Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The By-Election Business

By-Election Business

          ‘Turn on the TV,’ said Sara, ‘We’d better steel ourselves for more gruesome news from the by-elections. Maybe more police misbehaviour.’
‘Let’s hope that Sillyman Jelly hasn’t been stirring up more trouble,’ I said. But as we were talking we heard a car coming into our yard, so I went to see who it was. So we never did get to hear the news about the police chief’s latest illegal antics.
Stepping out of a bright red Merc was a young man in a posh suit and all the bling bling gear to match. ‘I’m not sure we’ve met,’ I said, stretching out my hand.
‘Ha ha, Uncle Kalaki,’ he laughed, ‘always cracking jokes! I used to take you seriously!’
I ushered him into the sitting room. ‘Our nephew has come to see us,’ I said bravely to Sara.
‘If it isn’t young Dingiswayo!’ said Sara, as she rose to greet him. ‘I hardly recognized you, you’re so much older, and er… fatter.’ Then turning to me, ‘You remember, this is Aunty Bina’s eldest son!’
‘Actually I’m not Dingiswayo Phiri anymore,’ smiled Bina's eldest son. ‘I’m now Dr Maximillian Kambikambi.’
‘Well yes,’ laughed Sara, as we all sat down, ‘I can see you’ve changed a lot. How did you achieve such a massive transformation?'
‘God was good to me,’ he explained. ‘A good friend of mine got killed in a car accident, and it turned out that he had bequeathed all his certificates to me. Praise the Lord!’
‘You certainly needed some divine assistance,’ laughed Sara. ‘I can still remember the unfortunate circumstances of your premature departure from Kaoma Very Secondary School. So what are you doing now?’
‘For the past couple of years I’ve been the member of parliament for Lububa.’
‘Ho ho,’ Sara laughed. ‘Isn’t that the one that’s always having by-elections?’
‘That’s how I squeezed in,’ laughed Maximillian, ‘at the by-election in early 2011. By the time the previous MP, Mulwele Mulungulwa, had finally faded away, I’d already been campaigning there for three months. It was a safe seat for UPND.’
‘But how did you manage to get selected?’
‘With the Up and Down Party there’s no problem. If you just put down a hundred million to buy the votes, you can have it.’
‘But where did you get the hundred million?’
‘I borrowed it from the bank.’
‘They lent you money to buy a constituency?’
‘No, to make extensions to my bakery.’
‘Did you have a bakery?’
‘No. But the bank didn’t know that.’
‘Didn’t you have to put up collateral?’
‘Oh yes. I gave them the title deeds to my house.’
‘Did you have a house?’
‘No. But I had some very convincing title deeds.’
‘And you won the seat?’
