Chapter 2: The Sly Solution

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Stories by Christian Filostrat

Reads: 110

Chapter 2

 

The Sly Solution

 

 

On the 19th of October 1994, the Dictator was at his N’Gabolite villa in the far north of Zaire, near the Central African border. At 5 PM, a signal, given by a buzzer behind one of his library’s bookshelves, sounding like a battleship klaxon, sounded three times in quick succession.

The Dictator excused himself to his in-laws, whom he was entertaining and hobbled hurriedly to his freezing-cold, private bedroom, his man cave, he called it, furnished on the ground floor years earlier, when his need to be alone had grown, as he wearied of his now portly and perfumed-loving wife and her twin sister.

The buzzer was connected to an exclusive fax machine installed in the bedroom for messages of urgent and personal nature. He felt like a kid on Christmas Eve. One page was already in the receiving tray. No more than six people around the world knew the number of this German made and installed fax machine, rigged to the area code of the island of Malta in the Mediterranean.

The correspondent was a woman at one of America’s government agencies Maka M’Gonu had recruited when she was posted in Kinshasa six years earlier. No informer had a safer job. In enlisting her, M’Gonu instructed the agent charged with seducing her to say that she would never have to worry about being exposed. And, indeed, she could’ve walked into her Washington supervisor’s office and confessed her activities on behalf of the Dictator, and the supervisor would’ve reprimanded her for ridiculing a faithful ally or called the mental unit on the second floor to send someone for her.

“That Dictator doesn’t have the wits to run a mole inside a dogcatcher’s office,” the supervisor would say. “And being under US protection, he doesn’t have a need for a mole anywhere. His concern is solely on internal threat and staying in power.”

On the other hand, no informer was more taken for granted or less appreciated by her clandestine employer. Perhaps because of these contradictions, no informer was more eager to please.

Today, she had intelligence she considered valuable enough to activate the exclusive fax machine to notify the Dictator.  “Next ambassador…,” read the subject line. The Dictator smiled, forgiving the informer for using the confidential fax machine unnecessarily. Molu has done it, he thought smugly. The mole thinks it’s urgent; but to the phlegmatic Molu, this is another day’s work. It’s not significant; so Molu is going through the foreign ministry’s channels to inform me, leaving it to snivelers to show off on my fax machine. The few in Washington, who, like the secretary of state, were bent on making a fool of him, if they knew of Molu’s achievement, were now silent. Defeat is the guarantor of silence.

He laughed aloud.

His wife knocked softly on the door, which, as a matter of habit, he had locked when he had come in. “Are you all right,” she whispered. The fax had energized him, and taking a deep breath, he answered more kindly than usual, “I will be out soon.  Go back to your guests.”

At the top of the fax’s second page were two photos: the one to the left was that of a middle-aged serious-looking black man with straight hair of an unnatural, autumn-leaves color. The one to the right was that of a white woman, also middle age, of distinctly modest appearance.  He read that the man in the photo was the ambassador Washington was sending him. “Judd Mosley,” he read. His eyes widen, and he held his breath. He skimmed the page frantically, looking for the words that would reassure him it was not the man in the picture.

As in the Middle East, humiliation was a commanding social medium in the Dictator’s part of the world. He had used it often on others. He now felt this one washing over him, insistent, cold as an ice shower and as ominous as an omen of radical change. Its impact could not be overstated.

He read the message several times. There were too many details for the information to be inaccurate. The photos were those of the new American Ambassador and his wife. No misunderstanding!  Somebody had failed him terribly. And as if told that he had five minutes to live, his spirit gave out. He hobbled uncontrollably back and forth around the room. Then, his voice of rage rose above the cry of his crumbled spirit and shook him out of that moment of isolation. He yelled obscenities at the walls; and with the taste of affronted dignity akin to salty blood in his mouth, he surrendered with cruel satisfaction all his wits to his overpowering fury.

He snatched the executive red phone from the desk and stabbed the amber button, the direct line to his minister of foreign affairs, Salen M’BuJudda, who had been forgiven after Ambassador Sakeseba had embarrassed Washington so thoroughly with the recording of the Klingesthousen chromosome speech. After three rings, the minister picked up the receiver. “You know how much I paid for this phone? Why can’t you answer it?” the Dictator asked, hostile. The Dictator’s boyhood friend recognized the tone.

“It’s my leg, Mokonzi, you know,” the minister answered apologetically.

“Do you have anything from Washington?”

“Not from Washington, no sir.”

“Has Ambassador Sakesseba called?”

“Friday evening. Not since.”

“If he calls, don’t tell him I inquired. You understand?”

“Of course, Mr. President.”

