Putting a premium on sovereignty
We saw them walking up the street holding hands, waving in the air while shouting something. It was only when they came close that we recognised who they were and heard what they were shouting. The taller, darker fellow wearing a hat was Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, and the other - shorter, light-skinned and bald as a monkey’s bum – was Omar al-Bashir of Sudan.
Both had been to our village on earlier visits, Goodluck using his time to teach us hat games, hat fashion and hat tricks, and only peripherally referring to his governance responsibilities. His companion had paid us a visit while in the company of Salva Kiir, his South Sudanese counterpart. The two Sudanese had spent the time with us falling out and making up, this activity seeming to be an essential component of their foreign policy. The content of Jonathan’s and Bashir’s shouting revolved around the need for solidarity among African heads of state as a means of protecting African sovereignty from foreign interference .
When they came level with us, they greeted us heartily before resuming their happy journey towards Old Nyati’s house. We, curious about the purpose of the return visit, followed at a discreet distance. They greeted the village sage heartily, and after each gulping copious amounts of beverage - palm wine for Goodluck and herbal tea for Bashir - announced that the reason for the visit was to think of a response to criticism of Bashir’s visit to Nigeria.
“These foreigners,” ventilated the bald man, “think they can hold us hostage to their interests”. “Indeed,” chipped in the hatted gentleman. Then holding hands, they raised their free hands in the air and sang the first verse of the AU anthem. Then, without warning, they transitioned into a corruption of a popular Nigerian Afro-Beat song. Dancing uncertainly, they sang: “When you touch a single African head of state, we go say we be sovereign, oh!”
This performance would have ended on a high note, had not Bashir tripped on his own ungainliness and fallen flat on his huge belly. Goodluck helped his disgraced dancing partner to his feet, trying - with equivocal results - to smother a few sniggers. But Bashir was nothing if not resilient, and after dusting himself up, resumed his repertoire and dance with even more off-key gusto and more robust awkwardness.
On the days that followed, we observed the duo as they went about accomplishing their mission. For most of the day, Bashir chose to do his thinking while reclined on the hammock, while Goodluck accomplished his while practicing a few hat tricks, trying out new ways of wearing a hat. “Look,” Goodluck told me one evening after a catwalk by village maidens featuring hats, “there are uncountable ways of wearing a hat.” As it was during his previous visit, the Nigerian president continued enjoying his evenings of fashion and games.
On another occasion, after watching a new hat game, I asked the president how his mission was progressing. He seemed taken aback by the question. “Oh, that mission,” he said eventually, “well , we have decided to respond by saying that it is our sovereign right to invite whomever we choose… Africa is free from colonialism.”
I glanced at the hammock where Bashir was beginning to stir.
“Are you not concerned,” I pursued, “about the crimes he has been accused of… causing the deaths of thousands in Darfur?”
“We do not interfere in the internal affairs of AU member countries,” offered Goodluck.
“Even if, sir,” I persisted, “those affairs involve the killing of your own people?”
“Exactly,” replied Goodluck, “as long as it is your own people and not your neighbouring country’s.”
I wanted to pursue the subject, but I realised that Bashir had climbed down from the hammock and was walking towards us. He sat next to his friend and drowsily told us about the dream that had awakened him.
“I was running,” he told us, “from a demon called Irene Catherine Cathilda, but no matter how hard I tried, my legs refused to move faster. ICC was closing in. I called Goodluck, Mwai Kibaki, Yoweri Museveni and Robert Mugabe for help, but as they came to my rescue, ICC grabbed my hands and started leading me away. I tried the magic words given to me by an AU priest, ‘I’m sovereign’, but the demon’s hands only tightened around my wrists. Then with one Herculean effort, I yanked my hands away and woke up.”
Bashir surveyed the space around him, exhausted. Goodluck readjusted his hat so that it now covered his eyes. The night around us surveyed us calmly.