The son still rises

On the same day that the leader of the National Assembly, Macky Sall, was voted out of office, a rash of graffiti appeared around Dakar — just three cryptic letters: PPK.

Fortunately, one sprayer had had the time, or the couilles, to write out the meaning: Pourquoi pas Karim (why not Karim).

The son always rises 01

The Karim is President Wade’s son, currently head of the planning organization of the Islamic Conference (ANOCI) held in Dakar last March, and reckoned by many to be the heir to his father’s position as president. Of course, this being a democracy, the president cannot simply drop his son into his shoes. No, it isn’t simple … it requires Machiavellian cunning of the highest degree.

Take the case of Macky Sall: number 2 in the president’s party, loyal promoter of presidential projects, leader of the National Assembly … and one of the best placed persons to stand at the next presidential election. Thus he became to be seen primarily as a threat to the dynastic ambitions of the Wades. When Sall dared to call Karim Wade to the National Assembly to clarify the finances of ANOCI, he triggered a chain reaction lasting 12 months that led finally to his eviction as leader of the Assembly. The ANOCI finances remain as opaque as they ever were. In contrast, the law has been changed regarding the duration of the post of leader of the Assembly from five years to one year, with retroactive force. The result was that Sall was out of office as soon as the vote was passed last Sunday.

Get that — the national law has been changed in order to put the fix on one of your most faithful party members, and merely to advance the career of your son. But yes it was done democratically, voted by the party of both Wade and Sall, the party that dominates the Assembly as a result of the boycott of the legislative elections by opposition parties last year …

I can’t help marvelling at the mix of cunning and tragedy in this affair: for cunning, Wade could write a new chapter in Machiavelli’s The Prince; tragedy in that there is a sense of an inevitable convergence of chickens coming home to roost, some time soon.

The son always rises 02

P.S. As an editor, I was struck by the lack of a question mark after, “Pourquoi pas Karim”. Then I realized that it was not a question, but rather a defiant assertion. I’m curious to see if there will be a reaction in graffiti.

Let them eat stats

Back in April, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade announced his latest new plan to revitalize the country’s agricultural sector, the largest sector of activity in terms of employment and production. It was the third plan in as many years. Previous plans, Jaxaay and Reva, were announced with similar fanfare yet failed to materialize into any actual activity, as if their existence was purely rhetorical.

Wade imagines this surplus of ideas to be a quality others admire — in his recent autobiography, he claims that French President Chirac “used to tell everyone that Abdoulaye has a new idea every minute”. Some might see such behaviour as a symptom of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, whose other symptoms seem familiar chez Me Wade:

  • Impulsiveness: a person who acts quickly without thinking things through.
  • Hyperactivity: a person who is unable to sit still.
  • Inattention: a person who daydreams or seems to be in another world.

(Source: Wikipedia)

The problem is that the ideas are not followed through in any coherent or consistent manner. Their motivation is that of an enthusiastic do-gooder who has neither the capacity nor the will to carry the ideas to fruition. The ideas therefore remain in a virtual world of presidentially declared wonders, immune to rot or verification.

The latest new wonder plan was called the Great Agricultural Offensive for Food and Abundance (Grande offensive agricole pour la nourriture et l’abondance), or GOANA, proved immediately fruitful in associations in my mind: GOANA/GUANO, an effective fertilizer from bat droppings. Also the choice of words echoed Mao’s Great Leap Forward of the 1950s, whose effect on improving agricultural efficiency in China led to an estimated 30 million dead. Not the most inspiring association.

Shortly after the announcement of the GOANA, huge billboards appeared, showing a crude photomontage of yams, green fields over which floats a runaway tractor and a plane from Air GOANA releasing shots of blue (=rain) on ready-to-harvest cereals, all blessed by the outstretched arm of the benevolent leader.

GOANA poster

In the following months, the GOANA seemed destined to be another stillborn, existing only in glorious speeches by the President. At FAO in June, during discussions to resolve the burgeoning food security crisis, Wade announced that Senegal would be self-sufficient in food within four months; to the UN General Assembly, he declared that, “The GOANA is a great success. I invite you to fly over Senegal: everything is green!” Indeed, the rains were good this year; nothing more can be attributed to the verdure; certainly not government investment in sustainable irrigation, improved market access and the like. Just good rains.

