Monday, January 26, 2009

The Encyclopedia of African Politics

I wrote the first version of the following satirical piece in July 2005. Over three and a half years later, I see it's still very relevant and very topical. It was also published last week on the blog of my friend and Stanford research fellow Chanda Chisala (The African Radical Capitalist!) and on Zambia Online.

The Encyclopedia of African Politics is the definitive guide to modern African politics. Some sample entries are reproduced below.

2000 US Presidential Election: Ironically enough, a landmark event in African politics. Powerful reason to justify any "lapses" in the democratic electoral process. (A typical statement would be: "There is no perfect democracy in this world. Even the 2000 US Presidential Election was flawed.")

Aid: Classically defined by the economist Peter Bauer as "A process by which the poor in rich countries subsidise the rich in poor countries." In more recent times, it has proved a very useful tool for enhancing the public profiles and private purses of aging Irish rock stars.

Bribes: Inappropriate inducements, financial or otherwise, given or received by one's political enemies. Or indeed, by one's political cronies if they break the 11th Commandment ("Thou shalt not get caught"). Not to be confused with consultancy fees, which are entirely legitimate emoluments for politically facilitating transactions of various kinds.

Connectocracy: Literally "rule or government by connections". In this political system, the key skill is "social networking" and the key knowledge is technical know-who.

Democracy: Government of the people, by my people, for my people. (Replace the phrase "my people" with "me" as required.)

Due Process: The process by which predetermined outcomes are reached. Most frequently applied in crucial court cases and elections.

Freedom of Speech: The fundamental right of citizens and the media to praise the government of the day.

Good governance: A geopolitical term, frequently used by the most powerful governments in the world in relation to uncooperative African governments. Cooperative governments, even with exactly the same behaviour, are automatically exempted from this phrase.

Law of Rule: Mirror image of the more widely known Rule of Law. Closely related to the Logic of Power and Government of Men, not Laws, the antitheses of the Power of Logic and Government of Laws, not Men, respectively.

Life President: Member of a predatory dinosaur species that has achieved immortality and divinity. Was thought to be extinct until quite recently, when several live specimens were discovered in various parts of the continent.

Nelson Mandela: Mythical African leader who, according to legend, served only one term in office and had such deeply-held idealistic beliefs that he was willing to die for them. It is said that Mandela emerged from decades of imprisonment with enormous dignity and magnanimity. Notable historians of Africa are unanimous in the view that Mandela never existed and was probably fabricated to tarnish the image of the African political classes.

Opposition Party: Dissident group of disgruntled individuals from the ruling party. Highly volatile. Known to frequently remerge with the ruling elite under the right conditions or in the presence of a suitable catalyst (see Bribes).

Personal Domestic Product (PDP): A distant relative of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Very distant. All the wealth in the country becomes the personal property of the ruler to do with as he pleases (it's always a "he").

Third Person Syndrome: Tendency of African leaders to talk about themselves in the third person. Indicative of megalomania.