DRY LEAVES, a satire on African leadership

“You will listen to your father!” Ndabar barked at his son.

“No father, I will not,” Binku retorted. “You think I am interested in the meaningless wealth you have amassed for yourself here in Balilu over the years? I’ve got news for you, no I’m not!”

His father got up in a rage. He lifted his hand with amazing reflex and was about to land his son a resounding slap, he had a rethink, held his hand back with his entire strength. Something in him wanted so badly to strike his son but somehow, he knew that would get them nowhere. This was not the first time they would have such a heated argument about what he wanted his son to do.

“You are an ungrateful nincompoop!” He fired back at his son as he forcefully put his lifted hand down.

“Why?” Binku asked sardonically. “Because you sent me to Oxford and then to Harvard for its Strategic Management Program? Was it not for your selfish interest you did it?”

“How dare you talk back at me? I deserve some respect!” his father demanded. “I took you out of the dilapidated educational structure of Balilu because I wanted you to have the white man’s brain, not to be retarded by the backward system my predecessors put us in. This is all in a bid for you to come and join me when you are done but what did you do instead? You opted out of Harvard midway then decided to pursue an empty music career. The son of the powerful premier of the mighty Republic of Balilu, a low-life musician? what a shame.”

“Father, do you hear yourself speak? I doubt if you do,” Binku replied. “A dilapidated educational structure under your administration, I guess. An administration you have governed for thirty-five excruciating years with nothing to show for it except luxury cars, obese foreign bank accounts, this palatial villa you call the Heaven of Balilu, and a starving nation.”

Ndabar returned furiously to his leather sofa. The argument had erupted in his leisure suite inside the Oak, the Republic of Balilu’s presidential villa, which Ndabar fondly called Balilu’s Heaven because of the state-of-the-art structure and also because of the stupendous wealth with which he had built it; something many of the Baliluians condemned and called a blatant waste of public wealth especially because it was not a perfect reflection of the economic welfare of the citizenry.  The Oak is spread across twenty-five thousand square meters land on which sits a massive mansion with six floors consisting of more than three hundred rooms, and two underground floors. It is an architectural masterpiece with a striking dome made from pure gold and sapphire, this stands it out from any other building in Balilu. Its exquisite interior flooring pattern is made using varieties of marble, granite, and art parquet that will leave any observer marveling. Ndabar’s favorite color was white, he believed white was sacred and royal so he had the Oak painted in white. All the halls of residence had exceptional internal decoration, chandeliers, and imported furniture from China. It is rumored that renowned British architect and designer “Norman Robert Foster” was involved with the design of the structure.

As Ndabar settled down in anger, he poured himself a Domaine Leroy Musigny Grand Cru, said to be the world’s most expensive wine. He gulped down the content in his glass then shot a fiery gaze at his son.

“I will not have you talk about my administration like that. No, you cannot,” he told his son.

“Why?” his son asked. “You are afraid to hear the truth?”

“Because you know close to nothing about administration, governance, and politics, and you have no experiential capacity in public governance to analyze my administration,” Ndabar fired back.

“Father, I know enough to tell you that your people are starving. Our economy is falling. Your people hate you because you have done close to nothing to better their lives in thirty-something years that you have been in power. We keep borrowing with no concrete plans for debt servicing or substantial proof of what the money is being used for. The economy is harsh on the common man. Worse still, you refuse to relinquish power for the donkey years that you have been on this seat. At least give someone else a chance. Even the seat of power is weary of you.”

Ndabar was quiet. He brooded over his son’s agitation. The entire suite was quiet. If a pin was dropped, at that moment, the sound would be audible. “Is that what you think?” he asked quietly.

“It’s what I know, father. If the sycophants that surround you will not tell you the truth, at least allow me to. Now elections are tomorrow. I know you have it all planned out as usual but for once, drop your manipulative incumbency power and allow things to run their normal course.”

Ndabar pretended like he did not hear his son’s last statement. He poured himself another glass of French wine. “On the contrary, my people love me, and the ones that don’t, will eventually get to. Never mind the current state of the system. These are problems I inherited from my predecessors who wretched the economy, it cannot be undone in a day or even years. Change is a gradual process. If I leave power now, there will be no continuity. This is why the whispers on the streets will do you no good. They are not the true x-ray of how things are. They are idle whispers. In thirty-five years, I have stabilized the economy. Years from now, our economy will be the fastest-growing in the whole of Africa. The figures are there, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). These are the real figures you should be looking at, not all these nonsense rumor-mongers are peddling.”

Binku shook his head in regret, he knew his father was beyond redemption. He thought he could make him see things his way but it was all too obvious the old man was set in his ways.

“I will be leaving now,” Binku said somberly.

“Even though you did not campaign for me, that is forgivable. At least your vote will be for your father,” Ndabar teased, trying to play down the tension.

Binku smiled mockingly as he prepared to take his leave. “You amaze me, father. You will be the last person I will ever vote for.”

As if stung by an invisible bee, Ndabar looked spontaneously at his son with no particular expression on his face. “Was that a joke?”