‘It was a cinch. I had a hundred million to get all the voters drunk. On top of that I promised them an electric railway all the way to Joburg so that they could all emigrate to South Africa. And, as Kambikambi, I was a nephew to Paramount Chief Lubulubu of the Bubabuba.’
‘But you now owed the bank a hundred million,’ said Sara. ‘Was it worth it?’
‘Of course it was worth it. At that time the ruling MMD were short of a majority and were paying three hundred million for an opposition MP. So I crossed the floor straight away.’
‘Another by-election?’
‘Of course. All the people of Lububa were too happy when the ruling party came in with all their money. This time they were continuously drunk for three months. When they finally sobered up for polling day they found four new primary schools and six new clinics.’
‘But no railway line?’
‘I showed them the plans for that. I was elected by a landslide.’
‘And soon after that came the 2011 General Election?’
‘Yes, and again I triumphed, and was again returned to parliament on the MMD  ticket.’
‘But now on the opposition benches?’
‘Even better. This time I got four hundred million for crossing the floor and was made a deputy minister.’
‘Another by-election?’
‘Of course. By now I was a hero in Lububa, which had become the richest constituency in the country. It was generally reckoned that nearly half the money stolen from the treasury had been poured into Lububa. Of course I was returned on the Punching Fist ticket with a thumping majority.’
‘But wasn’t there another by-election in Lububa last week?’
‘Yes, we’ve been blessed by God. Unfortunately I couldn’t stand again, after what the judge said about me at the election petition hearing. So instead the Punching Fist employed me to set up my own party in Lububa. I formed the Bye Bye Party.’
‘Bye Bye to poverty?’ suggested Sara.
‘Almost right,’ laughed Maximillian. ‘I stood on an election promise to organize two by-elections every year. My Bye Bye campaign split the Up and Down voters into the Ups and the Downs, so it was Bye Bye to the Ups and Bye Bye to the Downs, and again the PF won easily.’
‘But now you’ve lost your seat. So is it Bye Bye to politics?’
‘Sadly, yes,’ he said with a broad smile. ‘But as a reward for my patriotism and services to the development of the nation, the government has made me High Commissioner to Nigeria.’
‘Quite an opportunity to further your career,’ said Sara.
‘That’s what brings me here this evening,’ he said, as he pulled some papers out of his inside pocket. ‘As an ambassador I’m not supposed to own a trading company, so I want you two to be the sole shareholders and co-directors.’
‘Piss off,’ said Sara.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Born Liar

