Ordinia, tis of thee

Sweet land of a different kind of liberty

The country does not exist, never has, and never will. Let us describe it nonetheless.

It was set up in central Africa in late 1993. It was not large; a 1000km each way. Reasonably fertile, it contained a number of fairly ordinary town and many villages linked by the usual African roads and a rickety railway line or two. For some reason the entire area had suddenly been deserted one morning by its inhabitants, though what they left behind was in acceptable order.

The question arose: what was to be done with these 1M empty square kilometers. The answer came from a committee – soon to be nicknamed the Unthinkables – of well known Europeans, Chinese and a number of Africans, who preferred to remain anonymous. A minority – Americans, Indians and citizens of the self proclaimed Liberal Republic of Hampstead in north London – were hostile, but were over-ruled.

The answer was simple. Set up a new country, and announce that any citizen of Africa who wanted to live there would be transported – by truck, in some discomfort – to a place in it tolerably like the one he had left. If a whole village wanted to go, its people could be resettled as such. Anyone could bring his household belongs and tools. Farmers would get as much land as they left behind. Those with other jobs would be offered equivalent new ones. The unemployed would have to look for work.

Only two guarantees were offered. No self-government above village level, no votes, controlled media and only a crude, swift lawyerless system of justice. No foreign aid either. All administration would be conducted by competent, unimaginative, unsympathetic citizens of the little known Swiss canton of Ordnungszell. That was one guarantee. The other was even simpler. No elite guards, no corrupt or racist police (Maoris were chosen), no ex-soldiers, no drug smugglers, no gunmen. No guns indeed, except in the hands of a small army recruited from the Gurkhas of Nepal. In a word: order.

What was the new country to be called? Colonia, suggested the minority on the committee caustically. No, said the Eurasiafrican majority. The land was empty; and all its inhabitants would be there by choice. Instead they picked Ordinia.

If you don’t like it, stay away

What happened next, we don’t know. The birth of the country cannot have been easy. “Paternalist” was the mildest adjective used by its critics. A clear majority of all Africans with even three years of secondary education told pollsters it was racist conspiracy. Classes in PC-consciousness all over America denounced it with computer graphics and the analysis “Hell, no, we won’t go”. Britain’s House of Lords unanimously voted it anti-democratic. The United Nations – not, presumably, for this reason – refused it membership. The founding fathers remained unmoved. Noone had even asked America’s students to go, they pointed out, and no African would be forced to. Anyone on that continent who preferred a different way of life (or death) was absolutely free to stay away.

Beyond that, though, history is silent. We can only pose two questions. After five years, how many inhabitants did Ordinaria have? And how many were left in the rest of Africa?

The Economist September 4th 1993, p.20; sadly not online.

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