“All protocol observed!” bellowed the chairman, although none had actually been observed yet.
The Chamber of African Continental Clichés was called to order. Or, it would have been, but there was some kind of a shoving match going on between Rwanda and DRC, so the opening was postponed.
Anyway, the delegation from Ghana had yet to arrive. Neither had the Senegalese, the Congo-Congolese, or indeed the Gabonese.
Please be seated, observe the protocol and put on your boxing gloves for the annual general meeting of our continent’s most consistent clichés!
The South Africans were there on time, for once. They appeared to believe they were in charge of the conference. But there was some dispute over who was in charge of them.
The white guy seemed to think he was the boss, but a black gent had the Head of Delegation badge on and there was a coloured guy who was Head of Representation and an Indian lady called Head of Mission.
“I can get them to agree,” intimated a young man from the Mzansi team, “but I will need something to make it worth my while…”
The Kenyans and the Tanzanians at least, were on good terms. They had been shaking hands for the past five minutes.
Despite the shared dislike of colonialism, the pre-conference chat had quickly split along colonial lines, with the English, French, Portuguese and Arab speakers clustered together. Nary an African tongue was discernible.
Only the Ethiopians remained aloof. They’d never been conquered, unless you count that thing with the Italians. And it wasn’t like they were going to speak Italian. I mean, who would you speak it to? The Somalis? They didn’t appear to have made it to this conference.
Although there was talk of them taking possession of an American rubbish truck that had been dumping garbage outside their campsite. They were offering the Americans a bargain rate of $1 million to get it back.
Eventually all delegates were in the hall. Protocol was finally observed. Gifts were exchanged. Coffee and cake was shared by the Egyptians, Libyan and Tunisians, who were all looking a little bruised and disoriented for some reason. “Is spring over yet?” one of them was heard to ask.
Warm cocoa was more the style of the Cote d’Ivoire party, but they couldn’t seem to agree on who should be placing the order. An ugly disagreement developed.
This set off most of the West African delegates, who all soon became embroiled in the dispute.
Everybody else was too busy squabbling amongst themselves to intervene, so Swaziland got things rolling. They seconded whatever South Africa was about to propose, Lesotho and Namibia seconded that.
“Before we get to that,” suggested Nigeria, “we have a business opportunity we would like to present to South Africa. We propose that they come to Lagos to explore the opportunity.”
At this suggestion, the South Africans looked like they might faint. Luckily, another member of the Nigerian delegation interjected, accusing one of his countrymen of accepting a bribe during the investigation of an allegation of accepting a bribe.
South Africa cleared its throat, looked pompous for two seconds and then proudly fell on its face. It had tripped over its copy of the Mining Charter. The state and business reps got into a squabble about how to share the catered meal, while the workers’ representative dug around in his pockets for tea money.
Sudan and South Sudan lodged a complaint about being seated next to each other. Then a representative of an oil multinational went and sat with them and they seemed to calm down.
Kenya looked up from its laptop, then sidled over as well. During the build-up to the preliminaries, Kenya had set up free Wi-Fi, networked the entire conference and established a digital currency.
This piqued the interested of Zimbabwe. “We don’t have a currency,” they remarked. “Do you mind if we use yours?”
Mozambique struck up a conversation with the Angolan delegation, which had two members, one in an Armani suit, the other in a torn T-shirt.
The Mozambicans were both in T-shirts. They had to leave, because they were on their way to the South African delegation to check if perhaps their cousin had left any money for airtime.
South Africa was on the phone to Europe, but they quickly hung up when China arrived. In fact, everyone stopped what they were doing. Zambia appeared to twist its ankle while trying to decide whether to bow or shake hands.
Europe was on voicemail. Their message said your call is important to us. We will attend to your business as soon as we work out who exactly we are and how to save our banks from their own stupidity.
At this point everybody in the house began furiously bowing in the direction of the Chinese delegation. They had observer status and were seated just to the right of the chairman.
Two kilometres away, Madagascar, Somalia and Mauritania milled around in the lobby of a B&B, wondering when their invitations would arrive.
Back at the convention, the American team had begun indignantly complaining about being relegated to the back of the hall. They maintained that the Chinese were drinking all of the tea.
Namibia pointed out that it wasn’t so much the tea that was running out; there was a lack of water to put in the teapots. This drew immediate roars of agreement from Chad, Niger, Mali and all of Southern Africa.
Mauritius professed to have no idea what they were talking about. “Water’s the least of our problems. And does anybody need any sugar?”
There was an awkward moment as everybody reminded themselves that the Mauritians were in fact part of the convention, delegates to the glorious annual conference of the Chamber of African Continental Clichés!
Then the lights went out.