A selected excerpt from Walé Oyéjidé's forthcoming novel, "No Coffin for Head of State."
"The Last Depression was not caused by the speculative witchcraft of those investors and mad bankers who were later hung on Wall Street. The resulting dustbowl where New York City used to be was not the aftermath of a nuclear war with the United States’ rivals in the East. And the final plea for help from a tearful American president, broadcast all over the world while his country was on its knees, was not the last humiliation to be suffered by the former empire in the once-developed world.
Centuries after the slave trade, African children with laptops and a single pair of shoes now owned the billion dollar portfolios of magnates whose generational wealth was amassed on the backs of men bought from auction blocks. Decades after torrential oil spills unapologetically washed away entire communities in the Niger Delta, American families now stepped out of their gasless vehicles and left them abandoned in the streets. Like the empty skyscrapers in which they had spent most of their working lives, their cars became discarded relics that were relinquished for nature to reclaim. Days after the dollar was devalued to junk status, international creditors turned their backs on the desperate requests for additional loans to prop up the American government. ATMs became as useless as antenna televisions, and what few bank notes anyone could find were quickly burned along with the refuse in houses that no longer had heat. Kind-hearted pop stars in West Africa performed charity concerts and implored the public to donate handsomely while thinking of “those poor starving children in Beverley Hills.” Young students from Nigeria begged their parents to let them travel abroad for the summer, so that they could help build houses in Ohio while updating their social media feeds with selfies of their altruistic efforts. And without haste, black missionaries flew to the front lines. While carrying food, blankets and supplies, these men and women of faith counseled the sick and starving; demanding that they proclaim themselves saved by the Orishas before receiving any help.
It started when a high-ranking member of the National Security Agency succumbed to a routine phishing scam sent by an unemployed group of 419 artisans lounging in a Lagos internet café. He was one of several men who had been taken by the image of a black-haired girl smiling from a sailboat in a remote Indonesian village. She was a single mother. She had made mistakes. And now, she needed a strong, discreet American--like the ones that she saw in Hollywood movies. It was a familiar score that any of the boys at the café could play with his eyes closed. In their own way, they were virtuoso composers conducting an orchestra of deception. As it turned out, they were more adept at reading human behavior than a head of one of America’s intelligence organizations. A few fake pictures later, the scammers had gained access to his personal email account. And within days, the entire agency was in the palms of their hands. The widowed Admiral Jefferson’s loneliness and weakness for Southeast Asian women would end up being the undoing of an entire nation. By the time the American government realized what had occurred, their global surveillance systems had been fully compromised, and more than half of the world’s stolen secrets had been disseminated into dusty hard drives all over West Africa. Birthdates, social security numbers, cell-phone records, and pornography web searches—the public exposure of all of this unknowingly collected data proved to be more devastating to Western society than the inbound deployment of foreign missile. On an ordinary morning, a million citizens in the developing world woke to find the keys to their financial freedom waiting in their inboxes. Almost immediately, the wholesale transfer of wealth began in earnest. In America, there were no jets to scramble. And there were no collateral innocents to eviscerate in targeted drone strikes. There was only the national horror of watching millions of bank account balances race downward to zero. Some of the people who stepped off their window ledges or walked purposefully into speeding traffic ended up being the lucky ones. They did not have to see what came next.
While debating in our libraries, our scholars would later call it the era of New Colonialism. At home, the terrorist employers of child suicide bombers and our equally savage federal regime sat down to break bread. Both sides agreed that it made little sense to war internally when the rest of the world had laid its neck bare on a platter. Our new head of state was soon seen on television shaking hands with the same men who had kidnapped his constituents’ children. Envoys from the world’s petroleum corporations were lined-up at the door of the president, as they always had been. But now, they came with empty hats in hand as they begged for favors without their usual bluster and bundles of bribery money. Although the middle-class was now more comfortable than it had ever been, the poor were still the poor. As we learned from our fair-skinned cousins across the sea, wealthy men grow wealthier still by depriving those who have less of what little scraps they scrape together while trying not to starve. With its newly found affluence, our country was on its way to becoming the most advanced nation in the world. But it was still run by backward men who could find no bottom to the depths they would sink or the mass graves they would dig. From my cot in the basement prison cell of a dictator who had deposed me from presidential office in Nigeria, I had a front-row seat to watch the unspooling of the end of the Western world. It was a wonderful time to barely be alive."