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Dictaconomics: Power, money and ruthlessness


                                                                                                                      The belt button up

The once running well runs dry

And birds that soar

From afar for water

Suck the mud

That which locks

Stemming the flow of the blessing abound

Mustapha K Darboe is an award-winning Gambian journalists working for Kerr Fatou and Turkey News Agency

Following the first election that he successfully rigged, the so-called smart heads of Kanan have gathered at the finance ministry on his orders. The tyrant, President Saikou Manneh, was being schooled on strongmanism and how to sustain such a regime. He has read with caution Marxism, socialism, capitalism and mixed economy but none seemed to support his system.

All economic systems appear to call for either state control or private control of production and means of exchange, or a mixture of private and state control. Why isn’t there a model that calls for one person’s control, he wonders. He wants a system that will be built around an individual. In other words, an economic system where the means of production, distribution and exchange will be controlled by the leader and distributed for the benefit of his or her supporters.

He calls it efficient control but it is more befittingly called dictaconomy. This model of economy derives its inspiration from Western corporatocracy where a number of corporations not only own the country and its politicians but also its foreign policy agenda.

So that a whole nation and its army can be used to defend a particular oil giant ruining a country in Albukelan on the claim of defending one’s foreign investors.

To this end a number of smart economists and military strategists were suggested to the tyrant for selection. Meanwhile, the Economic Reorder Department (ERD) has been created at the finance ministry. But the ERD was under the direct supervision of the presidency. And the man appointed to head the unit was always supposed to be a military leader. First would be the state guard commander who heads ERD.

The idea is that since economy is the basic dictate of every human development, every governance infrastructure must have its economic system. The idea was conceived by Manneh but he couldn’t do it himself. In January 1997, the tyrant met with Tumbul Touray, a Marxist economist with four decades experience. Touray has been trained in Lenisia, a Marxist country famous for its production of unapologetic, ruthless tyrants. 34

Aside from his education background, Touray has practically worked with dozens of old-school dictators whose aims were to rule forever. He took dictaconomics to another level. He perfected the art that helped hundreds keep power for ever, even after their heads are cut off. He model was Kadafi, Manneh’s model desert king.

“Welcome to our palace,” Manneh welcomed Touray, a dwarf whose loyalty is only to himself. He opened his arms for approaching footsteps only to find out that the man of whom much was said can in fact be crushed by a giant’s boots. He entered the tyrant’s office. “Oh I know. I am short and your first impression is to fuck me with a gun,” Touray joked, laughing.

He went to the same side of the table with Manneh; otherwise he could not see from the other side. “I thought you are a goblin. What the fuck happened at birth?” Manneh joked. He could have a very happy day sometimes. And on happy days, he has a great sense of humour. He looked down on Touray and bent toward him, back straight, with a smile.

“Your hand is very soft,” he commented. “I am not a farmer sir,” responded Touray. Manneh chuckled as he pulled over an executive office chair for him. Touray is an artist who has faced several powerful people—more powerful than Manneh. He prepared the socialist sympathizer Kadafi. He could not have been intimidated. He adjusted himself and jumped into the seat, big enough to be his bed. “Not quite comfortable,” he teased.

“I mean not as comfortable as you will be after this work is done.” Manneh rested his chin on his palm, looking at the dwarf as he spoke. He was both amazed and surprised by his arrogance but also his apparent oratory. “You impressed me but please take your feet off my table,” he said, annoyed.

Touray had placed his feet, covered in a worn-out leather boots, on Manneh’s gold-coloured table. That annoyed him. He broke into laughter. “Oh don’t mind. I am only here for a brief moment. As soon as we are done, I disappear,” he said. The dwarf is smart but he was clearly underestimating the tyrant. Manneh might not understand everything about dictaconomics but he knows what he wants and he has a special eye for a good product. 35

Like all tyrants, Manneh shares a unique love for literature. He writes and recites poetry in his good days. He dragged his seat close to the dwarf’s.

In his hands was a paper with blue ink hand writings. He unfolded it and was now reading to Touray.

Rising from the dark The Polaris ascend

Climbing on the walls of the mighty sky

In company of stars, it walks

With brightness, it sings

Voice pronounced of the prayerful angels

Sending words of prophecy

For the coming events

Bingo, the clock arrives

With tales of growth

For blessing of man that survives

The wrath of time and space

Blessed are the dwellers

Those that inhabit man’s earth

With pride our ancestors smile

For the blessing in Kanan abounds

Manneh considers himself the North Star for his people. “I have come to power to do good and I must have a free hand in doing so,” he would say.

Touray nodded. All tyrants justified their oppression by classifying their opponents as enemies of the country and them as the prophets. This is why, under their rule, the rules are simply us against them. So that the country must always be at war— it is either with herself or with others.

This provides distraction from real issues but it also keeps people busy with the imaginary war as each punched the air. This plunges the nation into some sort of simulation exercise.

Touray reached for his file and opened it. Inside were pieces of paper. They were the design.

“I have done some study on your economy and I have already identified areas you must control—which institutions’ shares you should own, and how, and through which aliases,” Touray said.

“But more important is how you should control your public institutions. You must own shares in them.”

Touray also explained to Manneh how he could control the drug trade in the region. Kanan borders two major drug countries operating in the whole of Albukelan.

Gaabu is a country of drug barons. Everyone in the country, including some major political players and military leaders, are involved in the trade. This is the center. 36

“If you control Gaabu, you control the entire trade. Right now, I can get you in touch with General Buba. He is their army leader and if you have him, then you have the region and ultimately the continent,” Touray said.

Manneh got up, walked three steps and sat in the seat right in front of his desk. He was prepared for a lot of things when coming to power but not the drug trade.

“You need influence, which is what power gives, but you must have control. You must have leverage—something that makes you something,” the dwarf said.

“This is why you must not just control your country’s economy but also the drug trade. Think of the trade as gang violence. Who controls this place has more power than the one who controls the cartels.”

Manneh recognizes victory when he smells it. He laughed at those suggestions. “I am glad I have met you,” he said.

After a day of lecturing, Touray went, leaving his files behind. They were the template of dictaconomics. Manneh would discuss its implementation with the ERD and his loyal military leaders.

In few years he would control the drug trade in the region. Manneh used the military, police and anti-drug agency leaders to make money in the trade, undetected.

The secret nearly shattered in 2012 when his former police chief, battling smuggling charges in court, told the prosecution team and the judge that he was smuggling on orders and support of the tyrant.

Arrested while he was the Inspector General of Police and put on trial for drug smuggling, Khalilu Badgie told the judge that he was in business with Manneh. He admitted he was, however, dealing in drugs.

The judge, surprised by the honesty of a man who has nothing to lose, pretended he did not hear his confession. Drug cartels and tyrants share one thing in common, and that is if you hear, know or understand their weakness or illegal acts, you must go.

But they become even more ruthless when they know or assume they can no longer trust you with their secrets. They take care of all loose ends. That is what all cowards do. It is about survival.

And it would come to light that Badgie has failed to avoid detection. A record drug shipment was detected by the Britania police to have arrived in Kanan, and they informed Badjie, who they knew was part of it.

Manneh, smart in what he does, knew Britania could not have known the drug was in Kanan, and all other details, without knowing who brought it in the country. He arrested Badgie and struck a deal with him to shut his mouth and receive a presidential pardon later. 37

However, the prison conditions were quite unfavorable for the former police chief and he thought Manneh was playing games. Badgie knew Manneh likes to take care of all loose ends. He had known Manneh since they were young.

“I had a deal with him and he promised I would not be tortured or killed or even jailed for long. I was tortured yesterday,” the frustrated, angry and frightened young man said in the court.

And the judge, who had no idea who he was talking about, asked “with whom did you have the deal?”

The frightened former police chief looked at the clueless judge and answered “the Big Man.” That is another unofficial name for Manneh.

The judge could not allow such a testimony to continue in his court. He would be executed unofficially. He pretended he didn’t hear the answer. “The case is adjourned,” he said.

Journalists carried it from there, but made it look as if it were allegations from a dying man. None of them was brave enough to write that court testimony objectively.

Prior to that court testimony, Manneh became of interest to Babylonia when he participated in a political assassination of a military general in Gaabu when he was battling to control the trade in that country.

General Fansu Manneh was a heroic fighter in Gaabu. He has struggled through various regime changes to bring sanity to a country controlled by drug trade. Manneh and his accomplices knew both of them couldn’t succeed.

One had to leave for the other. So they killed the general, after years of planning. It was made to appear as if it were a coup because the general was a kingmaker and the only protector of the president, Alasana Ceesay, who occupied the seat of presidency.

After killing the general, they conspired and also overthrew Ceesay. After the only two obstacles to securing a drug land were taken care of, Manneh launched his full business.

He backed a new player called General Buba. Buba was as ruthless as he was smart. He shared the same level of paranoia with Manneh.

The tyrant, who now becomes a key power player in a foreign land, was spreading his influence. He now controlled both the army and the politicians in Gaabu. He made the military in the country a cartel force fighting for money and control.

He created a special unit in the Kananian embassy in Gaabu just to help his illegal timber trade. He was also, with the help of the army, dealing in timber. He was at the same time doing a similar timber trade in Jabu Kataba.

