MAGA America? Oh Well. LOL
In Yorùbá, a language spoken by about 30 million people mostly in Nigeria but elsewhere around the world, the word múgùn has quite a mischievous connotation. It means “fool”, but when broken down to component morphemes [mú-gùn], it means something like “(someone) to ride about, like an ass”.
It is one of those words hard to successfully translate without using too many words. But if someone successfully convinces me to part with $50 with the promise of getting $100 in an hour, and then disappears, I’ve become his múgùn. He rolled me over.
In Nigerian pidgin, the word eventually came to be written as mugu, but with the same meaning: A fool. An idiot. Someone easily duped. A victim of a transparent or elaborate con.
Sometimes in the early 2000s, at the height of the internet scam generation, when jobless young people used their talents and the newfound efficiency of the internet to trick and dupe people from around the world for thousands of dollars, the word came back into currency, but under another different mutation. Because múgùn was language-specific and mugu was already commonplace enough to be detected when used to describe the victim of one’s mean manipulation, another one had to be coined.
That word was maga.
It means nothing in itself. It couldn’t be broken down to component parts because it didn’t belong to any language. It was just a small, smart, and apt expression that described a specific victim: an online fool who has parted with his/her money and/or emotions for the promise of millions or the promise of a relationship with a prince across the ocean.
This music video from 2008, titled Maga Don Pay (meaning “the maga has paid up”) illustrates the term much better. You should listen to it and watch the video.
So intense was the public disapproval of the popularity of the song — after all, why should this be the type of songs young people listen to if we expect them to grow up to be hardworking and decent citizens, etc — that Microsoft and a couple of civil society organisations commissioned a few professional young Nigerians to create a counter effort, also through song, to checkmate the influence of the earlier one. This one was titled Maga No Need Pay (meaning “the maga doesn’t have to pay”). In the rebuttal video, also on YouTube, many of the young professionals took turns saying what they’d rather do than spend their time scamming other people online. Also a catchy song. It caught on for a bit.
[The so-called “Nigerian scam” or “Nigerian Prince scam” did not originate in Nigeria, nor has it been limited to Nigeria in its reach, but for the purpose of this write-up, let us acknowledge the part that it played in the youth economy of the late 90s and early 2000s. I have written more about my contact with that practice here.]
And so, this brings us to 2015/16. When Donald Trump began his campaign for president after descending the escalator at Trump Towers, one of the first things he did was unveil his campaign logo, which plagiarized the one from Ronald Reagan’s campaign of 1980 (“Let’s Make America Great Again”). He called his “new” slogan “Make America Great Again”.
Believe me when I tell you, America, that I had wanted to write this piece since then. I’d wanted to call your attention to the origin of the word in Yorùbá; to alert you, my American friends and family, of the impending scam you would not see if you didn’t parse the slogan down to its etymology. I wanted it to be my public service.
But I didn’t. I was busy. I also didn’t have the words as I was also astounded by the success of the man whom I’d thought would fail so early. After all, this was a country that voted for Obama twice. It would not send him off with the man who had questioned his citizenship at some point, and gotten disgraced for it.
Pardon the lateness, America. Better late than ever, so here I am.
Now that he has won, and ready to be sworn in, and since all the expected drama that has attended his pre-inauguration has shown that something is wrong somewhere, I have been thinking about this acronym again and about how perfect it seems now in retrospect. Trump found his maga earlier on, in the press, in his supporters, and in the American people. And like the internet scammer, he did it with promises and bluster.
He also doesn’t have any plans to fulfill any of these promises. And as soon as he got what he wanted, just like the Brexit guys (at least they chose a sexier name), he reneged on many of his promises. The maga here is the country, and all of us. Like victims of an internet scam, there is little recourse. He will not make the country great — as everyone now knows — but he sure will enjoy the coming four years more than any Nigerian Prince could ever dream.
He has also stolen our lovely word (though we’d probably just let him have it). The maga paid up after all. Let’s shout hallelujah!