The Dictator had many questions, but none about who was out to burn down his regime with the incendiary assignment of this African American, Judd Mosley, to Kinshasa. He knew that the Tutsis were responsible. Nothing took place in which he didn’t recognize the Tutsis’ treacherous hands. That was true even before the Tutsis’ reaction to their mass execution by Hutu nationalists in Rwanda in April 1994.

However, regardless of their clout, especially among the Americans now, the Tutsis and their Ugandan allies could not operate so effectively without some intelligence and support from a well placed operative in the heart of his regime.  That’s what the Dictator told himself. So while unscrambling this latest Tutsi act of vengeance, the Dictator thought back to what his security chief had told him in 1992 regarding a rat the Dictator had picked up somewhere along the way. “If the group that attempted to kill de Gaulle in August 1962 could have a mole in the Élysée Palace so could we,” M’Gonu had argued then. The pain in the Dictator’s testicles increased tenfold as that recollection switched a light on in his head. Immediately, he realized that M’Gonu was right. What the Tutsis could do was too pointed, too precise. Their rat had to be an insider with unobstructed access to his administration. That was clear, enough. Could it be Minister of Foreign Affairs Salen M’BuJudda? It could be, except that the rat had to be also on the American payroll. Someone whose comprehensive knowledge of his regime helped Washington guide the Tutsis to where Washington wanted them to go.  The more the Dictator thought about it, the more he suspected that the insider was none other but his own ambassador in Washington.

Molu Sakeseba was not only a favorite of his but of Washington’s. Manifestly the ambassador had sold out to the Tutsis and their supporters over there in the US. The peculiar combination of circumstances pointed to no one else but the ambassador. Hurriedly, the Dictator reviewed past incidents, dissecting the miscellany of Sakeseba failures, the Klingesthousen insults in ’92 being at the top of the list of his resentments. Sakeseba had not even cautioned him that Klingesthousen was a gofer on Washington’s foul mission of discarding him. Accepting the truth that his ambassador had turned traitor caused the pain to rise from his testicles to his abdomen, and he hobbled hurriedly to his bathroom.

Back in 1992, M’Gonu had warned him, pleading on his knees, his pale brown eyes pools of earnestness, “Sakeseba, probably through the Americans, is working for the Tutsis and is responsible for the brutal reality that gofer Kinglesthousen has come to insult us with.” The Dictator had been loath, at that time, to agree that it was an inside job or that his most competent and trusted aide, whom he looked upon as the son who would succeed him one day, had betrayed him.

It was at the end of the day back in early April 1990 that he had confirmed that Molu was the ablest of his N’Gbandi kin and the one to succeed him. Ordered in N’Gabolite upon his return from Morocco, all his senior advisers were at his northern villa that fateful day.  He also asked Sakeseba, as the head of the Foreign Ministry’s North American Department, to come to N’Gabolite for the urgent briefing.

Boyhood friend, Salen M’BuJudda, as always, had answered his Mokonzi call to come hear him reminisce and provide emotional support.

“That day, you saw, I went in person to the helipad to meet the bastard who would betray me.” The Dictator shook his head glumly in disbelief.

“Yes,” M’BuJudda said, his demeanor exuding sympathy. “Aides frequently visited Mokonzi na Bakonzi at his northern residence, but it was unheard of for one so relatively junior as this bastard was to receive such personal attention.”

“I invited him to get in the passenger side of my new Buick,” the Dictator said, to extort more empathy from his boyhood friend. “I gave him a tour of the villa’s ground high above and overlooking the Ubangi River, stopping for the prancing peacocks and for my grandchildren and their cocker spaniel.”

“The rat gave no outward sign that such attention overwhelmed him,” M’BuJudda said, shaking his head.

“At the time I thought that was excellent because I needed a man not easily impressed by pomp,” the Dictator said. “I thought that would serve me well in Washington.”

“No one was better at giving impressions than Molu,” M’Bujudda said.

“I know that now. I trusted him,” the Dictator insisted.

“ No bodyguard was around,” M’Bujudda said. “When Molu had gotten off the helicopter, one stopped him for a pat down; but with a grunt and a wave of the hand, as if shooing guinea hens from the yard, you canceled the search. You trusted the bastard. We all watched astonished the two of you go sit under the tall windswept filao trees on a bench there in the shade of the foliage.”

“The bench was placed there for us to gaze down on the river,” the Dictator said. “The ceaseless rumble served to screen our conversation.

“I know I can count on you to speak frankly, I told him. You know how grateful I am for that! I trusted the bastard a thousand percent.

“He reminded me that I taught him to speak frankly. He knew even how to flatter me; me, who trusts flattery as much as I do my prostate.”

