Kalaki’s Korner: Ukwa and the Road Gang

The Queen was already at breakfast by the time King Ukwa came downstairs. ‘Are you feeling alright dear?’ she asked. ‘Your face looks a bit puffy. Better take your pills before you forget.’

‘Yes dear,’ he said grumpily. ‘Doctor knows best.’

‘I see from this morning’s paper that you’ve been enjoying yourself inspecting the new road to Nowhere. But what’s the point of a new road to Nowhere?’

‘I’ve explained it all before,’ he said wearily. ‘If I build a road to Nowhere then it will become Somewhere. Nobody wants to go Nowhere but everybody likes to go Somewhere. They’ll be big lorries going up and down everyday. Buses all the time. That’s what we mean by development.’

‘All you’ll do is to spread HIV up and down the road. There won’t be a virgin left in Tongaland.’

‘There’s never been any virgins in Tongaland,’ he growled.

‘Anyway, dear, I’m so glad you took my advice and appointed yourself Minister of Roads. It has provided the opportunity for you to get out of the palace. I still remember how you used to enjoy yourself when you were a minister and man of action. Of course you were younger in those days.’

‘I am still a man of action,’ he growled.

‘Yes dear,’ she said. ‘But you needed to get a bit of fresh air. It’s no good just spending all your time at the microphone every day, hiring and firing people, or just giving them a reshuffle. Anyway, after hiring and firing the same people three times over, you were getting bored. Now this new job of looking at roads every day, it gives you a sense of purpose, and even a bit of exercise.’

‘Yes doctor,’ he growled.

She picked up the newspaper and waved it at him. ‘But in this picture, I’m not sure that you really were inspecting a road. As far as I can see you’re just standing in the middle of the bush, scowling at three Chinese gentlemen who are sitting on a log drinking mugs of tea.’

‘It would be better, my dear,’ he grunted, ‘if you were to look after my little box of pills, and leave me to look after the entire country.’

‘Yes dear, you’re quite right. But even so, I do know the difference between the middle of the road and the middle of the forest. All I can see in this picture are trees.’

‘This may come as a shock to you, my dear, but if you want to build a road through a forest, you first have to cut down the trees.’

‘Don’t get annoyed dear, I was only asking because in this picture I can see only three men and three hundred trees. I mean, where are the lumberjacks and foresters to cut down the trees and where are the lorries to carry them away?’

‘The lorries aren’t there because we haven’t built the road!’ he snapped, banging the table and squashing his pill box.

‘Don’t get angry dear, you know what it does to your blood pressure. I was only asking because I thought I should see hundreds of men with axes. You do remember that you promised to create millions of new jobs? So why haven’t you employed thousands of people to cut down these trees? People are saying that, in the whole year you’ve created only fifteen new jobs, and that was for fifteen additional deputy ministers.’

‘Look,’ he growled, ‘nowadays trees are cleared with two huge bulldozers pulling a massive steel chain in between them. Axes and saws went out with bows and arrows!’

‘But darling, I was just asking,’ she said, pointing again to the picture, ‘because I can’t see any bulldozers either.’

‘We’re waiting for the bulldozers to arrive from China,’ he shouted in exasperation. ‘They’re still being manufactured.’

‘But perhaps later,’ she persisted, ‘then you’ll be able to employ thousands of people to level the road?’

‘Certainly not! We’re using road graders!’

‘But you’ll employ labourers to make the drainage and culverts?’

‘Certainly not! We’re importing six front loaders!’

‘But you’ll still need lots of labour for crushing the stones and digging the gravel?’

‘You know nothing about this!’ he shouted angrily. ‘We shall use a Symonds Cone Crushers and an MBE!’

‘An MBE? What is an MBE!’

‘You see! You know nothing! An MBE is a Mechanical Bucket Excavator!’

‘Instead of creating a thousand jobs, you’re buying an excavator?’

‘You understand nothing,’ he sighed. ‘An MBE is much more cost effective. It doesn’t take time off for funerals. It works 24 hours a day and never goes on strike!’

‘So you’re road is going to going to employ only a few machines and a handful of Chinese operators! You’re not creating a single job!’

‘What nonsense you talk,’ he sneered. ‘Even as we sit here, there are thousands of people in Shanghai being employed to make these machines!’

‘An MBE may never go on strike,’ she said gently. ‘But it will never vote for you.’

‘And even better,’ he shouted, ‘it will never need a doctor!’

‘As your doctor,’ she said seriously, ‘I think you need a break, you’re over-stressed. It’s time you went to look for some more investors. I have decided to send you to America for ninety days!’

‘Oh goodee,’ he said, brightening up. ‘But America is a very mighty big place for such a difficult task. D’you think ninety days will be enough?’

‘Oh yes,’ she laughed. ‘It’s amazing what a man of action can do in ninety days!’

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