Africa and her Dirty Coups

John Otim

*Otim is the Executive Editor of Nile Journal and the following is a chapter from his forth coming novel: Strongman

They came dancing on the streets as news of Al Harun’s coup broke over the dazed City. They trouped to welcome with open arms the man who would soon be their killer. Hundreds had perished within the early hours of the coup that was not yet a day old. This crowd knew. Because they could see with their own eyes, the many corpses that littered the city. But the crowd was a crowd. The tribal nature of the massacres blinded many. The killings were restricted to two northern tribes that had provided the bulk of the army from colonial times. In the weeks ahead the entire army would be whipped off. A mercenary army would be installed.

The crowd was like “Three blind mice. Who ran after the farmer’s wife. Who cut off their tails with a curving knife!” Their action gave the coup leader time to breathe and time to steady his grips. In a neighboring country under the rule of an aging dictator allied to the former colonial power, the army of the former colonial power was on standby. Ready to intervene in case the coup ran into trouble.

The networks worked itself crazy. It overflowed with details of what was going on. To newsmen and newswomen that quickly assembled in the Mountain Capital from around the world, this was a great fanfare. Manna from heaven, to be savored with relish. They fought for breaking news and hurled them with abandon. And Asked for more. The international press was insatiable. They buzzed like flies over a decaying carcass of a great African elephant.

It was pure nightmare! A scenario crafted by a bunch of sadists. Everything was predictable. The coup planners knew what they were doing. Bow and arrow, the spear and shield, these were simple weapons of a bygone era. Modern weaponry, vomiting fire and spraying death upon defenseless citizens! This was new. “An orgy!” the networks said. “Age old tribal animosities bound to boil over once white control was lifted!” the networks said.

No one could deny the tribal element in what was going on. This was predictable because it was programed into the action. The irony of it! The irony! It wasn’t white control that was being lifted. It was black African independence that was being shattered. It was white control that was being re-imposed. People of the Mountain Capital would come know again the bitter taste of captivity.

He remembered prayers from his primary schooldays that the teachers used to recite when the Congo burned. The Congo seemed so far away then. “Let’s pray for those in the Congo. Especially those whose hopes have been crashed and purposes overthrown!” A teacher would say. To his young ears the poetry of the language was marvelous.

Excitable like a virgin on her wedded night. Unschooled, uncouth, naïve! Totally a novice! The General reveled in the media blitz. Everything was new to him. Everything excited him. White men falling over each other to shake his hand, in obvious pretended curtesy, filled him with joy. White women calling him Sir, in obvious acted coyness, made his blood boil. The white colonial goddess before remote and distant, now available. It blew his simple mind.      

When newsmen called him Strongman, he took it for real. He stood up and flexed his over-developed muscles. In his haste he knocked down a few bottles of wine. On his broad chest, were scores of glittering medals he won in the boxing ring in the years he was the heavyweight champion of East and Central Africa.

He loved the sound of his name on white lips. He wished his mother were alive. “Who knows Nyerere?” Nyerere was some ruler in a nearby state. “Or Al Bashir or General Gowon? who knows them?” the Strongman boasted. “Who is Olusegun Obasanjo or Milton Oboe?” the Strongman boasted. “See me Lakayana with my spear! My name and face are everywhere!” the Strongman boasted. Lakayana was a sniveling colonial character crafted by the British for African children.

These were not empty boasts. Newsweek and Time Magazine had him on the cover. For a simple man of humble origin, with little education and nothing to his name, it was a remarkable achievement! It brought him into the same league with men like Mao Se Tung, Nikita Khrushchev, John F Kennedy, Muhammad Ali, the Dahlia Lama, Barack Obama.

“Who knows Nyerere? My face and name are everywhere!” It was a face to charm a babe in arms. And win plenty more on catwalks around the world, And others more on the beaches of Mombasa, Monaco, Casablanca and the Caribbean. It was a face he had deployed well.

From the Capital of the Modern World in faraway New York, arrived the emblem of modern science: International Geographic. The magazine extended a hand of friendship to the General.

In a lead piece spiced with award winning pictorials of naked tribesmen and tribeswomen leaden with gear, the magazine projected the Strongman as a progressive leader. The best thing to happen to Africa. People in the Mountain Capital were stunned by the Magazine.

“He will put tribesmen into trousers and end millennia of human nakedness.” The magazine said. The other day someone at the magazine apologized for what she called its racism against black folks and women. Too little too late.

In the early hours of the military operations that brought Al Harun to power, white men in combat gear directed operations all over the city. Hotels in the exclusive suburbs of the city were filled with strange white men. They were not businessmen and they were not tourists.

And now from the old Empire hurried a Baroness of the old line. Blue of blood. Honored State Guest. Her arrival was heralded on national television. They took her direct to State House in a screaming convoy of police outriders. Now when she saw him, she fell in love. The commanding figure, the heights, the smooth ebony skin, the disarming smile. The two did not hug. They did not embrace. They stood there eying one another like prize fighters in a ring. When they shook hands a current flowed between them. Her wild imagination, had him in action over her.

Her Royal Highness was a woman alone! In her youth she displayed great passions, was linked to many scandals. Her cousin the Sovereign considered exiling her from the kingdom. Even now in her mature years Her Highness exuded passion. She had the poise of a woman awaiting a prince charming. Here now in Africa she had found him.

She settled down at a wing of the colonial State House on the lakefront. Clad in designer bikini all day long, the better to show off her great form to admiring Africans, she wrote a book about the Great Leader. It was a love story and a tribute to her still burning passions.

“To look at him is to see this towering magnificent figure of a man! To look at him is to witness the hopes and the passions he inspires in his own simple people! To look at him is to be endlessly reminded of the limitless possibilities of a rich but backward land.” Wrote the Baroness.