If this title rings a bell it is probably thanks to Gil Scot-Heron’s ’70s cult song, The Revolution will not be Televised – which was also the title of the documentary on the attempted coup against Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez in 2003. Yet, the current revolutions sweeping the Middle East and Africa seem to have no problem with television. Not only do the teeming streets confirm that this is a hands-on revolution, but this particular generation of revolutionaries seem particularly clued-up on the mass media: Arabic-speaking marchers carry English placards that – however unintelligible they may be to their own population – make television-sense to audiences of billions across the world. So the revolutions are indeed being televised…
But they must not be franchised.
A franchise is a safe way of getting into business. Sign the contract with McDonalds, DHL, Subway, Prontaprint or any of hundreds of thousands of successful brands and you can pick up a tested business model. The franchisor rolls out the know-how, the branding and the equipment. The franchisor trains the personnel, supplies operational manuals… and when the money starts flowing in, takes its fees upfront.
The appeal of a franchise is irresistible in a globalized world. Walk into a strange town and the familiarity of global franchises draws you in. The franchise model has even been applied to areas outside business products and services. There are social franchises like Germany’s CAP Markets that employ disabled staff. There are also event franchises like TED Talks, which take eclectic ideas on more than ‘Technology, Entertainment and Design’ across the world. In the realm of politics, franchises are also big business. Dictators with options on oil-producing – or otherwise strategic – countries can sign franchises with a superpower or the other. In return for military protection, UN Security Council veto services, Diplomacy PR services, revolution suppression, loot-laundry and similar services, the client dictator-franchisee guarantees military bases for its political franchisor and sweetheart deals for the franchisor’s corporations. The 1964 incident involving the pro-French Gabonese president, Leon Mba for instance was textbook quid pro quo for students of the political franchise model. Mba was transforming himself into a dictator when he was removed by a coup, but he was immediately restored by De Gaulle’s French troops.
But franchise fees are notoriously steep. Hardened businessmen have been known to shed tears during the monthly cheque-writing session for the franchise-fee-as-a-percentage-of-turnover. Little wonder why the public mood in Libya and elsewhere appears staunchly anti-foreign intervention. Despite the thousands that have died in Libya, despite the generous military hardware on standby to winkle Muammar Gaddafi out of his bunker with Saddamlike shock-and-awe, despite the tempting offers of a No-Fly Zone to protect the opposition from more bombs by their own airforce, the placards waved by the marchers are still defiant. They are happy to be televised alright, but they are clear on the point: No foreign intervention. No franchises. They want their countries back, but on their terms.
Currently there appears to be a glut of political franchisors offering their services to Libyans. The remnants of assets that have been looted and frittered over the past 40 years are suddenly being seized all over the world. In all this of course, political franchisors operate like banks: they offer their services most enthusiastically to those who don’t really need them. The bloodied monks for instance could have done with some foreign intervention when they stood up to their Burmese dictators. The forgotten people of North Korea can also do with every imaginative assistance to end their interminable political nightmare. And – rather than seizing loot that the citizens of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya are only weeks from recovering anyway, how about turning the searchlight on other dictators with a disconnect between lifestyle and legitimate bank balance. Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, for instance, is the son of the notorious dictator of Equatorial Guinea. He is said to have ordered plans to build a $380 million yacht, which would have been the second-most expensive in the world – second only to Abrahamovic’s Eclipse. On his salary of as agric minister it would take him 4,600 years to pay for the yacht, but it is unlikely he would have waited that long: a US Senate committee found out that he had laundered over $100 million into US investments alone. In the meantime he is in line to succeed his 68-year-old dictator father. Are their assets in danger of being seized by enlightened democracies and people-friendly governments up and down the world? Certainly not. Currently the Obiangs are the political franchisees of Equatorial Guinea and they are keeping their end of the bargain. E.G. has a billion barrels of proven petroleum reserves and is Africa’s 5th largest exporter. The country has been kept docile – not like Nigeria’s tinderbox delta; US companies are in the driving seat, and the US is the main market of the oil. All is well in Obiangland.