[this piece tries to capture the atmosphere of mistrust, back stabbing and political horse-trading that characterized relations during the ‘third democracy’ (1986-89) between Saddiq al-Mahdi of the Umma Party and his junior coalition partner Mohamed Othman al-Merqani’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sadiq’s brother-in-law the wily Hassan al-Turabi leader of National Islamic Front (NIF). At the time of writing Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi was seeking a wider mandate to allow him to govern more effectively]
Something very serious must have happened to my mandate. For no reason at all, it suddenly stopped functioning. I checked the electric wires and all the other connections. But they all seemed to be in perfect order. I still thought it would be no big sweat to fix it. It had malfunctioned twice last year but somehow I managed to patch it up. I could do the same this time. I got the-user’s manual and went through all the complicated circuits. I pressed a button here and a lever there but to no avail. The damned mandate just sat there blankly staring at me with the reels static and the executive lights unblinking. I tried to shift from manual to auto and from auto to manual. Nothing seemed to work.
Finally I decided to call the manager of the Department.of Useless Productions (DUP) who was the junior partner in my Coalition for Collision Enterprises unlimited. It took me s6me time to get him on the phone.
“Hello, M.O.M.” I said trying to sound cheerful, “sorry for bothering you at this time, but I seem to have a little problem with my mandate.”
He didn’t reply immediately and I knew he was thinking that I was thinking that he was thinking I was up to one of my tricks.
“You mean our mandate!” he retorted. I could see trouble brewing.
“Well, of course it is our mandate, M.O.M” I said soothingly, “after all we are old buddies, aren’t we? I mean what is yours is half mine and what is mine…” 1 caught myself in time before committing myself to a disastrous blunder and said correctly, “well, any way: the. Mandate isn’t functioning any more.”
“What have you done with it this time?” he asked in a very suspicious tone.
“Nothing really,” I said hastily’, “I was just processing my latest version of the transitional charter after running through the substitute September rituals when suddenly the mandate overheated and began emitting strange noises like the Koka Dam crowing of a cock. Then it went dead.”
“You haven’t been overloading the mandate by trying to erase the May Remnant’s symphony, have you?” he asked. The tone of suspicion in his voice had considerably sharpened.
”No. honest to God, M.O.M” 1 said, “I wouldn’t do a big job like that on such a fragile mandate, and, surely, not before checking with you first.”
“What do you propose to do?” he asked in a non-committed voice.
“Well,” I began, choosing my words carefully, “I think if I and you sit together to re-examine the mandate and perhaps do a little reshuffling of the connecting parts, we may get it to function again.”
“That won’t do,” he said with a finality that alarmed me, “we tried that twice before and it didn’t work. You always insisted on fixing it your own way.”
He was right, of course. But 1 couldn’t tell him that. Somehow I never acquired the habit of admitting that anyone else was right since it implied 1 was wrong. It was the way I was brought up, 1 suppose.
“Look M.O.M.”I suggested, “we can buy some new spare-parts instead of re-fixing the worn out ones.”
There was a long pause.
“That means going back to the manufacturers,” M.O.M. said slowly. I could imagine him grinning at the thought.
I knew I had a problem there. Not that there would be any shortages of spare-parts but the idea of getting hold of the manufacturers and bringing them together was enough to drive one crazy. No one had to remind me that their holding company was called the Constituent Assemblage of Absentees.
“If you go back to the manufacturers,” M.O.M was saying, “we will have to draw up a new memorandum of misunderstanding.”
That was typical of M.O.M. His unfounded trust in my intentions knew no boundaries.
“But how can we get them to form a quorum?” I remonstrated, my exasperation beginning to show.
“Perhaps” he suggested, “if you get your Finance Controller to order a new batch of Cresidas …”
“That won’t do,” l interrupted him, “they haven’t yet sold all the ones we have already distributed to them.”
There was another long pause. I could hear his mind racing up and down.
Finally he said: “Why don’t you organize for them AI-Zahara wedding festival?”
Instinctively, 1 realized that M.O.M. had come with an ingenious solution. He was being smarter than I usually gave him credit for.
“M.O.M,” I said trying to suppress my enthusiasm, “that’s really a very neat idea. I will take it up immediately.”
“Okay, you do that and keep in touch” he said. He paused and added pointedly as though he was reading my mind, “and don’t go around doing anything behind my back.”
I put down the receiver. What a wonderful idea. AI-Zahara wedding festival! Produced, directed and acted all by myself. No one would miss that. The Constituent Assemblage of Absentees would be conspicuous by their presence.
I looked at my mandate sitting idle on my desk. It looked old and useless and I hated it. Suddenly with a stroke of genius I knew exactly what I was going to do. Instead of asking for some spare-parts I would demand a brand new mandate.
Yes, that was it. A brand new mandate with new specifications. I wrote those down immediately. First, a higher voltage with at least a two-year guarantee; second, exclusive use by me alone; third, no questions asked as to how I used it.
I chuckled as I thought of poor MO.M. I would give anything in the world except, of course, my new mandate, to see the expression on his face when he discovers that I had double crossed him. I had him over a barrel, the silly old buffoon. He should have kept the idea of al-Zahara wedding festival to himself. I was jumping for joy up and down the office when there was a knock on the door. My secretary came in and said hesitantly: “Your brother-in-law is waiting to see you.”
“I don’t want to see him,” I said impatiently, “and you know we are not on speaking terms, so tell him to go away.”
“He said you would say that,” the secretary said timidly, “all he wants is to make the arrangement for al-Zahara wedding ceremony with you.”
I was struck dumb. That treacherous M.O.M.! The scheming bounder has lost no time in leaking my plans, and leaking them to my worst enemy. My brother-in-law indeed!
The secretary was looking inquiringly at me. “What shall do?” he asked, “he says his Holier-than-Thou company has exclusive and fundamentalist rights to all al-Zahara wedding ceremonies.”
Well, be damned. I sat down pondering over this unwelcome development. I looked at the broken down mandate. I knew I must have a new one and if having it meant striking a deal with my hated brother-in-law so be it. My principles were not that inflexible.
“Let him in,” I told the secretary.
And as my brother-in-law walked into the office, I was all smiles, spreading my arms to take him in a big hug.
“Come in · and welcome,” I found myself saying, “where have you been all these years my one and only trusted ‘adviser’ ….”
SUDAN TIMES Wednesday 30 March 1988