Saturday, January 19, 2019

If it can happen to Laurent, it can happen to anyone: how do I avoid an embarrassing end?

Neelika Jayawardane (who is very smart) blogged about us on Africa is a Country. Yes, Neelika, we do answer the crucial questions. She includes that photograph of Laurent Gbagbo. You know the one. Laurent let us down that day, wearing that shirt. Ex Africa semper aliquid novi. He does look very sheepish about it. (His wife looks very I-told-you-so.) And it reminded me that being deposed can be very embarrassing.

The ancient Romans did a lot of deposing, and it was often embarrassing. For instance, everyone remembers Nero and the fire (he didn’t fiddle, by the way, and did help clean up afterwards), but not many remember that he killed himself after being a real prima donna:

… he called for a gladiator or anyone else adept with a sword to kill him, no one appeared. He cried “Have I neither friend nor foe?” and ran out as if to throw himself into the Tiber. … Nero ordered [his servants] to dig a grave for him. As it was being prepared, he said again and again “What an artist dies in me!”. … Nero prepared himself for suicide. Losing his nerve, he first begged for one of his companions to set an example by first killing himself.

That’s what Wikipedia says. He eventually stuck a knife in his neck, without needing a servant to show him how. What a fiasco. But if you think that’s bad, the next three emperors only lasted a few months each, and also met embarrassing ends. And because they didn’t reign for long enough to notch up any real achievements (like burning down the city), that embarrassment sticks.

Nero’s successor Galba got too greedy too fast, didn’t pay the soldiers who’d supported him, and lost all his friends. He went looking for some in the Forum, which was like Facebook for Romans. But everyone had sort of defriended him, and his own bodyguards finished him off. The next emperor, Otho, had no reputation as a tough guy, so when Vitellius and his uber-soldiers headed his way, he tried to set Vitellius up with his daughter. Ick. What a noob. Otho stabbed himself in the heart, trying to be all holier-than-thou. Vitellius then spent all the country’s money partying – literally, all the money – then borrowed more, and killed anyone who tried to ask for their cash back. He was offed by Vespasian, who finally brought some dignity back to Roman dictatorship. All that happened in one year.

What can we learn from that? Planning your dictatorship is not unlike peons life-planning for retirement:

  • Use a trustworthy financial adviser, and include death-and-disability insurance.
  • Always wear something nice.
  • Notch up real achievements that people will prefer to remember.
  • Don’t try to set up your daughter with your arch-enemy.
  • Be nice to your friends.

Tick all the boxes, chimps, even the boring ones.



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