A Born Liar

          ‘Nawiti,’ I said, ‘go and wash your hands.’
          ‘I’ve already washed them!’ she retorted.
          ‘No you haven’t,’ I said.
          ‘Look at them!’ I said, as I took hold of her hands and showed her the dirty palms. ‘How can you say you have washed them?’
          ‘Because I washed them yesterday,’ she retorted.
‘You go and wash them, then I’ll tell you a story.’
          ‘What about?’ she asked.
          ‘About a little boy who always told lies.’
          ‘Now where’s my story?’ she said, as she danced back from the bathroom, waving her little clean hands in the air. ‘And what was the name of the boy?’
          ‘His name was Wonama,’ I replied. ‘And nobody took him seriously because he could never tell the truth. Every time he opened his mouth he lied. He lied even when there was no known reason for doing so. For instance, he would tell the other boys that he was friendly with a lion in the forest, or …
          ‘Perhaps he really was friendly with a lion in the forest,’ suggested Nawiti.
          ‘And the next day he would say that his best friend was an elephant,’ I laughed
          ‘Did he have any friends?’ Nawiti wondered.
          ‘None,’ I said. ‘Not even an elephant. Nobody could trust him, nobody could believe him. Nobody could get to know him, because every day his story changed. Even him, he didn’t know himself, because he couldn’t face the truth about himself. It was like a terrible disease. He had an awful allergy to the truth.’
          ‘Did the disease go away as he got older?’
          ‘That was the problem,’ I said ‘Grownups can forgive a lie from a naughty little child, provided it doesn’t happen too often. But when an adult lies all the time it becomes a very big problem.’
          ‘What sort of problem?’
          ‘Well, for instance if a driver stopped and asked him which was the road to Kabwe, Wonama would immediately point in the direction of Kafue! He caused much confusion and wasted petrol.’
          ‘Perhaps he really thought he was pointing in the direction of Kabwe,’ suggested Nawiti.
          ‘No, that was the strange thing about Wonama. Speaking the truth made him feel ill, so he had to lie. Then he felt better.’
          ‘Did he do well at school?’ asked Nawiti.
          ‘Of course not,’ I laughed. ‘Even if he knew the answer to a question he would automatically say something else, so he failed all his exams.’
          ‘So now he was in a fix,’ said Nawiti. ‘If everybody was upset with his lies, wouldn’t it just have been easier to tell the truth?’
          ‘He knew that. But the truth would just stick in his throat. It couldn’t come out. But a lie was so tasty and satisfying and he enjoyed his lies so much. It was more like a medical condition. He was just a born liar.’
          ‘So I suppose he couldn’t get a job?’
          ‘Of course not. He would claim to be a carpenter when he wasn’t, so he’d be fired the next day. Plumber, welder, teacher, builder, singer, writer, no job lasted longer than a day.’
          ‘He was nothing,’ said Nawiti sadly. ‘He must have been very unhappy with himself.’
          ‘He was,’ I said. ‘Until one day he suddenly and unexpectedly discovered an advantage in lying. He told an ugly old woman that she looked young and beautiful, and she put her arm round him and gave him a kiss!’
          ‘She liked his lie!’
          ‘She even seemed to like him! The secret of being liked was simply to tell people the lies which they wanted to hear! Even if it was an outrageous lie, they would believe it!’
          ‘So he decided to become a politician!’ exclaimed Nawiti.
          ‘Exactly,’ I laughed. ‘Within a couple of years he had moved from being the most despised person in the land to being the most loved. He would go round saying The people gathered here are the most beautiful on Earth! and everybody would laugh and cheer and dance.
          ‘But perhaps they were the most beautiful on Earth,’ suggested Nawiti.
          ‘You’ve forgotten that Wonama was a liar,’ I said.
          ‘Oops,’ laughed Nawiti, ‘I almost believed him.’
          ‘Now in those days the people didn’t like the ruling Prince, so he would say things like The Prince is a thief, he sends thieves to steal money from your pockets while you are sleeping and the people would dance and cheer, singing The Prince is a thief! Off with his head!
          ‘He had discovered the value of the nasty lie,’ said Nawiti.
          ‘And more than that,’ I said, ‘he soon discovered the value of promises. He would say Make me the Prince and I will put the money back in your pocket! and all the people would dance and sing Wonama for Prince! We shall all be rich!
          ‘And did the people make Wonama their new Prince?’
          ‘Indeed they did,’ I said. ‘They carried him shoulder high to the palace, all singing Wonama in the palace, money in our pockets!
          ‘And did he put the money in their pockets?’
          ‘No,’ I replied. ‘He didn’t.’
          ‘But why not,’ she complained irritably. ‘They all believed in him. And he was now the Prince. He had all the power to do it. Why didn’t he just keep his promise?’
          ‘He couldn’t,’ I explained, ‘because if he had done that, then the promise would have become the truth.  And Wonama couldn’t speak the truth. He was a born liar.’
          ‘Oops,’ said Nawiti, ‘I’d forgotten that bit!'



Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Disappearing King

A Disappearing King
          ‘A long time ago, in the land of King Ukwa, strange things began to happen. Things began to mysteriously disappear.’
          ‘Such as what?’ asked Nawiti.
          ‘One day the king made a promise that people would wake up the next morning with more money in their pockets. But the next morning they didn’t find the money. It had just disappeared’
          ‘Silly Grandpa,’ laughed Nawiti, ‘the money was never there in the first place, so you can’t say it disappeared. A thing has to appear before it can disappear.’
          ‘You’re right about that,’ I agreed. ‘It wasn’t the money that disappeared, it was the promise.’
          ‘Promises usually disappear,’ laughed Nawiti. ‘Mummy promised to buy me a bicycle if I was a good girl, but I never got it.’
          ‘Maybe you weren’t a good girl.’
          ‘I was a very good girl but she was a very bad girl for not buying me the bicycle.’
          ‘King Ukwa,' I said, 'even went so far as to promise the people a new constitution. But they never got it.’
          ‘I’m not surprised at all,’ said Nawiti. ‘This is my experience with grown-ups; I don’t believe a word they say.’
          ‘Not only did they not get a new constitution,' I countered, 'but even the old constitution began to disappear.’
          ‘Oh dear,’ said Nawiti, ‘now that was more serious.’
          ‘Exactly,’ I replied. ‘One day the Chief Justice just disappeared.’
          ‘Woops,’ said Nawiti. ‘Isn’t the Chief Justice the very one who is supposed to protect the people from the king?’
          ‘Exactly,’ I said. ‘And then other people began to disappear. One day the managers of a factory just disappeared, and the next day a different set of managers appeared from nowhere.’
          ‘What is a factory, Grandpa?’
          ‘It’s a huge machine for sucking blood out of the workers and money out of the country.’
          ‘So what was happening to all that money?’
          ‘It was just disappearing,’ I said. ‘So now the people were getting very angry, and a delegation went to the king to voice their complaints.’
          ‘And did the king listen to them?’
          ‘That’s when the problem of disappearance got even worse,’ I said grimly. ‘The king’s hearing had developed a tendency to disappear, especially when anybody voiced a  complaint.’
          ‘But really,’ said Nawiti, ‘couldn’t the king see problems for himself?’
          ‘The problem made the problem worse. His sight would disappear whenever he looked at a problem.’
          ‘But didn’t he realize that his sight had disappeared?’
          ‘No, he merely thought that the problem had disappeared.’
          ‘So the main problem was the disappearance of the problem,’ said Nawiti.
          ‘And that’s a very big problem,’ I said, ‘because it’s very difficult to see something that has disappeared. But then things got even worse. One day, when the king was appointing a new minister, something very strange happened. The new minister had just signed his oath swearing  to obey all instructions from the king irrespective of how unconstitutional, and was handing the piece of paper back to the king, when the king entirely disappeared. The whole room full of royal bootlickers stood there aghast as the piece of paper fluttered to the floor, because the receiving hand of the king had gone missing. Before anybody could say a word, the king miraculously reappeared, roaring loudly Is this is how you return your oath of office to your king? By throwing it on the floor? This is lack of respect for your king! You are fired, with immediate effect!
          ‘The king couldn’t see that he hadn't been there?’ chuckled Nawiti.
          ‘It’s not possible to see your own disappearance,’ I explained. ‘Only others can see it. And they were very disturbed, saying one to another We need a man of substance, not someone who disappears, while others asked Is this man really made of royal material?
          ‘Was this the only time the king disappeared? Nawiti wondered.
          ‘The next time was worse,' I admitted. 'He disappeared for an entire week, and everybody in the land was talking about it. But the Minister for Lies and Propaganda insisted that he king was in his palace, wrestling with the problem of sudden disappearances. Surprisingly, a week later the same minister announced that the king had returned from India after consulting a sangoma on the strange problem of sudden disappearances. But people whispered one to another How can he return if he never left?
          ‘And did he find the answer in India?’ asked Nawiti.
          ‘Apparently not,’ I said, ‘because a few days later there was a terrible coach accident on the main road between the City of Work and the City of Sin, and fifty people disappeared. The whole nation was in mourning. Churches services were held all over the country asking God why he had forsaken them, and asking for His divine intervention.’
          ‘And was God listening?’ wondered Nawiti. ‘Or had he also disappeared?’
          ‘Nobody knows,’ I said. ‘But soon afterwards the king disappeared again, and this time nobody could find him. They searched the palace and even the tunnels under the palace. They searched the bedrooms of all his wives. They visited all the sangomas in India but none had seen him. They visited all the freezers in all the military hospitals in France, but none had him. They even searched the sewers. They held Church services and prayed for the king, and pleaded with God to send him back.’
          ‘They’re still waiting for Jesus to come back,’ observed Nawiti sadly.
          ‘But in the end they gave up the hopeless quest, and instead learnt to govern themselves with a new system which they called democracy. After that, they didn’t need a king anymore.’
          ‘I always like happy ending,’ laughed Nawiti, clapping her hands. ‘The problem just disappeared!’


