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Born to Rule

2009, author(s)-editor(s) Tah Asongwed

Born to Rule is the autobiography of an African-president monarch who does not want to pass away without leaving anything in writing to future generations. The book is more than just the autobiography of a president in that it has responded to all the key issues that most people have been asking about the development and underdevelopment of Africa. It is a seminal contribution to the world’s collective knowledge of African and world history. At times it is compellingly incisive, satiric, and tongue-in-cheek and, in some places, trenchantly hard-hitting and humorous in its brutal portrayal of the way Mandzah and, by extension, the African continent, is managed and mismanaged.

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ISBN 9789956558421 | 208 pages | 203 x 127 mm | 2009 | Langaa RPCIG, Cameroon | Paperback

4 Book Reviews

  • Born to Rule 15 June 2009 20:39, author(s)-editor(s) Isaac N. Endeley

    Whereas the bulk of contemporary political discourse is written in a high-sounding, pseudo-scientific jargon beyond the grasp of the average African, every once in a while there comes along a book that cuts through the mustard and turns this rule around on its head. ’Born to Rule’ is such a book. This is not some stale piece of scholarly research replete with footnotes and references that only the "experts" can comprehend. It is a first-hand account of life at the helm of an African republic, recounted straight from the horse’s own mouth, and aimed directly at the African people. For the first time in history, a "reigning president-monarch" bares his soul and lets it all hang out. "A lot is at stake," notes the President in the Preface (pp. 33-34), "and we can’t allow other people to write for us nor expect them to forge our history in our place. They will falsify the facts." It is for this reason that he has decided to "pen down" some of his thoughts, "debunking the derogatory things prevalent in the world press" about himself and his country. He vows to "set the record straight" and to "tell the truth and nothing but the truth" (p. 35).

    ’Born to Rule’ is the "autobiography" of His Excellency Wan Nei, Life-President of the Republic of Mandzah, who has ruled his country as a benevolent and incompetent despot since independence. With the kind of self-deprecating honesty that the reader will surely appreciate, the President explains how he, a real "bastard" whose father no one knows and whose mother committed suicide when he was born (p. 43), rose to become the most powerful man in the land. He spares no detail in chronicling his own unlikely ascent from total obscurity, through his experiences with Western missionaries and the perverted colonial administration, to the pinnacle of power in Mandzah. Raised by his aunt and uncle until the age of 17, Wan Nei was sent off to live with some missionaries who inculcated in him a taste for all things Western. He admits to having "a very humble academic background" and is at pains to point out that although he had the opportunity to pursue studies abroad, be chose to stay home and "militate" with his people (p. 47). Early African "trade unionism" had a strong influence on him and, before he knew it, he had embarked on a political career. Nonetheless, he has no real political philosophy of his own and comes across more like a political opportunist.

    At the forefront in the struggle for greater freedom for black people was the Mandzah Workers Union (MAWU), which bitterly opposed the privileges enjoyed by "the white establishment" (p. 50). However, the MAWU’s leader was soon arrested by the colonial authorities and "has not been heard from to this day". In the power struggle that ensued, the Union easily split into two opposing factions based on the strategy to adopt vis-a-vis the colonial administration. On the one hand, there were the hardliners who demanded immediate independence for Mandzah and swore to continue the fight against colonialism. They went on to create the Mandzah Independence Party (MIP). On the other hand, there were those who "opted for cohabitation" with the colonial admininstration. They "refused to champion the cause of independence" because they felt the territory was not yet ready for it. Their "refusal to accept independence on a platter was based on [their] genuine view that independence obtained without a struggle is not independence" (p. 51). This group transformed itself into the Mandzah People’s Union (MAPU). Naturally, Wan Nei belonged to the latter faction. An intriguing aspect of ’Born to Rule’ is the role destiny appears to have played in President Wan Nei’s life and career. Knowing that Mandzah’s independence was imminent, the colonialists needed to ensure that the country would be left in the hands of an obsequious lackey. For that reason, they decided to groom Wan Nei for the MAPU leadership. In the end, and despite his initial reluctance, the lure of "bundles of money" (p. 53) as well as anecdotes about "the sweetness of power" (p. 54) were too much for him to resist. With his formal consent obtained, all the colonial administrators needed to do was to rig the party and national elections to ensure victory for their man — this, despite the vastly superior popularity of the rival MIP. That is how Wan Nei became the President of Mandzah, a position he had held for "over 30 years" by the time he wrote his "autobiography". Having risen to the summit, his two main goals in life have been to maintain himself there for the rest of his life and to protect the interests of his Western sponsors. He quickly moved to ban opposition political parties, making Mandzah a one-party state dominated by his MAPU.

    As he puts it, "I was not going to be an advocate of multi-party politics because it would have torn apart the fabric of our fragile unity" (p. 72).

