Published November 1989
Pickwick Books, London
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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.