“No father, that is exactly what I am going to do,” Binku replied firmly.

“Do that, and watch me disown you on national television!” Ndabar said with an authoritative voice. Binku did not wait for his father’s response, he exited the suite quietly.

“Bastard!” Ndabar thundered.

Ndabar, nicknamed “the Ruler” by his people because of his “endless” reign as premier, sighed, staring at the Barrel-Vaulted ceiling of the leisure suite and ruminating over his intense argument with his son. “But should he even be having this kind of a conversation, a night to the election?” he asked himself, there were more important things to think about. He hated the way the conversation made him feel; like a cold-blooded villain. “Was he that bad?”  Everyone that came close to him had a fair share of the national cake and he ensured that all his loyal “subjects” had more than enough. Sadly, he was surrounded by incompetent men who ruined the little good left in him he wanted to do for his people. He believed there was nothing wrong in remaining in power for as long as possible, so far it was for stability and continuity. This was why he wanted his son to join him so that he could groom him for power, and he could carry on with his agenda when he eventually decides to pass on the baton. If another man became premier, Ndabar feared everything he was trying to put in place would be abandoned. His thought was disrupted when he remembered that there was a very important call he had to make before the next day. Not everything could be trusted to delegation in his opinion, and not on a matter such as this. He was not ready to take chances or be taken by surprises.

He got on a secure line, after two dials, he got through.

“So, you don’t think you need to report to me, Magi?”

“Your Excellency!” Magi saluted; her voice punctuated with trepidation. “I was told by the link that I would not need to contact the premier for any reason on the matter because I should know by now what is expected of me, and if anything, I should contact him.”

“Apt,” Ndabar responded in a very calm baritone voice. “And certainly, you don’t need to be reminded that I appointed you as the Chairman of the Electoral Commission to get me back to the presidential villa. Five hundred million Balilu Rands have been wired to your Swiss account already. Once the job is done, you get the balance of another Five hundred million, failure to fulfill your side of the bargain, you need not be told what will befall you.”

Magi smiled nervously from the other end of the call. “Your Excellency, you don’t have to disturb yourself. What we have tomorrow is just a mere electoral exercise, the real election has been determined already. You are our next premier! All that is left is the formal announcement after the electoral exercise is out of the way. You don’t need to worry about the electoral tricks that will ensure this, that is my job. Tomorrow’s voting is a public exercise, elections are private matters.”

“I hope so,” Ndabar responded coldly. “My eyes are watching you behind the scene.” then he cut the call abruptly, sighing heavily. He had ensured the primitive manual ballot system remained in place for years for ease of manipulation and with the Electoral Commission under his incumbency power, this always did the trick.

Ndabar yawned. He still had a long night ahead. A brief meeting with key members of his political party was scheduled for 1 am then another meeting and here he was already dozing. He needed something to keep him awake.

He reached out for the intercom and placed an order, he wanted something to keep his eyes wide open till he was done for the day. He knew he was getting too old for the rigors of the office but he was not ready to relinquish power yet.

“What would you like to take, your Excellency?” the butler asked when the call went through.

“Black coffee.”

“All is noted, your Excellency,” the butler responded. After that, he placed another call through to his chief of staff, his most trusted subject, and longtime friend; Daga. He asked him to report to his office immediately.

Both the coffee and the chief of staff arrived at the Ruler’s leisure suite at the same time. The moment Ndabar spotted Daga, he beckoned him to come over.

“Daga, come here quickly. I need you to taste my coffee so I can have a hot drink. The coffee is needed to help me stay awake. I have a few more meetings before I’m done for the day.”

Ndabar trusted no one, except of course his chief of staff. He never tasted food or drink except his right-hand man tasted it first. That way, he knew it was safe to take.

“As usual, your Excellency,” Daga smiled as he walked over to the gold tripod stool in front of the Ruler. Daga was a tall man; six feet, but Ndabar often referred to him as a “long” man to make a caricature of his intimidating height as compared to the premier who was a short man with a big tummy. Over time, age had however made Daga’s towering height bent. He wore a very thick haircut that looked more like he had a big black ball on his head; a modern-day afro-cut, with a stylish parting that traveled from the center of his head backward, though now, the entire hair was a mountainous grey—a signature of old age.

He picked a silver teaspoon on the tray in front of the premier, bowed gracefully, took a sip then gave an approving nod. He wondered when Ndabar would learn to trust his immediate staff. He stole a glance at the Ruler and noticed that he had a troubled look.

“What worries you, your Excellency?”

“Sit,” Ndabar said blankly. “Tell me, are we really doing badly?”

Daga looked long at the Ruler, he could not remember when last the Principality of Balilu asked him such a question. Daga had given him the nickname but never called him the name to his face. “Any reason why you asked?”

“Daga, I’m just troubled. Are we not trying? Do we not deserve another term?”

Daga wanted to reply but suddenly paused, he knew exactly what the Ruler wanted to hear. The only reason why their friendship had lasted this long was because he always told him what he wanted to hear.