“You told me then, M’Bujudda said, that you agreed with everything he recommended to you that day.”

“Yes, I did,” the Dictator said. “He was not stupid. In fact, he had a big mind. He also had the Americans to coach him. Wanting him for my son and successor bushwhacked me.”

“Sadly, it’s M’Gonu who had been right,” M’Bujudda said in his saddest voice. “Molu was a fake. He was on somebody else’s payroll.”

“I can see that now clearly,” the Dictator said, looking at the carpet. “M’Gonu had been loyal and clear-sighted. I’ve been made to look foolish because of Molu. The Tutsis are mocking me.”

Salen M’Bujudda watched his friend cock his head as if listening to someone.

In fact, the Dictator was listening to his mother. She was saying, “La tradition dit, no one will have pity on the pitiful.” When he heard her, he picked up his cane and hit the coffee table in front of him because he was made to look pitiful too. He then stared at M’Bujudda and after a while said in a chocking voice, “A well placed and well timed reprisal against the Americans and the Tutsis through the bastard would be the most effective course to right the wrong done to us.”

M’Bujudda murmured, “If treason makes you nervous do away with traitors.” He murmured to himself the way N’Gbandis did when acknowledging a truth,

Mokonzi’s grasp of that truth eased the strain he was under, enabling him to give full vent to his desire for retribution. Still the desire grew; it grew as burning as the sorrow he felt for himself. Finally he asked M’Bujudda, “But where would the well placed and timed retribution come from?”

For hours, the Dictator and his boyhood friend mulled over that question. No closer to an answer, Salen M’Bujudda left for the day at 5 PM.

However, the urgency for an answer did not go away with M’Bujudda’s departure. It continued to forage relentlessly, like a starving rat, in the dictator’s mind. Fifteen minutes or so later, rehashing something Salen said about another fact-finding inquiry, the Dictator at last found the epiphany he was looking for – the broken man, who was dragging himself through the streets as penalty for the Klingesthousen outrage since ‘92: the Brazzaville desk officer . . . He’ll start with a pardon for that man; then rehabilitation. He’ll then take him to his bosom and turn him into a valued servant. Thereupon, he’ll make up for the miscarriage of justice by doubling, tripling, the real traitor’s punishment. That sketch penciled into his mind, he turned to detailing again why Sakeseba had not called to tell him about Judd Mosley. After all, it was a new policy the Americans had put into practice against him with the appointment of Judd Mosley. It was an existential matter. Even if it were not, Sakeseba, if he were innocent, would have notified him.

To be absolutely certain, he would wait one hour before summoning Maka M’Gonu.

Apprehension, however, was impinging on his patience like a burning scalpel on a boil, and he could not wait. He did the unthinkable: He took it upon himself to call Liza – nicknamed Deliza by the Dictator – the informer. It was 5:30 PM at his villa, 12:30 PM in Washington. Liza would be having lunch at her desk.

Without any introduction, the Dictator asked, “Are you sure of the information?”

“Excuse me?”

“The new ambassador. Are you sure?”

It took Liza a long moment to realize who had called her and another to recover from her shock. The Dictator waited.

Finally, Liza whispered, “Yes, sir.”

“There is no mistake?”

“No sir. I was there when they took the vote.”

“You’re sure.”

“Oh, absolutely, Mokonzi na Bakonzi.”

The Dictator beamed. He was still Mokonzi na Bakonzi. Even a lowly informer acknowledged him as such – just like in the old days.

Being reminded of the old days was a sedative that permitted him to lie to himself with contentment. When the West was hysterical about Soviets were his best days. Back then he didn’t have a single qualm about the future. The value of siding with the West was his hard currency, the hardest in the world.

He stopped his wanderings and moved to asking himself whether he was destitute now that the Soviets were gone. No, he answered categorically. I did not rest my power on the caprices of others. I wasn’t a fad. My bags weren’t packed. My coffin wasn’t built. I had no need of an estate planner. I’m not destitute. Nevertheless he conceded that ever since 1990 when France first reduced its aid to him on the pretext of a global economic downturn, he sensed, through an assortment of incidents, disquiets around him. It was as though the future’s strides were lengthening beyond where he could reach. Whatever it was, he sensed that his N’Gbandi ancestors were disturbed – there was that incident at a concert of traditional music at the Théâtre de la Verdure in Kinshasa that he attended. All the N’Gbandi-made harps broke at almost the same instant. The significance of that incident to music-loving N’Gbandis and to him personally could not have been clearer. Still he continued to manage. The ancestors may have been disgruntled, but for a man like him it wasn’t so hard to get his way in the end. He took his astrologer’s advice to include in the penal code the crime of “Feminicide,” to punish violence committed against women. The astrologer told him that the passage of such a law would please his ancestors, who had turned the N’Gbandis into a matriarchal society. He was right; the disturbance lessened; the ancestors, apparently pleased, quieted. In retrospect, both the ancestors’ disgruntlement and the West’s cluelessness did not help him much. Better for him if the disturbance had been more drawn-out, more complicated; that would’ve given him the practice at sharpening his knives for the final battle.

