By Tolu Ogunlesi
(This piece first appeared in NEXT on Wednesday February 2, 2011)
They turned up, in Addis Ababa, or wherever it is that African Big Men meet these days. Africa’s departed Despots, Tyrants, Dictators, Autocrats, Maximum Rulers, Presidents for Life, call them what you will.
Samuel Doe, Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga, Sani Abacha, Siad Barre, Gnassingbe Eyadema, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Laurent Kabila, Jean-Bedel Bokassa (who, after all these years hadn’t forgotten that he was once an Emperor).
The fictional ones were invited as well (Dear Reader, see if you can guess what books or movies these stepped out from): The Ruler, Overseer of Aburiria; Edmond Zuwanie, President of Matobo; General Abdu-Salaam bin-Sallah-ud-Deen bin Sani-Ibrahim al-Daudu, The Life President of the Republic of Niagra and Unique Miracle of the Twentieth Century. From Kangan came President Sam, and from Madia, His Excellency Isa Palat Bello. And who can imagine such a summit without the presence of General Basha Bash (now of course known by another name, all former documents remaining valid).
There was much joviality and embracing and back-slapping; apparently they didn’t ever get to see themselves in the Great Beyond. Somehow Lucifer himself had managed to keep them all apart, certain that his hitherto unchallenged rule in Hell would not survive a conspiracy of African strongmen.
There was a special delegation from Switzerland, bankers all, laden with gifts and account-opening / account-update forms. Security was provided by the C.I.A, great friends of the house from way back.
But the gathering was for serious business. Alarmed by goings-on in Egypt and Tunisia, and rumours that the fires had started creeping south, the gathered men (no women?) had decided it was time to speak up. For this purpose they had summoned current African leaders, to warn them of the dangers of going soft in the head. How could Zine El Abidine Ben Ali have given up without a fight, against a band of stone-and-flag-wielding youth?
Mugabe (with his wife in tow – apparently he no longer travelled without her) was an early arrival, closely followed by the Brother Leader, Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Muammar al-Gaddafi (with his gun-toting women).
Mubarak managed to sneak out of Cairo, leaving a body double behind. He made sure to take Egypt’s Internet ‘switch’ along. Indeed all the rulers who showed up – from Kenya to South Africa to Rwanda to Nigeria – were nervously clutching pouches or briefcases, which were said to contain ‘The Giant Red Button’, in case they needed to urgently shut down the internet in their countries. (The Nigerian Switch, it was rumoured, had been configured to disable everything save Facebook, so that the President could at least stay in touch with his 400,000-plus followers).
“You people are diminishing despotism for us,” declared His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, The Last King of Scotland, in his opening speech. He was not smiling. “This is not the legacy we left behind. In our days we had activists for breakfast…”
“And journalists for lunch,” Mobutu added, gravely.
“Quel dommage!” Gnassingbe Eyadema rued.
“The Obasanjo I jailed was a chicken-farmer, not a chicken,” Abacha lamented. “But look at how he chickened out on a simple 3rd term…”
“Whatever happened to dying in the Presidential Palace?” Houphouët-Boigny said, tears clouding his eyes.
“We will not sit back and watch you devalue tyranny,” thundered Mengistu Haile Mariam.
They set to work producing a communiqué, denouncing Mo Ibrahim and his “stupid prize”, and affirming their unalloyed support to the endangered breed of leaders who were striving to keep the Africa they knew alive – Mugabe, Mswati III, Gaddafi, Gbagbo, Paul Biya, Blaise Compaoré, Omar al-Bashir, Idriss Déby. They praised the recent ‘election’ of Equitorial Guinea’s Dictator-of-31-years, Teodoro Obiang, as the new AU Chairman.
Whilst the summit was going on reports filtered in that huge crowds were gathering in Abuja, marching and chanting. As soon as an aide whispered the news to the Nigerian President, he knew his time in Addis Ababa was up. He knew he shouldn’t have left a certain Fanon-quoting contender-to-the-Throne behind in the country. Now he was going to end up another Yakubu Gowon. (Students of history will recall that ex-Nigerian strongman Yakubu Gowon – cruelly labelled the “Boy Scout Dictator” by a certain Wole Soyinka – was at an OAU summit in Kampala in 1975 when news came that his services were no longer required in Dodan Barracks).
The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (POFRON) thus took his leave immediately. But hardly had Aso Force 1, the Nigerian presidential jet settled into its flight path than a message arrived from Abuja, from the First Lady (FLOFRON). The assembled crowds were not in fact seeking the overthrow of the government.
They were protesting against the protests in Tunisia and Egypt. Another group wanted the President to use his clout to pressure Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to lift the 5,000-friends limit on Facebook.
“What did I tell you? No cause for alarm. There are no revolutionaries left in Nigeria,” one of the President’s aides said, as the presidential jet made a sharp U-turn. “Only placard-carriers and solidarity-marchers…”
“Not forgetting the Facebook activists…” added another aide, smiling.
PS> Muammar al-Gaddafi has since crossed over to the other side