The Business of Sustainable Development:
An African Forest Tale

An Ode to the Lorax


Jesse C. Ribot

Ribot 2005 Revised Version

Copyright 1997

Way back in the days of pre-colonial bliss

when primordial forests were covered with mist

wood-dwelling natives ate nuts, berries and bees

and picked monkey-bread pods from the baobab trees.

One glorious morning Abdou Jallow Njiaye

was harpooning dogfish and eating them fried

when he noted a speck sailing in from the sea.

It was Captain Lusitanious Frangelli McGee

with a flag, a cigar and a beard full of fleas.

Stepping out of his dingboat onto the beach

he cordially introduced himself with spect-perfluous speech.

He waved and he bowed and then he announced:

"Bark-dudalus Cronkus et Fribulous Sneess

by dint of my foot please give me a piece."

Then Abdou consulted friends, mothers and chiefs

offering the captain a well shaded seat

on the branch of a fruit-laden smorgasbord tree

with a vine for a foot rest and a cup of bark tea

a view of the village, the forest, and sea.

But, off sailed the captain waiving his hat

he was back in a fortnight with five boats at that.

McFilch and O'Pillage set up their camp

smack dab in the village by kerosene lamp.

Cousins Extracto and Bernard du Corvée

built rows of square houses in less than a day,

trading green widgets for fruits on long trays.

Extracto and Corvée soon started their work

when they pulled out hack-hackers, tree pluckers and yerks.

They were met eye to eye by incredulous chiefs

with oddball requests and illogical beefs.

"Please" said one chief with a sad twisted smile

"your hacking is stretching for over a mile.

These forests provide us with edible sap, and cow berry fruits;

not to mention the spirits that live in their roots."

"Never fear," barked McGee, "our work does no harm.

Its your very own cutting that's cause for alarm."

"Why cutting in chaos for your houses and fuel

wastes fine wood we could sell in ol' Liverpool.

If you keep using forests for your insatiable needs

how will we ever supply Europe with thneeds?"

"A thneed! Why a thneed is a thing with just so many uses!

It can serve as a coffin for great northern mooses.

It can serve as a bench or a box to hold sunff

or a stylish stand for a fine coffee cup.

"Can't you see" said McGee "I come with a vision.

We'll cut down the forests from here to Mount Mission.

We'll rotate them by decades and watch them grow back.

So there'll always be forests for continuous hack-hack."

"Sustainable-bility we'll call it" he said.

"There'll be eternal growth from now till we're dead.

The whole lovely thing will take place in straight lines

and its assured to work smoothly due to exorbitant fines."

"The best for the most and the most for the best--

mostly me, he then mumbled--and jobs for the rest...."

"Yes" spoke the chief, "I can see with your eyes.

Have you ever considered selling kola nut pies?

...or tradable permits for black clouds in the sky?"

"Your work leaves our village in a sea of new stumps

we don't even have places to hide rubbish dumps.

Our rains won't come without forests around

and your rotational methods drive our young out of town."

"We can't wait ten years for our trees to grow back.

We must cook our next meal on that wood that you hack.

We have bellies to fill and spirits to feed.

So please leave this place with your yerks in good speed."

"But if," quipped McGee, "you use trees just to survive

the thneeds of all nations will be cruelly deprived."

"Don't waste them for fodder or your daily fuel.

In the life of your nation play your role as a tool

for supporting the national good is the rule."

"Look! Here in the rulebook--which you must obey--

you have rights to the things that we don't take away.

But we can't take the wood without taking the trees

so you'll have to make due with the stumps and some seeds."

"You can grow village woodlots--eucalyptus or pines

we'll help you to manage them through incentives and fines.

If you want to participate please lend in a hand.

Do as we tell you and we'll tell you you can.

If you listen-look-learn and do as we say

even democratization will be on its way!"

"We must protect forests from people like you

so people with business will have business to do."

Abdou and the chiefs puzzled looks at each other

when they heard the wise voice of Abdou's first mother....

She said: "I can remember the last time you came.

You said something totally different but you did just the same."

"This time it is I who will outline the rules:

You must stop hogging access to markets and tools.

We will cut and sell forests just as we like

keeping smorgasbord trees and paths to ride bikes."

"The woods of my vision are a patchwork so fine

of trees giving lumber and rope-making vines:

We'll keep great stately egg-trees, and bee trees with honey.

We'll eat purple zump fruits, and sell some for money."

"When it's time for the harvest we'll dance the night through

eating berries and fruitcakes, we may even invite you."

*** THE END ***

ALTERNATIVE ENDING: 40 years later

Abdou and the chiefs puzzled looks at each other

when in rolled the Mercedes of Abdou’s minister-brother.

He said “hey there old chiefs I know it’s been tough,

but you won’t control land with this democracy stuff.

When the people have chosen, their reps. hold the land,

and it won’t be a tool in your traditional hand.

If it belongs to the people (and the people ain’t you),

you can’t allocate it for your inherited due.

If you can’t gain favor by distributing land

how can we use chiefs to strengthen our hand?

We must stop local voting and re-install you,

so us central controllers can dance the night through,

sipping fine gin and tonics with no need for a coup.”

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