Government by Magic Spell by Saida Hagi-Dirie-Herzim is from the Anthology: Contemporary African Short Stories edited by Chinua Achebe and C L Innes.
‘The anthology captures the diversity of African writing from across the continent, drawing together well-established authors and the best of new writers. From the harsh realities of South Africa, elegantly described by Nobel Peace Winner Nadine Gordimer, to the fantastic world of Booker Prize winner Ben Okri, from the magic realism of Mia Couto to the surreal world of Ghanaian Kojo Laing, the editors have distilled the essence of contemporary African writing. Blending the supernatural and the secular, the market place and the shrine, this anthology gives the reader a taste of the full range of African literary styles’ (Blurb)
At age ten, Halima learns that she is possessed by a jinni. Having been ill for some time, the local spiritual leader, the Wadaad, finally diagnoses her sickness as possession by the spirit of an infant jinni, whom Halima inadvertently step on one night. A benevolent jinni, it intends Halima no harm but has rather come to stay and will never leave her.
In Government by Magic Spell Saida Hagi Dirie-Herzim tells the story of a superstitious people whose beliefs are so deep-seated and woven thickly into the moral fabric of the society that it cuts across the governmental and political divide, exposing corrupt, greedy and nepotistic practices that thrive on the hallucinating ignorance and gullibility of Halima. But is Halima really ignorant?
When it is ‘prophesised’ that Halima is possessed, she is perplexed and confused, but soon, basking in the attention and reverence shown her for being special, a situation that arises chiefly as a result of the need of the villagers to cling to a ‘saviour’, she believes the part.
‘Before long Halima began to act the part. At times she would sit staring into space. People assumed that she was listening to her jinni. Or she would actually go into a trance. She would talk though no one was there to talk to. She would shout at the top of her voice and sometimes she would even cry. Those whom witnessed these scenes were filled with holy dread’……..P 94
In need of a saviour to deliver them out of poverty and ignorance, the villagers get their wish in Halima. When the government, rife with nepotism sends her to the city, Halima now has her work cut out for her. Cunning, she plays on the superstition and greed of the politicians, who are her kinsmen, thereby controlling them to do her bidding. In return the politicians thrive and grow more greedy, rich and corrupt thanks to Halima’s charms. Those bold enough to ask questions are silenced by her spells. This is typical of oppressive governments everywhere that suppress their critics and broods no dissenting view.
‘One of the effects of Tahleel was to cure people of curiosity. Those who drank it stopped asking questions.’ P 98
Through magical realism and superstition, the author highlights topical issues that are the bane of modern governments with particular reference to Africa even now.
Government by Magic Spell is a six-page easy and enjoyable read, well written in episodic style with a conclusive ending. One is not left to wander what next? At the end, Halima continues to govern through her greedy government officials using her magic. The author seems to be saying that unless Africa moves out of this superstitious doldrums, she is doomed.
‘As for the rest of the nation, they are mostly struggling to make ends meet, something that is becoming more difficult. And if there should be a few that might have time and energy left to start asking questions, Halima’s Tahleel and other forms of magic take care of them.’ P 99
About the author: Saida Hagi-Dirie-Herzim is a Somali national who was born in Mogadishu. She has a BA in English from King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and a Master’s degree in teaching English from American University in Cairo. She is married and has four children, two boys and two girls. She is currently teaching English at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah