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Subsidy bugbear and other Esusu fables

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Tatalo Alamu

This is not an Aesopian fable.  May God bless the soul of Aesop, former Greek slave, great philosopher and moral genius. But because human beings are the same everywhere, certain ancient morality tales often take on a universal resonance.

Among the Yoruba, esusu describes a traditional African system of economic cooperation, an informal banking network in which individuals contribute in order to harvest substantial loans for investment in some capital project which would have proved impossible without a massive injection of capital.

The beauty of it all is that it goes round seamlessly without any defaulter or weak link. But once upon a time, an ancient community decided to involve the ruling monarch and the crown prince in the esusu system. Naturally, the king took the first slot followed by the crown prince. Thereafter, the esusu collector maintained a stony silence.

All pleas to him to rotate the collection met with glum nods and heavy grunts. The affronted villagers then decided to take the matter before the village sage who expressed disbelief at their naivety:

“You should never have involved the king in this commoners’ business”, the ancient magus began. “You want to desecrate the crown by making his royal majesty to eat in public? You see in any esusu system involving royalty, “once the king takes and the crown prince takes then esusu is finished”.

Can any ancient philosopher out there tell us the true import of this? When we put the question to an old colleague, an implacable Marxist dialectician who had taken a vow of silence in opposition to developments in the country, he was as withering as he was dismissive: “What the old guy is telling you funny jokers is that you cannot mix modes of production. The king is a product of old feudalism. What those esusu fellows were doing is rudimentary capitalism. You cannot put people with the mind set of feudal predators in charge of a modernizing economy, period.”a

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