When worlds collide
But what happens when the wonder world of Wade’s ideas is forced to fit the real world where people have to eat? What happens if the actual production figures don’t match the objectives? Here’s the trick: hold a big party, pay your friends to come, and present forecasted production figures as if they are the actual results, i.e. before the crops have actually been harvested. It’s a tough one to pull off, but, as I witnessed last Monday, the thousands of supporters thronging to the presidential palace were happy enough to go along with the Celebration of Virtual Success, as Naomed described it in his hilarious post (in French): Happy with their free T-shirt bearing slogans such as, “The Godsend of GOANA”, and other inanities; happy with a free ride to the capital and a free lunch; happy with the banknote to pay for their applause. And in a rare example of superior female earning power, women actually get paid more than men at these spontaneously orchestrated events because they can make more noise and dance better in front of the state-owned TV cameras. There was no other news that day, by the way.

The final results of GOANA, miraculously produced before the harvests, were mind-bogglingly impressive, surpassing the objectives on the billboard. Further still, production figures for crops not included in the GOANA were presented as if they too had benefited from the plan (e.g. peanuts); and crops whose cycle extends longer than that of the plan, and therefore could not draw benefit from it, also found their way into the celebration (e.g. manioc and bananas).

So what? Who cares? Wade celebrates in a big tent when the news is good, and when you make up the news and manage to beat the real world with your virtual world, everyone is invited to the party.

The way that reality is manipulated with such carefree arrogance reminds me of Soviet-style propaganda and, more amusingly, of the jokes that it spawned. Here are some choice examples that I have adapted to present-day Senegal:

The seven miracles of Wade’s World:
1. There is no unemployment, yet nobody works.
2. Nobody works, yet the Grand Scheme is carried out.
3. The Grand Scheme is carried out, yet there is nothing to buy.
4. There is nothing to buy, yet there are queues everywhere.
5. There are queues everywhere, yet everyone has everything.
6. Everyone has everything yet everyone is dissatisfied.
7. Everyone is dissatisfied, yet everyone votes ‘Yes’.

:-)

“My people!” – Wade addressed the people by radio. “I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that for the next seven years we shall eat only shit! The good news is that it will be plentiful!”

:-)

There was an international competition for the best book about polar bears.

France submitted a lavishly illustrated volume titled, “Love triangles in polar bear families”.
England presented a treatise entitled, “Polar Bears and World Trade”.
Germany submitted 24-volume set under the title, “Brief Introduction to Ursus maritimus”.
The USA distributed one million copies of a leaflet announcing a sweepstakes, “Win a polar bear. No purchase necessary”.

Senegal sent three volumes, with the following titles,

Vol. 1. The Role of Polar Bears in the Great Offensive on Food and Abundance.

Vol. 2. The Happy Life of Polar Bears under the Sun of the Most Progressive Leadership in the World.

Vol. 3. Senegal – Motherland of Polar Bears.

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind

One of Senegal’s main newspapers, and the best known outside the country, is Le Soleil. Its most remarkable feature is that it is government-owned, which means that its editorial independence is comparable with Pravda in Soviet times. All content is filtered to be pro-government, or else is simply ignored.

The two main themes are (i) things are getting better in the best of possible worlds, and (ii) some things are not so great but they are beyond the Government’s control and in any case they’re all part of the Government’s plans to bring further improvements. In short, we are in the world of Orwell’s 1984, where “bad” no longer exists when talking about the Government, merely “ungood”.

With the recent flooding in Dakar’s poorer suburbs, Le Soleil provided a number of excellent examples of my description above.

A headline such as the following sets the tone:

FLOODING IN THE SUBURBS: offensive to maintain the gains made
(source)

Another example from yesterday’s edition shows how the Le Soleil attempts to present a balanced view. At first we have a hint of discord from a member of a party other than the President’s:

In reaction to the recent flooding, the Popular Front appears to disagree with the plan to restructure the affected neighbourhoods.(source: Le Soleil)

However, what follows is a call to revive an earlier plan (Senegal is rich in plans; results, not so good) to restructure the suburbs, which had been shamefully ignored by the previous socialist government (boo!). That government was voted out of office in 2000, by the way, but is still a useful straw man to beat with all current woes.

By mid-article, the pretense at opposition can no longer be sustained:

Bacar Dia [leader of the Popular Front], who is also Minister of Sports [ah-ha!], remarked that President Wade went directly to the people in the suburbs as soon as he returned from his trip [on holiday in France and Switzerland]. He evaluated the measures that had been undertaken and clarified prospects, according to the Minister, who added that the Head of State will not stop while on such a good path. The Presidential Council on sanitation, held last week, is an eloquent illustration, in his opinion.

Eloquent indeed.

In spite of this persistent bias and distortion, I did find one article in yesterday’s edition that could possibly maybe be interpreted as an attack against the government.

Power cuts: Iba Der Thiam questions the Government

In the face of persistent power cuts, Professor Iba Der Thiam, [asked] “What does the Government think of the following suggestion of transforming the constraints of power cuts into a resource?”
(source)

It is a question truly worthy of Orwell’s 1984 — pure doublethink.