The naming of this new American Ambassador was proof that change could come surreptitiously under his radar and establish itself permanently. Power over the future seemed to be shifting dangerously from his hands to the Tutsis’s. Will the single-minded determination he was famous for see him through the ultimate challenge to ensure a worthwhile survival?

On his way out of the bedroom, the Dictator stopped before the bedroom’s door to confide in the Batetela mask propped up on the dresser on the right side opposite the door. “The Tutsis are screwing me good,” he told the mask.

The mask stared at him, as if urging him to stop lying to himself; face reality and take a close look at what was left of his resources. He recalled a N’Gbandi saying, “Do not hide from yourself.” He remained there, his hand on the doorknob. No one in the West could understand the power of the invisible world that was such an inexorable everyday fact of his life. The recognition that his N’Gbandi ancestors were reaching out to him through the mask’s unequivocal gaze mesmerized him.

To satisfy the mask, the Dictator strained to tell himself the truth and take mental stock of his remaining assets. Counting them seemed to help: “One: The patronage structure that has served me so well is now a wreck. Two: Unproductive, too, are the special pork barrel arrangements I put in place to placate certain generals and district chieftains. They are no longer supporters of my regime but instruments of its bankruptcy. . .” He stopped counting after just two, when he realized there was nothing encouraging in his assessment.

He found consolation in telling the mask, “somewhere my world has fractured.” Then the thought occurred to him that a pyramid scheme was what his government had become. Rancor and alarm flared anew, and, speaking to the mask, he condemned those who abused his patronage. “I can’t believe how rapacious my Masonic brothers, cronies, ethnic relatives, hangers on, and other handout professionals have been – they are running my state to the ground, pushing the means to swallow the end, making me ruler of a ghostly land.” The big projects of yesterday funded by foreign sources to encourage his goodwill toward the West were rusting in the tropical sun. There was nothing left.” Dread was stalking him.

He heard the mask tell him, “The marketing of your allegiance to the West is no longer enough.” The Dictator’s dread deepened. “What else do I have? …”

Then the mask told him, “You’ve to understand comprehensively that you’ll soon be like any other African dictator, looking for ships to register, selling passports, taxing smokers, and helping tax cheats defraud your state.” The realization rumbled over him like cascading water and suddenly he felt that he was looking at the great elephant through the eyes of the mask. The mask saw a dying man stunned that he had become just another African dictator. Choking, he cried out aloud his repugnance toward those insignificant African dictators that he hated. “I swear,” he told the Batetela mask through his teeth, “I will never be like them.”

The mask said, “You have to redouble a wary vigil then and let loose Maka M’Gonu as in the old days on all the offenders regardless of who they are or of the consequences. That’s what you must do.”

His heart calmed down, appeased by the mask telling him what to do. He opened the door and hobbled out of the bedroom, shutting the door behind him. He heard the mask fall to the floor, and he rushed back into the room to return it lovingly on its gold-plated pedestal. Omens were coming at him faster than he could ruminate.

 

The Dictator returned to the library, redolent with the impatience of his in-laws waiting to be reassured that he was still the Molonzi na Bakonzi, protector and livelihood provider. “The capitalist system is the most beneficial because it flows from man’s inescapable fear of himself and his fellow man,” he told their faces, happy now that he had resumed talking. “Man’s selfishness comes from that fear, fear which obligates him to care for what he owns.” He had been declaring such slogans ever since a sycophant told him it was of him the new philosopher Ayn Rand was writing in her novels.

Heretofore, he had de Gaulle, the Grand Zohra himself, for a muse, until the general said at a press conference in a tone laced with loathing, that he had no ambition of becoming a dictator. Consumers of the Dictator’s favors and other flatterers tried to dissuade him that de Gaulle was referring to him. A delegation visited Paris to ask the French prime minister, Georges Pompidou, to have the general write a special note of apology. The note came by private messenger in the person of the French Minister of Culture, the legendary André Malraux, whom the Kennedys had recently fawned over with a lavish White House state dinner. Only because the Dictator’s late friend, Albert Camus, said when he received the Nobel Prize for literature that the prize should have been awarded to Malraux did the Dictator receive Malraux politely. Then, too, Malraux was the author of Man’s Fate, which the Dictator’s literature expert, his chief of security, Maka M’Gonu, called one of the great novels of the twentieth century. All the same, in Malraux’s presence, the Dictator did an imitation of General de Gaulle and haughtily dismissed both Malraux and the general’s act of contrition.  Back in the old days, his value to the West was such that he could make such gestures with impunity.

