In Ngugi’s “Wizard of the Crow”, ministers of The Free Republic of Aburiria outdo each other to please the leader rather than work for the people who voted them into power.
Time and energy are expended on fighting over who can get closest to the leader.
In this fictitious 20th century African nation, two rival ministers - Markus Machokali and Silver Sikiokuu - take things a bit too far in this regard.
Machokali had his eyes surgically enhanced in London “to make them ferociously sharp … so that he would be able to spot the enemies of the Ruler no matter how far their hiding places.
“Enlarged to the size of electric bulbs, his eyes were now the most prominent feature of his face, dwarfing his nose, cheeks and forehead”.
His rival, Sikiokuu had his ears made “larger than a rabbit’s and always primed to detect danger at any time and from any direction”.
For this procedure, he has to fly to Paris.
Yet a third politician, Benjamin Mambo had his tongue elongated to the length of a dog’s to speak eloquently about and for the Ruler. Unfortunately, “the tongue … hung out way beyond his lips, rendering speech impossible” and he had to go for a correctional procedure; while a fifth politician, John Kaniuru, had a nose-job earning himself the nickname Johnny the Nose or just John Nose.
Others promise to reward the leader with a staircase to heaven so that he can “call on God daily to say good morning or good evening or simply how was your day today, God?” This is quite ambitious because the country has no money.
But they have an answer – borrow from the Global Bank, regardless of how stringent the strings attached are.
When news of the massive staircase to heaven project reaches the nation, the unemployed believe they will get jobs while enterprising black businesspeople dream of the tenders.
While the country is seeking a loan from the Global Bank, the poor are rioting against that very same institution.
The police chase the rioters and get an opportunity to loot shops. Grace Nyawira (Comet Grace) and Kamiti wa Karimiri - who first meet when Kamiti goes to ask for a job at a construction company where she worked – are among the demonstrators.
Kamiti is highly educated but can’t find a job. This sees him becoming a beggar. Nyawira is a feminist.
The two find a hideout and they put a warning sign at its entrance to ward off intruders. A policeman finds the hideout and returns with hundreds of people who believe that the two are a witch and a wizard.
They play along and because people are desperate for solutions to their problems, they believe whatever they are told.
This partnership marks the beginning of resistance against the government.
Kamiti says, “Around the 17th century Europe impregnated ... Africa with its evil ... (giving) birth to the slave driver of the slave plantation, who mutated into the colonial driver of the colonial plantation, who years later mutated into the neo-colonial pilots of the postcolonial plantation ...
“So I said to myself: Just as today is born of the womb of yesterday, today is pregnant with tomorrow. What kind of tomorrow was Aburiria pregnant with? Of unity or murderous divisions? Of cries or laughter?
“Our tomorrow is determined by what we do today. Our fate is in our hands.” There are at least two very important lessons in “The Wizard of the Crow”: that those government officials who focus on self-aggrandisement must prepare for the backlash, and that a desperate people will look anywhere for salvation.