Sunday April 7 2013

Africa’s brush with Kim-style democracy

By Tee Ngugi

While most of those who came to our village in order to reinvigorate themselves were Africans, we had welcomed , too, disturbed souls from across the seas.

We remembered with a mixture of embarrassment and amusement Bill Clinton who had come to console himself over the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and Berlusconi over the scandal involving the teenage Moroccan prostitute he had entertained in his villa. As Old Nyati would often remark to us, no one group of people had a monopoly over vice.

Still, it was not without some surprise that I beheld a short pudgy Asian fellow in a black coat sitting in our yard one early morning. He seemed unaware of my presence and continued fixing some small device shaped like a rocket. Then he put a lit match stick beneath the contraption. It buzzed for a while before it flew overhead and exploded. I let out a cry of alarm. That is when he turned towards me laughing. “Not to worry, not worry, my friend, it is not armed,” he said, “it is just a test.”

He introduced himself as Kim Jong -Un, the brave leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Put in ill humour by his startling early morning demonstration, I could not help thinking,” More like the Kims’ Republic of Korea.”

“I want to be shown to Old Nyati’s house,” he said. On the way to the village sage’s house, the fat man kept picking up some object – a stick here, a stone there - and hurling it in the air , and remarking on its flight path.

Kim would soon put this obsession with missiles and projectiles in perspective when we met Old Nyati.

“ We are trying to perfect our intercontinental ballistic missiles to carry a nuclear payload to our enemies in the USA, South Korea, Japan, Europe, the UN…. well, pretty much anyone who disagrees with us…” He paused to catch his breath.

Then laughing loudly and pointing at Old Nyati and myself said, “You better be on our side.”
He had come to spend a few days in our village, he explained, to work on and test a few missile design ideas.

Kim was an obsessive worker, and, as we soon dioscoverd, eater and sleeper. At six in the morning , he could be seen working on his rockets until lunchtime, then he would indulge his huge appetite, feeding without pause for two hours. The rest of the afternoon would be spent in complete repose in the hammock. Evening and part of the night would be spent on test flights , during which time he liked to have an audience standing in military formation , clapping incessantly.

One test flight pleased him exceedingly. In an emotional voice, he told us how important success was to him.
“You see, my grandfather left a strong nation for my father who passed it on to me... I do not want to be the one to pass a weak nation to my son.”

“Sir,” I asked tentatively, “must it be another Kim after you?” He looked confused by my question.
“What is wrong with my son?” he asked, a bewildered, even pained, expression on his face.

“I mean, sir,” can another qualified Korean takeover….?”
“Your question,” he told me, does not make logical or democratic sense…by logical sequence, another Kim should take over from me… from a democratic point of view, you cannot disqualify my son without even giving him an opportunity to prove himself”. He then went into a convoluted argument about how the laws of natural justice, Korean culture, history, nationalism, etc, justified, nay decreed, the continuation of the Kim dynasty.

As he talked, I reflected on our own experience of the personalised state. Most of our independence leaders ran their countries like personal property, commandeering independent institutions to feed their megalomania.

The result of the personal state was weak institutions, corruption, human rights abuses, mismanagement, etc. The project of democratising Africa is in effect, therefore, also a project of de-personalising the state.

When I reverted to reality from my reflections , I found Kim Jong- Un near the end of his speech.
“Korea without a Kim to guide it,” he proclaimed, “is an impossible concept”.

The tragedy of that sad country and the world is that he really believed it.

The author is a Monitor contributor based in Nairobi.