The illegal logging started in Kanan, and when that finished the forest in the country, he moved it to Jabu Kataba and later to Gaabu. 38

In Jabu Kataba he was using the proceeds to finance the rebellion in that country whereas in Gaabu he was using it to keep his military loyalists with him. In ten years he made Kanan one of the biggest timber exporting countries in Albukelan though the country has no timber.

The illegal logging caused a tense diplomatic standoff between the two countries when in 2014 a former forestry minister of Jabu Kataba published a study indicating that the country will completely lose its forest cover by 2020 if nothing is done about the illegal logging.

Both countries knew that those timbers are exported through Kanan on orders of Manneh who benefits from the revenue. Jabu Kataba beefed up its military presence in its forest, a step which contributed towards slowing down the depletion of the forest.

They equally sent a delegation to Kanan to hold an unannounced meeting with the tyrant to inform him of their readiness to shoot anyone they see illegally cutting trees in their country.

Of course, Manneh has found military indiscipline in Gaabu. Since the independence of that country, they have never had a president who served full term. They have experienced more coups than any country in the world.

But Manneh took their political misfortunes to an award-winning height, making a billion dollar business of it. He would use this money to increase his influence in the population, as part of his another agenda of his: to construct himself as the saviour of the black race.

In 2015, the Critical Intelligence Agency of Babylonia came after him, but they lost him by a meter. They got his General Buba but later released him. Buba served two masters and Babylonia was one of them. Manneh and Babylonia share many things in common. They now share the same drug business.

Gaabu is a strategic access route to the Western markets for drug traders and weapon smugglers. So the place became for Manneh a business and power center.

His control in the area would continue until his reign ended. He would be a vital power player, who also intervenes to negotiate whenever the security situation in the troubled country deteriorates due to violence among different factions. There everyone who cares about their lives listens to him including the president.

Meanwhile, his legitimate business agenda in the country has also done very well. Within a few years Manneh’s new companies sprung up all over the country.

Through other partners, most of whom are not Kananians with known connections to terrorists, he bought shares in public institutions. He owned power plants in the country, cloth factories, building and construction companies, banks, vegetable gardens, and even sand mining companies.

The dreams were being realized. This gave him complete control. He became not just the custodian of the state’s power but also its resources. 39

He who controls the flow of money controls the people. He has also used the ERD to make it a policy that the state, which in fact means him, will get 10% share in every business that is to be established in Kanan.

Meanwhile, in 2014 a parliamentary committee that probes public institutions in Kanan deliberately ignored his corrupt dealings when it came up during the appearance of the Kananian Central Bank.

An account of the Kananian energy company was found at the bank but with Manneh’s name as the account holder. This account should have been in the name of the public company.

When lawmakers asked who Manneh was, the bank responded “the President”.

The lawmakers should have made further inquiry as to why the account containing money belonging to the state energy company was being held at the Central Bank in Manneh’s name, but they ignored it.

Everyone knew the consequences of daring the tyrant. Not only is he ruthless but there is a law in the Kananian constitution that he enacted that gives him the power to sack lawmakers. He just has to fire you from the party.

Meanwhile, Manneh, the patron in chief, was giving people millions. This has made campaigning against him very difficult. People have gotten used to bribery and cheaper living. He rewards laziness and praises of his might and presidency.

A few years on, he could go about telling people, “if you vote for opposition, what will they do for you?” Quite a convenient excuse for a man who owns his country thanks to dictaconomics.

Also complementing the monetary gains from drugs and fraudulent investments were his vegetables and other businesses—but particularly the vegetable business.

Manneh would own gardens across the country where he encouraged slave labour and competed with women vegetable traders.

Each year, people would go there to work for him for free. His reward would be to cook for them a famous Kananian dishes, Benechin or Domoda. During harvest seasons, women sell their produce at give-away prices to compete him. This has led to serious revenue loss for gardeners.

And because he was in every business, he could reduce the price of his company products, and people give him credit for that. His tax free businesses could afford to reduce prices, and the praise goes to him.

When inflation in the country went to unacceptable levels, he would reduce the prices of his products, and people would praise him and his businesses and curse his competitors.

Another layer of his character was being fulfilled: “the benevolent dictator”. 40

Due to such cheap publicity for his businesses, some of his competitors dropped along the way. They could not compete with a man who is not paying taxes and has all the advantages of the state on his side.

An excerpt from Mustapha K Darboe’s eBbook, Playbook of a Tyrant. The book satirized the tale of Gambia’s brutal dictatorship under former leader Yahya Jammeh. You can purchase Playbook of a Tyrant on Amazon, Kobo, Lulu, ITunes etc.  

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