    Like the true "Father of the Nation" that he is, President Wan Nei has absolute control over all aspects of life in Mandzah, including the Armed Forces and the national coffers. (He has huge assets in foreign countries and travels abroad regularly to inspect them.) He dispenses favours and delegates authority to his friends and family primarily on the basis of their level of devotion and loyalty to him. The concepts of competence and integrity are completely alien to his government. While denying any complicity in the death or disappearance of those opposed to his regime, he lambasts those Mandzahs who continue to paint a negative picture of their native country from the safety of foreign lands. At the same time, he wants the reader to note that Mandzah is "one of the very few countries in Africa without political prisoners" (p. 209). In spite of all the rhetoric, however, the reader gets the distinct impression that the President is essentially at the mercy of the foreign interests that exploit Mandzah’s wealth of natural resources. Much of the book is dedicated to describing in great detail the President’s (failed) policies in some key sectors: Economic Planning, Tourism, Agriculture, Education, Foreign Affairs, The Environment and Dumping of Foreign Waste, Culture, Religion, Sports, Taxation, Internal Security, Indoctrination, Disinformation, Favouritism, Nepotism and Tribalism. In all of these domains, President Wan Nei and his government have been working tirelessly for the "underdevelopment" of Mandzah while enhancing the development of "the civilized world".

    Given Wan Nei’s lack of popular support to start off with, and his dismal performance after over three decades in power, how does he explain his longevity in office? First, through the use of his ubiquitous, repressive security forces which keep tabs on all citizens. Second, by offering significant bribes and enticements to some members of the opposition. Third, through the active support of his foreign allies, particularly the United Conquerors Republic, which is Mandzah’s main arms supplier. (The President succeeded early in his career in convincing Western nations that his country could serve as a bulwark against communism in Africa. They therefore elected to turn a blind eye to his regime’s many shortcomings.) Fourth, for more or less the same reasons, the "International Loan Shark Fund" has always been willing to grant him new loans to help maintain his grip on power. This, by the way, is a pattern that can be discerned not only in Mandzah but in many other African countries as well. Indeed, as observed in the Foreword by Dr. George Stanley Peter, Jr. (former Minister of Third World Affairs, United Conquerors Republic), "although ’Born to Rule’ deals in the main with Mandzah, it should be read against the background of what is happening in other parts of Africa and the Third World" (p. 30).

    In the end, what is one to make of ’Born to Rule’? To answer this question, it may be necessary to make a clear distinction between the purported author, the fictitious President Wan Nei of Mandzah, and the real author, Mr. Tah Asongwed. The sharp wit and humour with which Mr. Asongwed treats such a serious subject matter as governance would seem to indicate that his intention is both to inform and to entertain. He brings a refreshing perspective to the debate with this biting satire and displays an uncanny familiarity with the inner workings of the warped mind of an African dictator. However, it would be a mistake for anyone to consider ’Born to Rule’ as a mere work of fiction, for it is more than that: It is a potent socio-political commentary rooted in a meticulous observation of governance practices in Africa. It surely takes a high level experience and dedication to come up with a work of art that is just as palpable as the reality in many African countries. The author is to be commended for producing a work that is likely to strike a cord with a vast readership.

    By the same token, the book appears lacking in credibility and originality because it aims to appeal to all Africans at once. Wan Nei is the caricature of several different African dictators at the same time: the steroetypical bungling buffoon; the puppet of Western powers; the rabidly corrupt ruler; the incompetent manager; the autocrat or totalitarian; the murderer; the thief; the petty criminal, etc. This diminishes the book’s appeal, but perhaps not by much. There are also a few inconsistencies, as in when the names of some people and places are stated differently at different times (e.g. the first name of the MIP leader on pp. 57 and 61; or the full name of the Minister of Education on pp. 38 and 181). In addition, there are a few narratives in the book that stretch the reader’s imagination quite a bit. For instance, the story of the Minister of Social Welfare who attempted to smuggle drugs abroad by taping them "to her private parts" (p. 190). However, these are minor issues that do not detract from the overall quality of the work.

    Finally, considering that ’Born to Rule’ was published in 1993 when the wind from the East was spawning pro-democracy movements across the African continent, the reader might want to know whether or not President Wan Nei managed to weather the storm. That makes this one of those rare books to which it would be nice to see a sequel. As a matter of fact, the President promises as much when he states that "this is just Part One of ’Born to Rule’. There will be more parts to leave our people in the fullness of time" (p. 225).

    Over to you, Mr. Asongwed.

  • Born to Rule 28 June 2010 11:16, author(s)-editor(s) Africana Bulletin

    … a masterful exhibition of creative and imaginative thinking and role playing.

    Africana Bulletin

  • Born to Rule 28 June 2010 11:17, author(s)-editor(s) The African Economy

    This book satirizes the absurdities of leadership in Africa and deals centrally with the ripples of … intellectual aridity and vacuosness of the people who occupy important positions in the African continent.

    The African Economy

  • Born to Rule 28 June 2010 11:17, author(s)-editor(s) ADB Today

    Born to Rule...makes an interesting contribution to the debate on development by raising and exposing, through the self-narration of an African president-monarch the questions, issues, imponderables, and contradictions of development, democracy and governance. It is must reading for anybody in the development business...

    ADB Today