Hama Tuma, Ethiopian author, poet and journalist, has been active in the political and human rights struggle in Ethiopia and Africa since the sixties. His satirical essays under the general title of African Absurdities have gained support from many quarters. Some of his books (English and Amharic) have been translated to French, Italian and Hebrew.
The Other Afrik - Panafrica - Corruption - Politics - Religion - Governance - Satire
Laughter is the best medicine
Africans may be miserable and subjected to poverty but they are on the whole nice people forever thinking of the welfare of others even in crazy times when they may be forced to indulge in a genocide or cut arms and legs with machetes. It is a dour and grim world we live in and so the Africans’ untiring attempt to make us laugh now and then should be appreciated.
From the land of the Sudan, where once idle chiefs ordered a man to marry a female goat and warmed the heart of many a racist, came the indecent trousers show. A Sudanese woman, Loubna Hussein, working as a journalist with the UN was arrested because she was wearing a pair of trousers in public and it was deemed indecent. The world which did not know that the stiff necked fundamentalist regime has been flogging women on the basis of their clothes was surprised at first and then amused. What makes a pair of trousers indecent? Tightness? Colour? What? We all know the Sudan has grave problems. The regime has to make sure its killing spree continues in Darfur and that does require effort (not every lazy regime can handle a genocide!), that the impending secession of the South does not materialize, that the starving millions do not get enough food—huge tasks, big priorities. But, the generals took time out to give us the trousers show, dragging a brave woman to court and sentencing her to prison or fine (flogging left out this time—too much world attention).
The dynasty or succession show presented to the world by Syria and North Korea was justifiably taken away by Africa for the enjoyment of all. Eyadema of Togo left power to his son, Kabila senior to Kabila junior in what was once called Zaire and now Ali Bongo of Gabon is succeeding his corrupt father. "Monarchy— republics" are in vogue and up North, Mubarak is coordinating his own similar show and Gadafi may very well leave his place to Seif Al Islam, his son. Funny shows.
Talking of Gadafi, the showman in Tripoli held a big bash to which African "kings and chiefs" in their colourful dresses were invited over to declare once again Brother Muammar Gaddafi the King of Kings of Africa. He was given a throne as a gift (among other offerings) and wore huge gold rings and a necklace. After a heavy meal a few of the tribal chiefs and so called kings napped as Gadafi spoke, but no the show still went on and tried to surpass Bokassa’s coronation as a central African Napoleon some decades back. The funny show aside, Gadafi is no fool. He has used his oil to buy the old British Empire and to make it bend to his wills, to release the alleged Lockerbie bomber and then to ridicule itself by claiming it did that on humanitarian grounds only.
From Somalia , we got the funny event of terrorists of Al Shabab buying arms from the alleged enemy, the Transitional government led by Sheikh Ahmed. The arms come from Uganda bought and paid for by America. Once again our wily neighbours are being supplied with arms by their own enemy, Washington, and the naivety of the often arrogant American officials makes us laugh.
In Ethiopia, the often unfunny despotic regime of Meles Zenawi came up with its own Orwellian joke banning the word cholera and baptizing it instead (very many thousands even in the capital are afflicted and hundreds are dying even in the capital Addis Abeba) as "Atet" or dangerous or fast watery diarrhoea. No doctor can use the C word or would face jail and the routine beating. This has given ideas to other tyrants to re baptize killer diseases and make them appear benign or innocuous. Ugandans used to call AIDS "slim" but some are now considering calling it "severe diet syndrome (SDS), giving the idea that the loss of weight is linked to fanatical dieting "like the ones engaged in by some models. Malaria can be renamed Saturday Night Fever and so on.
Cameroon ’s Biya spent 400,000 US dollars per night for hotel rooms and services fee (the average Cameroonian earns a dollar a day) but his spokesmen retaliated with a "he has been allocated the money and he can spend it as he pleases," sending everyone—including Cameroonians— into fits of laughter. Don’t be jealous! Who gave him all this money to spend? Bad question, just laugh and enjoy the noble gesture of our tyrants who spend so much money to maintain our prestige in foreign lands (where God knows why they still think we are poor and begging for help!) and give us the chance to enjoy by proxy.
The latest joke on the streets of Addis Abeba is that the tyrant Meles will win the 2010 general election hands down (he lost the last one but stayed in power killing and jailing those who cried foul) because of millions of hens and chickens that will vote for him after he raised the price of a hen to 80 Birr (they used to cost less than ten Birr in the past). Millions were not able to afford them for the kill for the Ethiopian new year (September 11). The chicken and hen folk are elated.
A South African boy, who did not know of Idi Amin had at least 33 children, answered the question; "where do babies come from?" with: "they come from Jacob Zuma" (who has 18 children by the latest count). The problem with Africans, if you want to call it that, is that they are an open book, not hiding details of their personal lives. Many a European and American have concubines and very many children out of wedlock but silence is the edict on the fact. Not Africans who flaunt their peccadilloes. Idi Amin paraded his wives and very many children, the old Mzee Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya dragged his wife, Mama Ngina, to a public forum so that she could testify that although he was old he was as active as cock. And it was all before the blue pill. In all cases, we supplied the fun; we let those who think we are savages and bizarre have the laugh at our expense. We told the world we married goats, believed in traditional witch doctors (who consulted bones instead of the computer), declared an arrogant Arab colonel king of kings, denied diseases their existence by giving them benign names, ignored the existence of famine, elected again and again our own tormentors, slaughtered one another for nothing, and that our riches are there for the taking. The world laughed at us. We were useful, we are useful.
An acquaintance of mine, I shall call Professor Mendal (a combination of the names of there educated Ethiopian fools), suggests that Africans can get back at their tyrants by laughing at them. The run of the mill African dictator takes himself very seriously and has very many laws dealing severely with any lčse majesté. You cannot laugh at the tyrants who can only laugh at the Nation at will. The practice of laughing at tyrants, of not taking them seriously at all, of ignoring their edicts, of roaring with laughter at their endless antics will surely drive them crazy. Idi Amin stole the people’s laughter and enjoyed his won fun and aggravated the misery of the people. Take our constipated looking tyrants ranging from Kagame and Meles to Ngueso and Dos Santos and imagine what being laughed at or being ridiculed will do them. We can also laugh at the opposition and give them a taste of reality.
Back in the early and mid seventies, Algeria ’s Boumedienne (he hardly ever smiled out of choice and not because he had crooked teeth) played at being revolutionary and invited dozens of self declared liberation fronts to Algiers. One of these was a self declared Ashanti prince who brought over a political program which had an introduction, his photo, other books written by the author and a long article on the personality of the "prince revolutionary" with a final call for the then president of Ghana, Busia, to resign (because "you are a sophist") and concludes by stating that if Busia does not resign the Ghanaian army should overthrow him via a coup d’etat. A curious political program in which the self declared prince states that he met Busia who "suspected" he was a roving agent of Nkrumah ("which I was not") or a "big personality disguised as a common man"("which I was"). Such funny "rebels" and "Marxist- Leninist-Lumumbist" con men from the Congo are no longer around. Politics has become boring and the politicians humourless. That is why the African should laugh at those oppressing them and at those who declare themselves as their liberators but are caricatures of those in power. Laughter is indeed the best medicine.
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