The 'fables' of Kem Ley

Slain political analyst Kem Ley.
Slain political analyst Kem Ley. Eli Meixler

In the days before outspoken government critic Kem Ley was gunned down in what many have deemed a politically motivated act, he posted a number of satirical vignettes to his Facebook page.

The short stories, labeled “jokes”, are highly allegorical, in the tone of George Orwell’s dystopian Animal Farm.

They make reference to corruption and restriction of freedoms, as well as Global Witness’ damning report Hostile Takeover, which investigated the business empire of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s family members and was released the week before Ley’s death.

❖ On freedom
Fable 19, July 9 – The chicken said: “It’s better to live in a small forest with freedom, rather than in a big forest full of tigers and other cruel animals.” There are other gentle animals that went [to the garden of fruit], but were eaten by cruel animals with no mercy, which left [them] full of fear. Kill one to scare one thousand.
❖ On abuse of power
Fable 18, July 9 – In the universe, there is a man named Hostile Takeover, a greedy man who always wants to be rich, wants control and thinks everything belongs to him and his family … The man has mastered [the skills from other worlds] and come back to … try to collect resources from residents through special knowledge, which is hard for residents to know or see. Because of his endless ambition, the man tried to use all methods to manage those resources in the most secret way.
❖ On corruption
Fable 17, July 7 – Three men from Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia have the chance to discuss corruption in their respective countries… A Khmer man, named Transparency, said: “In my country you can see corruption everywhere, under the table, on the table… in the sky, on the land, underground, or right down to hell.” … The Khmer man [continues]… “Open a company and ask for a licence to explore minerals underground, and we can open an underground mineral exploration business. When the underground minerals run out, report that there are no minerals and ask for another place.”
❖ On greed
Fable 15, July 6 – Humans have greed and think about their own interests, and always use individual power disproportionately over the weak and the powerless.
❖ On systemic incompetence
Fable 9, July 2 – Sao is a worker at Sok’s house … there is a downpour and Sao, who waters the flower, decides to stop. The boss came out … and asked: “Why don’t you keep watering?” The servant replied: “It’s raining, boss. There is no need to water.” … Fearing the boss’ power, Sao continued to water flowers, even though it is raining heavily. In a country where power concentrates on individuals who do not have deep strategic thoughts and are not inclusive … even if the order is wrong and dangerous, those in the system must follow, no matter how heavily it is raining.
❖ On bribery
Fable 14, June 28 – In the Year of the Monkey, the monkey has a lot of opportunities…

Monkey Kres told Monkey Khol: “Every time I meet my boss and see they are committing corruption, I pretend to not see it, because I am afraid of not being promoted or not getting a fortune from the boss.”

Monkey Khol boasted to [the third monkey] Khor: “I heard my boss sold a building and obtained a large fortune, but I closed my eyes, pretending not to hear because he gave us $500 dollars each to buy bananas to eat. [In Khmer, the saying goes: You cannot speak out with a banana in your mouth].

Translated by Bun Sengkong