I’m told you’ve already been here for a couple of weeks. What have you been doing?’

‘We’ve just come back from a couple of weeks in Mfuwe,’ said Birigit.

‘Staring at animals!’ I scoffed. ‘I thought your field was sociology! Now you’re more interested in animals!’

‘Exactly,’ laughed Petrus. ‘After forty years of staring at people, we both have to admit that we can’t understand them at all. Forty years of asking thousands of questions, but still we’ve got no answers! So we’ve given up!’

‘What d’you mean?’ scoffed Sara. ‘Those thousands of questions must have produced thousands of answers!’

‘They did,’ Petrus admitted. ‘What I meant was that the answers seemed to cancel each other out, instead of adding up to something. We were looking for the Grand Theory of Human Behaviour, but we never found it. After forty years of academic toil, we can’t even predict what’s going to happen tomorrow.’

‘So Mfuwe was more amenable to your newly revised intellectual ambitions?’ I suggested cautiously.

‘Very much so,’ said Birigit enthusiastically. ‘With the help of the game ranger, our new friend Dingiswayo, we could understand exactly what was going on. The first morning we got there, before we’d even finished breakfast, Dingiswayo came rushing in, saying Come quick and see the fall of the MMD!’

‘The Movement for Multi-Party Democracy?’

‘No!’ she said irritably, ‘the Mad Mfuwe Dictator! That was the name they had given to the rogue elephant that had been terrorizing Mfuwe for the past twenty years. But now he had been spotted in the middle of the forest, standing motionless, unable to steal a mango, let alone trample a village.

Hamba manji manji Herr Petrus and Frau Birigit! urged Dingiswayo as we tried to urge our ancient limbs into the back of the arthritic landrover. We were driven into the forest and shown the dying MMD, standing there swaying, surrounded by a crowd of laughing baboons and hyenas.

‘MMD had promised, explained Dingiswayo, to protect the forest and provide free fertilizer so that everybody could grow maize. But instead MMD sold the forest to Ching Chang, and invaded the maize fields at night to eat all the maize himself, leaving his droppings all over the field. That was the free fertilizer he had promised!’

‘Watching an elephant die!’ said Sara. ‘Rather a morbid pastime!’

‘Animals’ death is different,’ said Petrus. ‘They don’t demand privacy. The whole of Mfuwe was watching. And celebrating.’

‘When exactly did MMD die?’ I asked.

‘It happened the next morning, when we came back to watch. MMD was swaying dangerously, then he made one long trumpeting noise, which Dingiswayo said meant I shall rule for ever! Then he fell over sideways. Dead.’

‘How did you know he was dead?’

‘When an animal dies,’ explained Birigit, ‘all the parasites leave the body. The moment MMD died, a cloud of fleas immediately rose from the body. An army of ticks released their grip and dispersed quickly into the forest, looking for other victims. Several bats flew out of his ears. Then we saw a long snake beginning to wind out of the anus.’

‘It must have been a tapeworm,’ I suggested.

‘No.’ said Birigit. ‘Dingiswayo said it was the notorious Red-Lipped Snake that had crept up the elephant’s arse three years earlier. Now it was abandoning the corpse.’

‘Next was even worse,’ said Petrus. ‘Suddenly the huge distended belly split open, and out stepped a little hippo, whose name, Dingiswayo told us, was Bokosi. Apparently MMD had once had a great taste for Bokosi, and had entirely swallowed her.’

‘Really?’ I asked. ‘How?’

‘In an act of love,’ explained Birigit. ‘An act of monstrous coition between two monsters. MMD opened his mouth wide to give her a big voluptuous kiss and accidentally swallowed her whole. He became pregnant with her, instead of the other way round.’

‘A rare example of gender equality,’ declared Sara.

‘I’m not sure I can believe all this,’ I said, looking at the bottle. ‘How many gin and tonics have you had?’

‘How many brandies have you had?’ retorted Birigit.

‘I’m not the one who’s telling the story!’

‘I know it may sound strange,’ said Petrus, ‘But what happened next was even more peculiar. Out of the forest trotted a large buffalo bull, but with little horns and not much in the way of, ah, reproductive equipment.’

‘Dingswayo said it was the Tonga Bull,’ explained Birigit, ‘known for appearing at funerals in order to steal the assets of the deceased. With two big kicks he knocked off both the elephant’s tusks. With another mighty kick between the elephant’s rear legs he cleanly cut off the elephant’s famously large equipment, which was then sewn onto the Tonga Bull by a clever chimpanzee. Then, with the long tusks over his little horns, and his new scrotum dangling in the dust, he trotted off into the forest, as the baboons all laughed and squealed Another Great Leader!’

‘So what happens next in Mfuwe?’ Sara wondered. ‘Can MMD resurrect after all the parasites have left? Or will the Tonga Bull take over? Or will the animals of Mfuwe finally discover democracy?’

‘What do you think?’ I also asked. ‘After your new zoological experiences, are you now in a position to predict what’s going to happen tomorrow?’

‘Yes,’ said Petrus confidently, ‘I think I can now confidently predict what’s going to happen tomorrow.’

‘What’s that?’ I asked.

‘Tomorrow,’ he said slowly, ‘We’re both going back to Germany.’

[Thanks to Facebook friends for their contributions to the discussion on the death of MMD, and especially to Francis Mwelwa Bwalya for his description of the deathbed predator]