“Anyone that says you are not doing your best is blind and knows nothing about the relentless effort you put into ensuring that this nation works. If you ask me, I would say you deserve many more terms. At eighty-two you may look tired to many, but you are not retiring.” He meant the last statement as a joke. Ndabar caught the joke.

The Ruler laughed recklessly. When he laughed, the entire room shook, he laughed with his entire being, his bloated tummy dancing around with a wobble. He calmed down soon after, and then he took a long sip from his coffee. “You have a way with words, your words lift my spirit,” the Ruler commended.

“Thank you, sir,” Daga responded with a faint smile.

Suddenly, Ndabar held his stomach and squeezed his face like someone in intense pain.

“Any problem, your Excellency?’’ Daga enquired. Ndabar shook his head to indicate that all was well. He staggered up but before he could move, he vomited. Daga ran to him. Before the Ruler could take another step, he vomited again, then he slumped. He was already looking pale.

He looked up at Daga with an expression Daga understood too well.

“Who prepared this coffee?” Ndabar stammered in between breaths. He was still trying to compose himself when he vomited again. “Daga but you…”

Daga looked down at the dying man. “But I tasted the coffee, right? So, what went wrong?” Daga laughed mockingly. “You have just been poisoned with a heavy dose of ricin, contained in “Ricinus communis” an attractive plant you know too well as castor bean. I’m amazed it worked so fast on you, I guess your immune system must be so weak perhaps because of old age. You would never have imagined that this is what will end you; the everlasting Ruler of the mighty Republic of Balilu.”

As Ndabar looked up at his most trusted subject with a face tormented with shock, he vomited yet again. “Da…ga, but you took the coffee first, how come you are still standing? You poisoned me? Why? How?”

“I will answer your question one after another. In case you do not know, all the high-profile staff here have been compromised, every security protocol around you, suspended. Which was how I was able to gain access to poison your coffee. Those that refused to cooperate have been dealt with. As to why I am not affected by the poison, I took the ricin antidote, a recent scientific discovery I must say, just before I entered this suite. To your other question; why would I not do it? Ndabar, you have outplayed yourself. Even you should be tired of your barren reign! The people are hungry, Balilu is falling, our economy is dying.”

“You misunderstand me,” the Ruler said quietly, his strength draining out of him. “It’s for the sake of continuity, I thought you understood me, I thought you are with me…”

“How long does it take to make a nation better, if you truly wanted it better? It is obvious you are not the Messiah we seek, leave the office, allow someone else to drive the vehicle of the nation, you refused. You keep blaming your predecessors while sabotaging the present.”

“Bloody traitor! I curse you with the curse of the ancestors, it shall not be well with you!” the Ruler said weakly, his words punctuated with strange fatigue. He was completely dehydrated.

“What you are witnessing is the greatest coup in the history of Balilu. I will take over the seat of power from you, a seat you have turned to a self-made throne. My taking over is only to ensure a smooth transition in the election. Balilu deserves a far better leader than you!”

At 11.59 pm, a minute before the day of the next election, the everlasting Ruler of the Republic of Balilu breathe his last, his lifeless eyes staring at his most trusted subject.

The election day came with the nation oblivious of the departure of its almighty Ruler. An air of suspicion that something was out of place hung strongly in the atmosphere, regardless. Ndabar was one known for his powerful show-off on election day. His convey of exotic cars to the election ground was always the number one news on a day such as this. The overwhelming security and entourage that escorted him to cast his vote were intimidating and the bravado with which he voted was entertaining, it was always the most important news item on all media platforms, even more important than the election itself. Today, there was nothing like that. Where was the Ruler? Everyone asked.

By evening after voting was completed, Ndabar, the longest-ruling premier of the Republic of Balilu was declared to have died of cardiac arrest; the typical coverup to deter probing eyes, and play out a nicely written script. The nation was only a spectator, ignorant of the backstage of events. Immediately, every media house, home, and abroad devoured the news. It became the number-one topic, and it spread like wildfire. The media became part of a conspiracy it was unaware of.

Perhaps, it should have been a day of gloom and mourning in Balilu but the reverse was the case, as the whole nation celebrated like a nation that had just gotten its independence.

Maurii, a thirty-something-year-old investment banker, won the election landslide out of eight contestants while Ndabar managed to tag along in the last position, having only his loyal party members voting him. The electoral chairman and all subjects of the Ruler had received inside information about his death even before the election commenced. The electoral chairman concluded there was no point manipulating elections for a dead man.

There was hope in the air, hope that this might be the dawn of a new era, the beginning of economic resurgence, but even for Maurii, he was not sure what he saw in the future of Balilu—the usual syndrome of empty ambition infected with a lack of vision. The system was greater than the man and he was unsure whether the system should not be allowed to run its course. Why would he want to initiate a process that would restructure the system when he could use its defects to his advantage to enrich himself and his unborn generation? National transformation for Balilu might suddenly have become as hopeless as dry leaves except a revolution of change triggered by the will of a people weary of clueless leadership arise, only time would tell…