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Cancer Treatment

Cancer Treatment

          The TV news had just finished when onto the screen came the expressionless face of the ancient Minister of Health, Joseph Kasonde. ‘Countrywomen and men…’ he began
          ‘Wow! Countrywomen!’ sneered Sara. ‘At last! After fifty years of independence, some women have arrived in Zambia!’
          ‘Tomorrow,’ said the minister slowly, deliberately ignoring Sara’s remark, ‘is World Cancer Day, so I want to talk to you this evening about the way we are addressing the problem of cancer in Zambia.’
          ‘We fly to India,’ laughed Sara.
          ‘The problem of discussing this disease,’ continued the minister, ‘is that there are many myths about cancer which are simply not true.’
          ‘One of the myths about the Ministry of Health,’ sneered Sara, ‘is that it is about health and welfare. This is simply not true. The Ministry of Health is about corruption and death.’
          Again the minister continued to drone slowly on, completely oblivious to the ribald remarks and shoes being thrown at TV screens all over the country. Like all ministers, he was completely protected from the opinion of the people.
          ‘One of these myths,’ continued Kasonde in his killingly dull monotone, ‘is that thousands of Zambians die every year from cancer. This is simply not true. In Zambia the great majority of the population dies young from poverty and starvation, and do not live long enough to die of cancer.’
          ‘Unless they go into politics,’ suggested Sara.
          ‘However,’ continued the minister, ‘if the biological dimensions of the disease are relatively unimportant in Zambia, the political dimensions are very different.’
          ‘Hey Ho!’ I gasped in surprise, ‘Perhaps he’s actually going to say something!’
          ‘In politics,’ declared the minister, ‘the situation is very different, and we have increasing empirical evidence that political parties are cancerous, eating into the fabric and integrity of the state, even to the extent of destroying its constitution.’
          ‘Ha ha,’ I said to him, ‘now we’re getting somewhere!’
          ‘How does this happen?’ asked the minister, before helpfully going on to answer the question himself. ‘It happens because the biology of the state allows a political party to capture the heart of the people, and then to control the heart of the state on behalf of the people. All this is very well, because the people’s control of the heart is essential to democracy. And this heart, although presiding over the entire state, has to work in harmony with the other organs such as the brainy judiciary, the greedy parliamentary stomach, the army of mindless microbes, and so on.’
          ‘This is getting interesting,’ I admitted. ‘Last time this fellow spoke I fell asleep.’
          ‘Now,’ said Kasonde, ‘this brings us to the real heart of the problem of cancer in this country. Suppose the people elect a political party to take over the heart, but this political party is cancerous. By this I mean it acts not on behalf of the people, but for itself to pursue its own interests. Suppose, having taken over the heart, it now wants to grow at the expense of other organs, taking over the rest of the state, and quite ignoring the constitutional balance between organs which is supposed to keep the state in a healthy condition.’
          ‘I couldn’t have put it better myself,’ I declared.
          ‘If this political party is cancerous, this means that it has delinquent and aberrant cells within it which keep dividing and multiplying, first taking over the party and then the heart itself, causing both to become dysfunctional and dangerous to the state. Suppose now that this cancer at the heart of the state begins to send out cancerous cells into the other organs, and the cancer begins to spread. If this happens, then the previously judicious brain will become brainless. The nose will no longer be able to smell nasty things which have an obvious stink. The mouth’s taste buds will be replaced by cancerous cells which will easily allow the mouth to swallow things that are odious, disgusting and dangerous. Even the parliamentary stomach, which is supposed to vomit anything poisonous or damaging, will instead be willing to digest anything, even when dangerous to the entire constitution.
          ‘So this little fellow is not so dull after all!’ I marveled.
          ‘So how can the patient be saved?’ asked Dr Kasonde. ‘The treatment is simple. In the biological state, it is the people who are the life-blood of the state. It is the ordinary little blood cells who have the freedom of thought to see what is happening, the freedom of expression to tell their friends of the impending danger, and the freedom of movement to take action against the tyrannical cancer which is destroying the constitution. Before it is too late, these blood cells must exercise their constitutional freedom and move quickly throughout the entire state, supplying oxygen to the diminishing number of healthy cells in various organs, but completely cutting off the oxygen supply to all the invading cancer cells which are destroying the constitution.’
          ‘Simple!’ I said. ‘The man is a genius, even if he looks like an idiot!’

          ‘Wake up! Wake up!’ I opened one eye, and there was Sara shaking me. ‘You’re asleep! Wake up! It’s time to go to bed!’
          ‘What? No! I wasn’t asleep! I may have had my eyes closed but I was listening to Kasonde. It was very interesting!
          ‘What rubbish!’ she laughed. ‘You fell asleep as soon as he started talking.’