Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Magic Mathematics

Magic Mathematics

Yesterday I had the privilege of interviewing Professor Kafupi Wabufi PhD (Philosopher of Dribbling), Vice-Chancellor of the University of Magic Mathematics Development (MMD).

‘Tell me Professor Kafupi,’ I said, ‘what is Magic Mathematics?’

The huge glass windows looked out onto the lush green lawns of the newly established university. The little professor, popularly known as Kadoli to his students, sat high on a pile of cushions in a large armchair, waving his arms excitedly as he spoke.

‘Look Kalaki,’ he said, ‘Magic Mathematics is nothing new, it has always been with us. Magic Mathematics is our own indigenous mathematics. For too long we have suffered under the yoke of Colonial Mathematics, which has controlled our monetary system, our budgeting and even our development plans. We are a sovereign nation, and the time has come to throw off this foreign inference in our domestic affairs.’

‘I’m very impressed with your intellectual fervour,’ I said. ‘But what has prompted this sudden national interest in indigenous mathematics?’

‘The coming election was the turning point,’ he declared. ‘We were about to suffer the indignity of having foreigners flooding into the country to add up the results from polling stations. They were about to ask impertinent questions about whether our loyal Election Corruption of Zed would be correct when they inevitably declare that our Beloved Leader has again been re-elected.’

‘Prompting Nyamasoya to issue his famous presidential decree declaring mathematics to be illegal.’

‘Don’t try to be funny, Kalaki,’ Kadoli frowned. ‘It was only Colonial Mathematics which was declared illegal. For years we have been studying this colonial hangover in our schools, but nobody has ever understood it. It has caused a series of Ministers of Finance to get into a riotous numerical muddle while trying to announce the budget.’

‘A colonial trick to make our ministers look ridiculous.’

‘Exactly, Kalaki, you’ve got the point. So Nyamasoya decided to ban Colonial Mathematics, and set up this new University of Magic Mathematics Development. In future, nobody is allowed to practice Mathematics unless he has a degree from this university and a Licence to Practice Mathematics from the Department of Indigenous Culture.’

‘Half a minute,’ I said. ‘If we can go back to the beginning, what was wrong with the election monitors tabulating the votes from polling stations?’

‘Look,’ said Kadoli in exasperation, ‘isn’t it obvious? It’s the same problem that makes numerical discussions so hilarious in parliament! People are trying to talk Colonial Arithmetic, but inside their heads they are actually busy with traditional indigenous Magic Arithmetic.’

‘The Election Corruption of Zed had the same problem?’

‘Let me explain,’ said Kafupi patiently. ‘Traditionally, counting for a chief uses decimal arithmetic. So 11 votes for the president means 1 ten and 1 one, or eleven. But counting of opponents is done in binary arithmetic. Therefore 11 votes for an opposition candidate means 1 two and 1 one, making three. Not understanding this intrusion of Magic Mathematics, monitors would read these two numbers as the same, therefore drawing all sorts of wrong conclusions.’

‘Like claiming that opposition votes had been under counted?’

‘Exactly. Or claiming that the numbers of votes was higher than the number of registered voters. Thus causing alarm and chaos in the nation, and a potential breakdown in law and order.’

‘A criminal act!’


‘In what other ways do people count?’

‘Traditionally we count money as six goats equal one cow. Six cows equal one wife. Six wives equal one Merc. Six Mercs equal one mansion.’

‘So when a ministry is given an allocation of 100 billion kwacha, how do they see this money?’

‘The minister probably works it out as forty Mercs and twenty mansions, and starts distribution accordingly.’

‘And does Magic Mathematics also have Magic Geometry?’

‘Of course it does,’ said Kafupi sternly. ‘In Magic Geometry there’s no such thing as a straight line. The shortest distance between two points is a very complicated curve which only experts can understand.’

‘That’s how you became Professor of Dodging!’

‘Exactly,’ he laughed. But as he spoke, the secretary put his head round the door. ‘Excuse me Vice-Chancellor,’ she said, ‘the Great Leader is here to see you.’

‘Tell him to come in,’ said Kadoli.

But nobody came in. Instead we saw Nyamasoya walking outside on the lawn. He made for a tree, walked round it three times, then headed for Kadoli’s office and came in through the French Door.’

‘He’s a great student of mine,’ Kafupi whispered. ‘He never does anything straight.’ Then he whispered to me ‘Traditionally you have to shake his hand twenty-seven times, because he now holds twenty-seven positions, which means that has to be treated as twenty-seven different people.’

‘Twenty-eight,’ laughed Nyamasoya, as he shook my hand. ‘I’ve just appointed myself Chief Justice.’

‘What brings you here?’ asked Kadoli.

‘I’m thinking of sacking the Auditor General,’ he replied.

‘Go ahead,’ laughed Kadoli. ‘Arrest her for secretly practicing Colonial Arithmetic!’

‘Inde! Yebo!’ laughed Nyamasoya, as he ambled three times round the sofa, jumped happily in the air and then hopped out through the French window. ‘Now I shall also be Auditor General!’

‘So now he’s in charge of everything!’ I exclaimed.

‘Yes,’ laughed Kadoli, as he took a remote control from his pocket. ‘And I’m in charge of him!’

‘You’re heading,’ I said, ‘for a Monstrous Mathematical Disaster!’


[Based on a story idea provided by Sydney Imasiku and Mayani Changala]

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