Comment and Analysis

The aspiring dictator's guide

Binyavanga Wainaina

So many writers are making money writing stupid self-help books.

So many writers are making money writing stupid self-help books. Is there some little book, which circulates from president to president, like The Secret? Or are they all the kind of Africans who believe in crazy muti deals with the devil and that killing your own son at midnight will give you power?

Me, I believe that, like us, they learn from newspapers and, in these very minutes, some sneaky dictator somewhere on this continent is watching Mugabe and saying “aha”.

The Daily Telegraph of England is a good read for all promising dictators of former English colonies - they report Dictator News with relish and regularity. Avoid blogs, they will depress you. Avoid Wikileaks.

Maybe they are reading this and will sneak it into their pockets.

Rule 1. Be the richest man in your country (Daniel arap Moi, Robert Mugabe). If you are a second-generation dictator, this is not hard; just blackmail the guy who came before you (Frederick Chiluba). If you come from an oil-producing country, this is even easier (many Nigerians and Angolans, Chad). If you are a Kenyan, the National Social Security Council is always good for a few billion. Defence contracts even better (all presidents). Money-printing contracts, the best (all presidents). If you are a South African, then anything with the word “black empowerment” works fine.

Rule 2. Find poor, stupid and brutal men from every corner of your country and make them rich. Do not give them money. Give them a place to steal from. Stupid people do not save money.
Give all women’s church groups money. They are the most powerful groups in your country.

Rule 3. Make America or China happy. Make Israel and Saudi Arabia very happy. Become a Muslim, like Idi Amin. Visit Moammar Gadaffi often. He likes African leaders. We do not know why. Pray with George Bush and let him see your soul. Make your country’s leading supermodel the ambassador to France and Italy. Ask her to wear a mini when presenting her papers to Nicholas Sarkozy.

Rule 4. Be very, very nice to your army. Be mean to your police.

Rule 5. Allow all international NGOs and donors free access to starving rural people, so that they vote for you because they got food aid (most African countries).

Rule 6. Colonial countries expected little of Africans. Maintain this illusion. Keep your citizenry ignorant and unproductive. For their food needs, see Rule 5 above.

Rule 7. Make sure you become the tribal leader too (Jomo Kenyatta, Moi, Jacob Zuma). Even if you do not speak the language (Jerry Rawlings). Meet all the important people in your tribe every month and emphasise strongly how the other tribes are going to kill you all if you leave power (Moi). The word will spread and, when the shit hits the fan, your people will yield machetes for you. In Africa “tribe” means anybody who speaks your language to whom you regularly give money and civil service jobs. Just like the colonials.

Rule 8. Destroy or infiltrate all unions and civil organisations that have a constituency of educated Africans. All farmers’ associations, all parents’ associations, all teachers’ associations, all church groups — these are very dangerous, especially the Catholics, who have a dictator in the Vatican they account to, who is richer than you. This way, you have no organised civil society that works. If your citizenry cannot organise themselves on issues such as work or education, they can only organise themselves by tribe. And all your cabinet ministers control their tribes, just as you do because they are the richest people in their tribes.

Rule 9. Allow all civil society groups that do not have any sizeable membership or constituency among your citizens. This way, you can shrug your shoulders and say you are happy to be criticised, but what noise they make means nothing. They have to account only to their donor, who lives in Denmark, and also fund the food aid you need for elections.

Rule 10. A free press is important. But have shares in all major media and make sure that you allow them to be very critical of everything, except you. You can, these days, secretly pay bloggers. They can say, for example, that your economic policy is Keynesian, but they should never say you are a “corrupt Zulu warlord”.

Rule 11. Do not send all the money you steal to Switzerland and do not give it to your wife. Buy US treasury bonds and hide them in your children’s library. They will never use it. Why should they read? Daddy is rich. Do not have businesses in your wife’s name. Or in your children’s names. Deal in euros, Krugerrands and diamonds.

Rule 12. Be nice to your fellow world dictators; you may need them to give you a home some day. Join Nepad (Wade). It is great for networking. Attend all African Union (AU) meetings and bring presents. The AU is the dictator’s best friend (Idi Amin). For presents to colleagues, cash is good, gold is better and treasury bonds are best. No Ndebele prints please.

If all these things fail and you find yourself in State House surrounded by screaming citizens carrying homemade weaponry, make sure you have a Hummer (Raila Odinga) in your garage. They are cheap now in America. You can burst out of your palace and make your way to Somalia, where you can become a pirate who earns $50-million a year.

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