Oh Hooverville, and they promised us the world, In Hooverville, said the streets that were paved with silver and gold, Oh Hooverville, yes they promised us the world ,in Hooverville, And as fools we believed every last word they said, I believed every last word you said. -Christians (1987)
I will begin this piece by asking permission from Omoyele Sowore, Executive Director of Sahara Reporters, to borrow his term. Since witnessing the discussion centered on the screening of Nigerian filmmaker Ishaya Bako’s compelling documentary “Fuelling Poverty” in New York –at which Sowore was the moderator- the term has been ringing in my psyche.
As a youth growing up, I used to be enthralled by magicians like ‘Professor’ Diego and others who paid regular visits to my village market square to exhibit their ‘surreal’ art. Needless to say, these visits occurred on market days when folks had money to spend- or lose in unexplained circumstances.
I was bemused at how they could conjure up money and other items from nowhere; at how they could ‘kill and resurrect’ people; at how they could generally do things that was simply impossible to the Average Joe. Only now do I ask myself why they conjured money and yet asked the enchanted audience to contribute money.
Only now also after watching several episodes on TV explaining some of the simple tricks magicians use do I understand the place of their abracadabra in the whole scheme of things. In the words of renowned magician Doug Bennet “Magic is mainly a visual medium. But its the words that often make a good performance great.”
African politicians seem to have taken more than a simple cue from these travelling minstrels. They have perhaps perfected the abracadabra even better. The magicians’ abracadabra was simply a string of incomprehensible gibberish aimed at drawing the audience’s attention away from the dubious act about to happen and also to create an esoteric ambience; to make one feel there is something they do not understand and should not bother about but just wait for the end result; the money that is conjured or the pigeon that is ‘resurrected’. Little did we also know that a lot of the people that were killed and resurrected, that were made to go dumb, out of whose ears notes were pulled out, were nothing but infamous collaborators of these minstrels.
Another vital part of the whole act is keeping the onlookers in the dark. Indeed only by doing so would their abracadabra make any sense. Only then would the audience believe that the abracadabra is actually some form of communication with the gods/dwarfs.
Most often, the onlookers were happy not to ask any questions or even try to decrypt what was happening. They were happy to just wait to see if the abracadabra served its purpose.
I believe thus far, readers would have figured out why I am so in love with Sowore’s term. It fits perfectly with what is going on in most African countries. The politicians and their cronies have become the magicians and their collaborators while the general masses have become the unfortunate ignorant onlookers.
These politicians are not interested and indeed work to downgrade the quality of education and limit the flow of information in a bid to keep the people in the dark. In most African countries, freedom of information exists only in name at best. In others it is not even a phrase people are familiar with.
After establishing the position of the unfortunate lookers-on, the next thing is to further bewilder them with the actual abracadabra-economic terminology, political sloganeering, and downright lies couched in jaw-breaking grammar. So the masses either pretend to understand or just ignore it all, and leave the ‘booklong’ people to deal with it. How else could millions of dollars worth of oil be ‘imported’ into an oil producing country when the vessels used to do so do not even exist? How else could a head of state be richer than the country he governed? How else could Members of Parliament collectively pocket millions in allowances while their constituents lacked the basic comforts of life? How else could they shamefacedly come back every 4 or so years and ask these befuddled lookers-on to vote them back into power? It’s all the work of the abracadabra.
I remember my good friend Haruna who was considered by most of us to be a problem child back in the day. Haruna was different! He would do the things none of us even thought of doing. Haruna once started laughing when the magician’s pigeon which was supposed to be dead shat in his palm. He started laughing so loud that the magician was peeved and threatened to turn him into a pig. I took two steps away from him when the threat was issued fearing, the dwarfs might by an unforeseen freak of circumstance, mistake me for him. I expected him to run away to avoid the frightening scenario but instead he only laughed louder and seemed to be excited at the prospect of the unnatural transfiguration. It took the intervention of a matronly member of the audience to end the standoff which in hindsight seemed to have worked more to the favour of the magician than of Haruna.
I was also invited once to a discussion where one of the keynote speakers suggested that the major problem of Africans is that they are trained to think that the elders never err. They are trained from birth not to question authority. In my tiny village off the coat of West Africa, the chief’s elders make their living by fining people who are unfortunate enough to thread the path of standing up against authority. Such people are made to slaughter sheep to pacify the gods and ancestors. This phenomenon coupled with the fact that Africans are generally too accommodating and passive is recipe for chaos.
The speaker suggested that most Africans prefer to wait for things to happen to them than to put their shoulder to the wheel to ensure that what they wanted to happen actually happened. As the legendary Fela Kuti put it in his song there are always lots of excuses why people (Africans) do not want to act. “…I no want die, I no want wound, I no want quench, Mama dey for house, Papa dey for house, I get one child…” He continues “…so policeman go slap your face you no go talk; army man go whip your nyash you go dey look like donkey”.
There is a popular Ghanaian adage to wit, ‘the game ends when the fool wises up’. If even a fraction of the lookers-on were made of the stuff Haruna was made of, then the magicians would have realized that their trade was out of fashion. If the docile masses of Africa would start prying into the abracadabra of corruption, really start asking what the hell is the meaning of the gibberish politicians spew to justify the siphoning of our monies then they would be forced to close shop. But as long as these masses continue to act docile and accept the abracadabra as something valid then they forever become the dumbfounded audience left at the mercy of the gyrating politicians.
I look forward to a day when Africa would have the good omen of being led by leaders of the caliber of Kwame Nkrumah, Haile Selassie, Sekou Toure, Tafawa Balewa, Jomo Kenyatta, Patrice Lumumba. I know there are always people who would still find issues with these gallant sons of Africa, but one thing I can say for them is that they never shortchanged their people with the abracadabra of corruption.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters