By: Moses Ameh
Being a despot in Africa is arguably the best job on our planet. I would have said universe but I have to be wary of that innate human hubris which may prove suicidal in the eons to come that makes us assume we are the only sentient beings in the universe or multiverse as the case may be. It is this potentially self-destructive attribute that inspires titles like Miss Universe or Craziest Dictator Alive. Such audacious conclusions! As far as the limits of our assumptions extend, there may exist in some lonely, deserted galaxy or on some cold, dark far flung dwarf planet, an iridescent inchoate beauty or an immortal, amorphous alien autocrat with qualities that surpass these human impostors.
The job of an African despot is tedious but lucrative. Despots get to attain God-like omnipotence and also acquire immunity from all bodily afflictions (in Western hospitals) and theft or human right violation probes. What’s more? Their loyal serfs have no limits for their tolerance which may last for generations depending on the despot’s own discretion. Charles Taylor’s 1997 election winning campaign slogan best exemplifies the nonexistent boundaries of this tolerance:
“He killed my Ma. He killed my Pa. He gets my vote.”
It is worthy of mention at this point that the African despot is not as untouchable as he/she seems. This should come as no surprise, considering how common it is to hear the saying: “Nothing is as it seems.” Icebergs best portray this concept. Their often ostensibly small appearance has proven waterloo for many who take their face value and ignore their subsurface magnitude. In order to prevent this titanic error, I have, after much effort, successfully exposed these seemingly inconspicuous rivals of the African despot. For this act of service, the African despot owes me a Swiss account robust with taxpayers money.
The first and least of these rivals are the domestic abusers who are beautifully characterized in Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, the medical personnel who albeit inadvertently sever patients ureters during caesarean sections or administer drugs via the wrong route with impunity, the MP’s, Reps, Senators, whatever they are called, who refuse salary and allowance reviews that better reflect their civil royalty status. This hierarchy is subject to review. The arch-rival, however, whose position is non-negotiable and who can easily topple the despots are the Men of God. On this, I can go no further because I hear a voice saying: “Touch not this subject and do not lampoon my prophet.”
Rivals aside, it is imperative to state that this job like other jobs has its peculiar occupational hazards which can thankfully be mitigated. Here are some hazards and the actions African despots take to protect themselves:
1. LOSS OF REVERENCE:
There are three tools that are invaluable to the African despot and indeed all other despots across the globe and beyond: from Minsk to Pyongyang to that far flung dwarf planet. These include:
ii. The barrel of a loaded gun: the prime purveyor and protector of democracy.
iii. The often forgotten but nonetheless important butt of the gun.
Of the three tools mentioned, this is perhaps the most important for getting the despot into office and maintaining smooth control of affairs for the first few or more years or tenures (for there are indeed honourable despots who obey the constitution, holding free and fair selections at stipulated times). By any means, the previous statement is not intended to understate the value of the barrel which has efficiently served not a few despots in their quest for ascendancy. Rather, it is meant to extol the versatility of demagoguery as a tool. This tool is praise-worthy because be they from the barracks, hills or jungles, those who attain power by mere coercive might still employ demagoguery and populist rhetoric in consolidating power. As I suppose you have rightly guessed, these ‘unprecedented’ tactics enthrall their loyal, messiah deprived serfs who go berserk, desperate to only but touch the hem of the despot’s garment. The tyrant then indulges them, placing pictures of himself on large billboards, sitting statues of her own likeness in parks, schools and secretariats, naming boulevards after himself etc, etc. The despot is well aware that out of sight is out of mind. As the hunger for reverence intensifies, the despot who unlike the supreme cannot raise stones to complement his diet, may exhaust his source, become reckless and lose the common touch.
The butt and barrel of the loaded gun:
Verily, I say unto you, it was easier for Pilate to wash his hands and allow the torture and execution of the Christ than it is for despots to order the use of the butt and barrel of the loaded gun on their irreverent serfs. As is usually the case, these despots suffer the harrowing experience of taking these necessary, invariably selfless decisions. The nightmares and sleepless nights that follow are hellish but what can they do? It is no fault of theirs that the irreverent serfs took the path of peaceful protest, even the Almighty has himself made special provisions for the impertinent soul. However, criminal elements especially terrorists have no reason to fear the butt and barrel which for them double as the rod and staff of comfort. Besides, these despots are God fearing and acknowledge the parables of the lost sheep and prodigal son as true and sacrosanct. For this reason, there is great rejoicing and lavish feasting whenever a terrorist accepts the huge financial amnesty package. This principle is also adopted in the civil service for good measure and in doing so, the despots have inadvertently scored a crucial point for democracy. How can that be? Well, the refusal to pay committed workers their due stipends and instead funding dubious social relief initiatives for the unemployed is a basic democratic tenet: majority over minority. Meanwhile, all hope is not lost for the irreverent peaceful protesters as they can still enter paradise if they suffer the trials and temptations of poverty, disease, etc as a test of their steadfast faith in the despot.
Despots detest this the most. It is however inevitable and can occur by death or deposition.
Based on their responses to deposition, there are two species of the African despot. The first type believes in the divine right to rule for eternity. An example is Yahya Jammeh, the erstwhile president of The Gambia who had this to say: “How long you stay in power…does not determine your fate. It is what you do that determines your fate as far as I am concerned. But let me tell you one thing, my fate is in the hands of the Almighty Allah. I will continue to deliver to the Gambian people and if I have to rule this country for one billion years, I will.”
Wise words, you will agree. I mean, why run in a relay when you can run cross country alone? Clearly, fewer leaders stabilize a country because too many cooks spoil the broth. This means more work for the despot but he can still manage a couple extra ministerial portfolios e.g Petroleum or Mining or Solid minerals or whatever portfolio handles the resource that forms the ‘many’ commodity (diversified) economy because he can do all things through Allah who gives him strength to fulfill his divine mandate.
The second group comprises those who believe their time in power should only end when Elizabeth II hands over the English throne to Prince Charles. Mugabe was substituted and has died, never to see it happen. Beware Kagame! Her God is real, even the sun-king’s record reign is at stake.
For this, it is best to have French colony status. As Bongo Snr put it: “Gabon without France is like a car without a driver and France without Gabon is like a car without fuel.” What a great chauffeur France is! In addition to great driving, France has given Africa an emperor and several dynasties. It also offers direct Parent to Child transmission of public office. As an Igbo proverb loosely translates: when a road is good, people will love to take it more than once. Vive la France!
It matters not the style of substitution, be it celebrated demise or unjust exile to comfort and niceties in Malabo or Harare or Paris, the despot is usually well prepared for this hazard. The trick is easy, give the loyal serfs something to span the ages, something memorable. It may come in the form of death or imprisonment of a disloyal ingrate, like Dele Giwa, Saro Wiwa, Solo Sandeng, Al Sadr, Khashoggi, Protasevich, Bobi Wine, Navalny or Abubakar Idris. It could even be more elaborate, a spectacle performed on an unforgettable stage such as Sharpeville, Tiananmen or Lekki. The grander, the better. Other than the aforementioned, the despot can hibernate in complascence, assured of a billion years of public service.
I’m Moses Ameh, the scourge of societal ills. Contact me on twitter @AmehMoses_E