For the sake of good, effective and delivering governance, the Romans left behind a dictum: “Ubi Rex Cibum Est” –- literal meaning, “where the is (a) King, there is food.” Because for every positive there is a negative, we can also logically argue in good Latin: “Ubi cibum non est, Rex non est”—“where there is no food, there is no King.” Put otherwise, no king should claim the honour when subjects are short of food or the king’s status on the throne is directly proportional to the welfare of the ruled.
This phenomenon came to my mind when I read in the media, on one hand, that bakers across the board in Turkey were threatening to close factories due to government controls and, on the other, that the people cried foul about the high prices of bread. What a combination!
I imagined what could President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his ruling Justice and Development Party AKP, and allies feelings be about this development embroidered in non-yielding two-digit inflation rate and nose-diving value of the Lira to the dollar. In Africa we say “mkono mtupu haulambwi”, contextually translated, “an empty hand does not attract a welcome.” Children don’t come out to receive you if they know you don’t bring anything home.You are as good as not being there. Of course, this cannot be extended to a government because even a bad one is better than no government.
Stories abound in world history about the links between the food situation and leaders. Putting aside situations whereby food has been used as a weapon in war by cutting off all supply lines, food could mean anything from cooking banana (plantains) in my indigenous community to bread in the most of Europe or rice for the Chinese and Japanese — the staple diet.
Jews in the Torah condemned Moses for taking them from the land the Pharaoh to die of famine in the desert! Moses had to seek God’s intervention, who provided them with the famous manna. Jesus in the New Testament took time to provide food for the people following him on his preaching mission to the extent that his followers wanted to install him as their king. Again in Africa, we say “he who supports your stomach in the paramount.”
Europe, since the days of the French Revolution, has been through bread-related famine eras, about which all sorts of tales have been told. What is common about the tales is the lack of appreciation and understanding of the real situation on the ground by the people on the throne. Queens, in particular, have been recorded as suggesting impossible solutions even beyond the ability of the common citizen.
For example, you are free to believe or not believe the tale whether Queen Juliana of The Netherlands advised her people to switch to cakes after they complained of bread shortage! How can a person who cannot afford salted bread go in for a sweet cake? In Chinese history, there is an Emperor who, upon being presented with the problem of rice shortage, told his people to take special meat instead!
These tales notwithstanding, the truth remains that a ruler who fails to provide for his people is on the way out. To understand what is happening in Turkey now, one needs not go beyond the country’s borders. Excuse me a little. African indigenous knowledge observes that the case is as clear as that of a she goat –very little, if not nothing, to hide.
A dip into the country’s history suffices to explain what is standing at the Erdogan’s Palace gates. Since 1960, Turkey has been through seven coups d’état, the latest of which, in 2016, we have been assured was home-baked. Of the seven, the one that took place fifty years ago (1971) and which has gone down in history as a military memorandum type of coup fits in well with the current state of Turkish affairs.
At that time, Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel had lost his grip on power and was unable to deal with rising public disorder and political terrorism. Economic recession gave rise to street demonstrations, labour strikes and political assassinations. His Justice Party sailed in troubled waters, having a toll on its level of representation in parliament to the extent of paralyzing the legislative process.
Faced with defections, campus and street violence, the government was equally paralyzed and lost the capacity to pass any meaningful legislation on social and financial reform. Demirel was forced by the military to step down. Could history be repeating itself fifty years down the Turkey governance lane, now under President Erdogan?
Today, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) is equally sailing on rough waters. The parliament is Erdogan’s rubber stamp. The economy of the country is in shambles. Universities, schools, hospitals have been closed. Teachers, university dons, doctors and nurses have been sacked on Presidential decrees. The unlucky ones have been detained, arrested, prosecuted, jailed and persecuted. There have been purges in the army. Erdogan has even tried to appoint university heads of his own choice, leading to protest marches.
Turkey now conducts cross border abductions through its national intelligence system (MiT) whose international operations are planned by a committee chaired by Erdogan himself. The majority of victims of these operations at home and abroad are those taken to belong to Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric living in exile in the State of Pennsylvania in the U.S. Age, gender, health status don’t matter. There are children suffering from terminal cancer who have been denied opportunity to die with their parents on the bedside because the parents are serving jail terms for having links with Gulen.
To say the least, Turkey appears to be in a state of chaos. Ethically, the government has no principle. Socially, it is inconsiderate – no sympathy, empathy let alone. Politically, the ruling party has lost people’s trust. Economically, the Lira has plunged to the lowest low against the dollar. Now the people and investors have a bone to pick with the government over the bread! In the wake of all this, where do those in power claim legitimacy?
In the 1971 military memorandum coup, Prime Minister Demirel was given an ultimatum for “the formation, within the context of democratic principles, of a strong and credible government, which will neutralize the current anarchical situation and which, inspired by Atatürk’s views, will implement the reformist laws envisaged by the constitution”, putting an end to the “anarchy, fratricidal strife, and social and economic unrest”.
Toda’s Turkey is in dire need for another sort of change — maybe this time in the form of a “people’s memorandum coup”. What justification does the king have to cling to the throne when subjects have nothing to eat? Where there is King, there is food.