“When I was a practicing journalist,” the Dictator was explaining to the in-laws, I spent a lot of time covering the waterfront. That’s where I saw for my two eyes what it meant to be a property owner. The men who worked on the waterfront used to wash and polish their makeshift wheelbarrows every Sunday afternoon.  Why would anyone want to waste water and time washing a wheelbarrow? I once asked a man on Ngobila Beach. ‘Because it’s mine,’ he answered. ‘How can you ask inane questions on Sunday?’ That man has been my security chief ever since I came into office – Maka M’Gonu.”

“Those who practice kleptocracy are against the benefits private property conveys and have no respect for money.  To kleptocrats, the country is merely a golden-egg laying goose; and since they have no stake in what they plunder, they have no personal incentive to love and care for what they steal. That’s why they let their self-indulgence kill the goose.”

“Mokonzi na Bakonzi tu as raison,” you’re right Mokonzi, his seventy-six year old mother in law shouted, a long smoldering pipe in her hand. “N’Zoku a toujours raison” – the elephant is always right, her youngest son intoned in harmony.

Such signifying by audiences put fire under Mokonzi’s remarks, nudging him toward exaltation. “You’d think they’d care for their loot by burying it under a sapelli tree, for instance.” He became a real preacher then.  “Being fearlessly deceitful, they just steal more.”

Mother and son continued to signify at every pause the Dictator took to catch his breath. “Mokonzi na Bakonzi tu as raison” “N’Zoku a toujours raison.” That pushed him harder, louder, as he made more declarations.

“When I want to know what my people think, I ask myself. I know how self-centered and fearful they are. That’s why I initiated Article 15 of the constitution, the ‘Fend for yourselves and Be Resourceful’ article. I did that to celebrate fear and self-interest. It’s not my fault thieves took it to mean ‘steal to your heart’s content.’ And rapists . . .

“Mokonzi na Bakonzi tu as raison” “N’Zoku a toujours raison.”

“I had an ambassador in Malaysia, who sold his embassy. He was resourceful!  But what did he do with the proceeds from the sale of the embassy? He squandered it. He’s not in jail today because he sold a building but because he turned fearless and disrespected the proceeds.  Had he invested the money, I would have made him finance minister. Fear is a self-regulatory device, more useful and, in the end, more truthful and effective than any government.”

Suddenly, the Dictator pushed himself painfully up and, after retrieving his cane, hobbled to his urinal. He returned ten minutes later, angrily wiping the sweat off his face with a towel and slumped back down on the sofa. The in-laws watched him in anxious silence. They smiled and nodded to each other that Mokonzi na Bakonzi was fine when he resumed his talk. However, they noted that his hands and arms were no longer a circus of motion, and mother and son did not signify anymore. They were now fearful that perhaps Mokonzi na Bakonzi would not always be there with their meal tickets.

“Patrice and I used to have arguments about this all the time.” Mokonzi continued.  “He thought socialism the answer to everything, as if God’s blessing to mankind. He was mistaken. Like all romantics, he was mistaken. I would say to him, we’re no different from anybody else; we can be as afraid and selfish as the Europeans. ‘That’s why socialism is the answer,’ he would argue back the way a sleepwalker might.  ‘We need to protect ourselves from fear and egoism, if we are to benefit others. Only by benefiting others will we defend our interests against those who wish us ill.’ No, I’d say, we’ll never cease to be afraid; so we’d better use that fear to give ourselves the kind of state where independence and fighting for self-interest are the law.” Mokonzi paused to take a sip of his sapelli-bark tea.

“Self-interest is like self-determination,” he continued, hopeful there would be more signifying. “That’s what will defeat the interests of those who take for granted that we Africans are too backward to have self-interests. We didn’t work, we argued, Patrice and I. That was the best time of my life. He thought me a sharp debater, Patrice did. That’s the reason I’m the one he sent to Brussels to fight with the Belgian thieves for our independence. Who would have thought that Patrice Lumumba, a naïve, bucktooth, myopic Batetela would be made a hero and a saint for being executed by me, his best friend? I was envious of him. I miss him now.”

 

 


Submitted: October 04, 2018

© Copyright 2020 Christian Filostrat. All rights reserved.

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