Thiam acknowledges that power cuts are inevitable [because …?] before citing the situation in Ethiopia, where the Government has to publish a daily roster of the times of power cuts and the areas affected. Such a programme would allow people to plan their days more effectively, Thiam explained at length; thus businesses could reduce falls in productivity and loss in revenue to a maximum (there’s that wonderful doublethink again).

Thiam seems to be a sly fox, however, because his real intention is perhaps not merely to “accentuate the positive”. In his final remarks, he adds that publishing a programme of cuts would allow people to understand that

all neighbourhoods are affected, apart from strategic sectors, and that there is no bias, or favouritism, and no privilege for social status or rich neighbourhoods, to the detriment of the poor areas.

And there is the rub, of course: the Senegalese Government cannot publish such a programme without revealing that such bias and favouritism are exactly how the cuts are managed (read previous post)!

So only in the absence of information can we perceive a glimmer of a reality that Le Soleil never shines on.

It’s a pretty weak light to read by.

Ghetto can’t hold you back

The athletics results this last week in Beijing represent the summum of success for Jamaican runners, putting them in first place in the gold medal league table, equal with Russia and ahead of the US.

Bear in mind that Jamaica has a population of only 2.7 million.

Jamaican athletics results

The first gold medal went to Shelly-Ann Fraser in the women’s 100m. Amid the thousands of news stories trying to come up with something original to say, AFP interviewed Shelly-Ann’s mother.

Shelly-Ann Fraser can thank her mother’s uneasy relationship with the Jamaican police for helping her become an Olympic Games sprint champion.

Maxine Fraser, who brought up her daughter in one of the Caribbean’s meanest ghettos, believes her quickfire genes have been passed on to the 21-year-old who led a Jamaican cleansweep in the 100m final in Beijing on Sunday.

Maxine has had to live on her wits all of her life and working as a street vendor she regularly has to put in a blinding turn of pace if police are chasing her for illegal trading.

“This is to show that something good can come out of the ghetto. Ghetto can’t hold you back as long as you have ambition,” said Maxine after watching her daughter take gold.

Source: AFP

The reference to running from the police reminded me of a post I wrote back in March 2006. I’ll give you advance warning: turn your speakers low before you watch the movie.

“[27 March 2006] The source of the sprinters’ success then is that Jamaicans know from a young age and from much experience that at the sound of gunshot …”

Some commentators wonder whether Jamaican runners are not getting a little extra kick from illegal doping …

However, locals have scoffed at suggestions that drugs may be the reason for the country’s recent success.

In fact, many argue that the heavy consumption of yam, banana and breadfruit have helped power the sprinters.

Source: AFP

Nyam yam, myam-myam!

School sacrifice

Ever on the lookout for the curious news story, I read in yesterday’s Sudonline of a new outbreak of mass hysteria at a Dakar secondary school. The first occurrence had been last Friday when some 90 students had experienced “hysterical” symptoms of screaming, trembling and falling into a trance-like state. Of the group, 88 were girls.

In the second outbreak, only 21 students were affected, all girls. They were taken to hospital for observation or treated on the spot before being released to their families. The school had been closed for 48 hours after the first outbreak, and has been closed again, indefinitely, following the second wave of attacks.

The writer begins by asking whether the school is haunted, goes on to describe the confusion of local medical experts and finishes with an exorcist demanding sacrifices.

This morning there was a similar article describing a prolonged series of hysterical outbreaks at another school, in Sédhiou. Strangely there was no reference to yesterday’s article or the events at the school in Dakar.

A little googling reveals that such occurrences, called mass sociogenic illnesses, are in fact more frequent and widespread than one might imagine. A fascinating overview of the literature can be found here.

One wonders whether the students at the Senegalese schools are subject to a particularly strict regime, or whether there is particularly high stress related to the forthcoming exam period. If nothing else, the thesis of air pollution is a strong contender, given the black clouds of exhaust fumes billowing from the car rapides and decrepit taxis stuck in Dakar’s gridlocked streets.

From a different perspective comes a series of “remedies” guaranteed 100%, offered by Xam Xam in his comment on the first article:

1. They (females, obviously) wear head scarves
2. They stop wearing “Jombakhts out”
3. They stop making love together
4. They stop drinking café touba (spiced coffee)

From which we can only conclude that Mister Xam Xam is afraid of women, their hair, their clothes, their sexuality and their drinking habits. I think those are symptoms of a more frequent and widespread mass sociogenic illness, found among men in Islamic countries. Discuss.

Still, I’d love to know what “jombakhts” are.