The Man Who Was Thursday Msigwa

As admirers of the writing and intellect of Dr. Anthony Daniels aka Theodore Dalrymple, we pride ourselves on our knowledge of the man’s work. So imagine our surprise, to say nothing of the blow to our egos, when we discovered a book, written by him over twenty years ago, that was formerly completely unknown to us. In 1989, Daniels published a satire called Filosofa’s Republic under the name Thursday Msigwa, described on the book jacket as “the pen-name of   who says in a letter to the publisher that ‘biographical details interfere with the proper estimate of an author’s work,’ and added that disclosure was in any case impolitic for him in his present country of residence.” Yes, that is a blank where the name “Anthony Daniels” should be. At the time of the book’s publication, Daniels was still covering African politics for the Spectator under another pseudonym, Edward Theberton, and all of this mystery was necessitated by Daniels’ criticisms, both in this book and in the Spectator, of African political leaders who did not receive criticism warmly.

The “filosofa” in question here is “His Excellency The Brother-President of The United Democratic Human Mutualist Republic of Ngombia Filosofa Dr. Cicero B. Nyayaya”, clearly a satire on Julius Nyerere, the President of Tanzania during much of the time that Daniels lived there and who referred to himself as mwalimu or teacher. Where Nyerere had his Arusha Declaration, Nyayaya has his Harisha Declaration. Like Nyerere, Filosofa implements a rigid political structure designed to provide control at the most granular level possible. He calls it “The Law of Eights”, and it requires that “every eighth household should be represented [meaning, monitored] by a Party member”, eight of whom report to a higher-ranking Party member, and so on. Also like Nyerere, Filosofa promotes a political theory (“Human Mutualism”) that, while claiming to be “neither communist nor anticommunist, but simply the expression in the African context of the highest ideals of Man”, nevertheless embraces all the hallmarks of communism: collectivized farming, forced equality and one-party rule.

If the internal contradictions inherent in Filosofa’s ridiculously long title haven’t already betrayed any claim of devotion to equality, then surely the nature of his political hierarchy does so. But while Filosofa’s politics might suggest menace and hardship, what actually results is irrelevance and futility. Daniels divides the book into chapters that begin with one of Filosofa’s maxims and end with a vignette from daily life in fictional Ngombia (based on Daniels’ own experiences in Tanzania) that shows that maxim to be completely ineffectual against the tide of local culture. Filosofa’s promises of justice are juxtaposed with scenes of backroom judicial corruption, and his calls for “a new kind of Man” are shown to be helpless against normal human vice. But Daniels isn’t criticising communism alone. He also demonstrates the inability of religious missionaries (both African and European) to change people’s behavior, and he therefore seems to suggest that foreign ideas of all kinds find it hard to take root in African soil.

His argument is serious, but his heart is light. Daniels clearly has great fondness for the people he met in Africa and enjoys telling these stories. Although this is officially a work of fictional storytelling (his only one), it reads much like his travel books, and to an avid reader of his work, Anthony Daniels the sincere travel writer sometimes seems to poke through the satire. This complicates the work’s already complex provenance. The story is told in the first-person by a narrator who is a white, English accountant, but Daniels chose an African pseudonym. The book jacket says “Thursday Msigwa… [writes] through the eyes of a white visitor to Ngombia”, so is Anthony Daniels writing as an African who is writing a fictional satire as a white Englishman?

It doesn’t matter. The characters are too likeable, the stories too charming and the point made too well for the reader to care.

36 thoughts on “The Man Who Was Thursday Msigwa

  1. Dan Collins

    “Although this is officially a work of fictional storytelling (his only one)”

    Actually, Steve, he also wrote a satirical novella on serial killing, ‘So Little Done’, and has just written for us a further satire on the health and safety culture (‘The Examined Life’). We’re publishing The Examined Life later this year, with So Little Done appended as a giveaway.
    best
    Dan
    PS London-based Dalrymplites – we still have a very small number of tickets for this coming Tuesday’s event in Chelsea.

    Reply
  2. Steve

    I was trying to distinguish it from “So Little Done”, which is fictional but doesn’t really have a plot or a story per se. Exciting to hear about the new work. Satire is a form that serves him well, and there certainly seem to be many worthy targets nowadays.

    Sounds like you should have a great turnout on Tuesday.

    Reply
  3. Jonathan Levy

    Forgive me for asking, but is it known for certain that this is a work of Dalrymple’s? The amazon page does not provide any details at all. Could you please tell us how you discovered this work?

    Also – any chance of a summary of the event on Tuesday later this week? I really wish I be there myself, but unfortunately it’s not possible.

    Thanks…

    Reply
  4. Steve

    Certainly a fair question, Jonathan. We discovered it from the introduction to a speech he gave in 2004 (which we will post soon), and we confirmed it from the line at the bottom of a Daily Mail piece from 1999. Also, some of the stories in the book are clearly drawn from experiences he mentioned in the speech and elsewhere. We considered asking him about it, but we don’t want to inundate him with questions too frequently.

    I believe Dan Collins is going to record the event on Tuesday and send it to us for posting here. I will see if he (or someone) can provide a summary a day or two after. I wish I could be there, too.

    Reply
  5. Jonathan Levy

    Thanks for the explanation, and the link – that article was new to me. Guess I’ll head off to amazon to see if I can get myself a copy 🙂

    Reply
  6. online keno

    I really like the Dan Collins comment. I am tired of struggling to find relevant and intelligent commentary on this subject. Everyone nowadays goes
    to the very far extremes to either drive home their viewpoint of that everybody else in the globe is wrong. Thanks for your consise and relevant insight.

    Reply
  7. Emma High

    What an interesting persona Dr Anthony Daniels projects! He has to date published 20 books that were mostly motivated by his experiences in Africa and the UK. His philosophical passion for culture, education, politics and art was portrayed throughout his work. Daniels also has his family ancestry that is as socially complex as the clients he worked with in both The UK and Africa, hence the broad content that he has covered in the books written to date. Although the Filosofa’s Republic is a work of fiction, the content resembles a close liking to his own work contact, life experiences and personal zeal with social justice and human behaviors. In order to comprehend why Dr Daniels chose to publish some, but not all of his books with a pseudo name, we must consider his own family circumstances and the specific generation of each publication! When we question the politics of the time, his own family history and professional position, it may shed some light to why such lengths took place to disguise his actual identity.

    Reply
  8. Rod Glass

    Another great example of the passion and mtivation that exsists around the world. As usual, The Skeptical Doctor describes his subject with such light and hope that increases the integrity of his editorials.

    Reply

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