An Honorary Doctorate
It was Saturday night, and Sara and I were watching the new play at the
The curtain opened on the scene of a graduation ceremony on a university lawn. Onto the rostrum stepped the Vice-Chancellor, all dressed up in garish gown and mortar board. He was trying to look serious and intellectual, despite his ridiculous attire. Behind him were rows of similarly expensive gowns, all sitting on cheap plastic chairs. In the middle sat the King, sprawled on an enormous velvet sofa.
‘And now,’ began the Vice-Chancellor, ‘it is the honour and privilege of this Sorcery Development Academy to award an Honorary Doctorate in Political Sorcery to our Beloved Leader, His Excellency King Bwaume Nyamasoya, whom I humbly thank for gracing us with his distinguished presence this afternoon.’
‘It is now my pleasant duty,’ continued the Vice-Chancellor, ‘to call upon the Public Orator, Dr Buloshi Bupulumushi, Professor of Witchcraft and Juju, to deliver the Oration in praise of our Great Leader.’
‘Unusual name,’ I sniggered.
‘He was fired from Makerere,’ whispered Sara, ‘for exchanging grades for sexual favours.’
‘It wasn’t like that in my day,’ I sighed, ‘otherwise I could have had a distinction.’
As we were whispering, the play was progressing…
The shriveled little figure of Bupulumushi now crept up to the microphone. ‘It is our pleasure,’ began Bupulumushi, ‘to welcome here today this Great Son of Africa, who has done so much to improve this country. When our Beloved Nyamasoya ascended to the throne, this country was sorely divided. He found a country where parliament was independent of the King, and even refusing to approve funds for royal banquets. But with a little bit of juju our new King soon reduced the Speaker to a kadoli, and put him in his back pocket.
‘Even the Chief Justice had developed the arrogance of deciding who to punish, pretending not to realize that this was the prerogative of the king. But our wise new King cleverly re-arranged a few bones in the graveyard, cast a devastating spell, and now the Chief Justice is just another kadoli in the back pocket of the King. At last this country was being unified by a King who was able to
the authority of our ancestral spirits.’ marshall
‘One Zambia!’ Sara hissed.
‘One Nation!’ I replied automatically.
‘With some special muti in his supu, the Minister of Finance was soon turned into the house servant of the King, and the National Treasury was returned to its traditional place in the King’s wallet. By putting the hair of a dog under his mattress, the Chief of Police was turned into the King’s personal guard dog, with special duties to seek out the enemies of the King.
‘So this is why we honour our Great King today, for turning Political Science into Political Sorcery. This Great Son of Africa recognized that our entire Constitution was just a colonial legacy. That was why our new King devised public incantations to call upon the ancestors to uncage the Red-Lipped Snake, so that this odious reptile could be sent to poison the Colonial Constitution, and thereby return all moral oversight to our hitherto forgotten ancestors, now at last restored to their rightful place.
‘That is why all the foreign universities have refused to honour our Heroic King with any doctorate, because these foreigners were the very ones who usurped our ancestors and traduced our sacred traditions, which our own Great Leader has now restored.
‘And so today we take it upon ourselves to honour our own King, and also to humbly thank him for the grant of five hundred billion to build the Nyamasoya Memorial Hall to commemorate the momentous event that we are witnessing here today. So saying, I call upon the Vice-Chancellor to confer upon our King the Honorary Doctorate of Political Sorcery.’
‘Hurray!’ we all cheered and laughed.
‘Don’t laugh!’ Sara hissed. ‘This could actually happen!’
Now both the Vice-Chancellor and the King came forward to the rostrum, as the Vice-Chancellor unwrapped a huge gown made of many mealie-meal sacks and placed it around the King’s shoulders. Then he took another sack and tied it on the King’s head with a lovely tassel. Then he took a bucket of mealie-meal and emptied it over the King’s head.
‘Ul-lu-lu-lu-lu-lu!’ came the ululations from all around the theatre.
‘Is this serious or are we supposed to laugh?’ I whispered to Sara.
‘With these rituals,’ said Sara, ‘it’s difficult to know. Just watch the others.’
‘And now,’ said the Vice Chancellor, ‘I call upon our new Honorary Doctor to say a few words.’
The hideous flour bag now approached the microphone. ‘The last obstacle to national unity is the coming election. In order to achieve a peaceful election, I call upon the spirits to help us in our campaign to eliminate the opposition!’
As he spoke there was a chant of ‘Left Right Left Right’ from the wings, then onto the stage came a platoon of ragged bakaponya, each with a machete in one hand and a carton of chibuku in the other. As the King’s Task Force marched out into the night, a huge fat cow walked rather unsteadily onto the stage.’
‘What huge udders!’ I exclaimed.
‘That’s Dora Tujilijili!’ said Sara, ‘She’s leading the election campaign!’
‘Let the campaign begin!’ shouted the Honorary Doctor. ‘Let the ancestors lead us to victory!’ As he spoke he mounted the great fat cow, which then lumbered across the stage, and disappeared into the wings.
The Vice-Chancellor opened his mouth to say something, but his words were drowned out by the sound of a huge crash, followed by a long sad ‘Mooooooo’.
How we all clapped and cheered! ‘Hurray! More! Praise the ancestors! Encore!’
‘I don’t think he’s going to go very far!’ laughed Sara.
‘Of course not!’ I shouted. ‘But it’s going to be fun to watch!’
[Written with a bit of help from Kupela Clarke]