Sunday, May 8, 2011

Village politics

Village life sounds so idyllic. What's there not to like? You are close to nature, you have lots of wide open spaces, you get to know your neighbours well...

Aha, there's the rub. We like the village, villagers tell me, but not some of the people in it – principally the village heads.

Village heads have a lot of power and, if you have the bad luck of living somewhere ruled by a despot, he/she can turn your idyll into absolute hell. Some of them have a group of, shall we say, very "persuasive" men who do their bidding – which you will encounter if you don't do theirs.

Here's some examples:

1) One indigenous head refused to allow a woman who had been living in the village for more than 60 years to be buried in the community graveyard because she didn't have the right clan surname (which coincidentally was the same as his).

2) A village head charged a contractor thousands of dollars to park and unload materials in a piece of land where he had about 1/10th of a share.

3) There's no use saying you're staying out of the politics. One re-elected head took back land he had rented out to a tenant because that tenant had not voted for him in the elections. Never mind if the tenant hadn't voted for the opposition either.

4) And then there are the stories which occasionally make it to the newspapers of village heads hiding illegal goods/drugs, safe in the knowledge that no one would dare rat him out.

Why do these heads have so much power? If they're such bullies, why do people continue to vote them in?

Simple... the Small House Policy which gives all male indigenous inhabitants a piece of land to build a house when he turns 18. This is effectively a windfall for all male villagers, who build a house, then sell it off and make millions before they even start working.

And where do the village heads come in? Guess who signs that piece of paper certifying that so-and-so is an indigenous inhabitant and therefore is entitles to that land? Guess who can hint that an approval may not be forthcoming if he/she is not voted in at the next election?

Read more about village horrors here.

Even if you're an expat (ie have no vote for indigenous/residents head), don't forget you have to live there. So you may suddenly find it is "customary to pay a small fee" to, say, get your rooftop shed approved, park your car or place plants in your garden. There have also been suspicions of pet poisoning, renovation sabotage and garden desecrating which can't be proven.

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