What if we are the useful Idiots?

Wednesday September 30 2020
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I will not deny how much pleasure it gave me to watch MP Betty Nambooze decimate Balaam Barugahara Ateenyi, with her ‘useful idiot’ quip.  Balaam, the NRM fixer, who in his orange T-shirt (yellow would be too obvious), smiles his most benign oily smile, smoothes opponents out of the NRM’s way with slick money and convenient photo opportunities. 

However, never with moving arguments of deep ideology that the NRM often accuses opponents of lacking, but money, slick smooth Balaam money.
Watching the rampant dysfunction in Uganda’s governance reduces one to feeling like a fool many times. You stick to your humble lane; your parents did not fight after all.

 Besides, you get to sleep at night. Keep sleeping, they tell us.  You smother your aspirations for a brighter day where the government actually likes you for you, not your beautiful delicate voting hands. 

Then occasionally, along comes a word that speaks to your helpless frustration – like Nambooze’s christening of Balaam as a “useful idiot!” A word that confirms your disquiet about the nature of our politics. Nambooze levels Balaam; my dreams are valid once again. 

We are not bizonto after all. As I laugh at Balaam, watching him squirm, my laughter turns to unease. What if we are the useful idiots? 

Thirty something years later, our President refers to us (and our parents too) as his grandchildren, infantilising us as a nation by the implication that we do not know what we want for we are not of age, his age, are we not useful idiots? 


 When we can no longer keep up with the money heists that dominate the headlines, and abide by a politics that thrives on dysfunction and patronage, are we not useful idiots?

Then there is the Opposition.  Instead of galvanising into one, they persistently trample our support with their divisions, ego wars, opposing even themselves under the spell of a fantasy that one of them will magically become president against the incumbent deeply rooted NRM – are we not useful idiots? 

Upon a recent visit to the new Kiruddu Hospital, my pride to see this new structure was immediately arrested by the signs of neglect and decay already evident.  
When the fearless NRM defender Ofwono Opondo was taken ill, it was not at Kiruddu, but a private hospital. 

A narrow section of Ugandans can afford to fall back on private healthcare; some with connections prefer first-class overseas hospitals sponsored by the State. Meanwhile, majority of Ugandans turn to a crippled demotivated health sector, are we not useful idiots? 

When we attempt to speak about these things, our energy falters against those who scorn us for being unpatriotic – because patriots shall not speak the truth about their countries. Youngins like minister Evelyn Anite clearly more patriotic, have the majje on their side, they snigger at us lesser mortals – what do we have on our side besides being useful idiots?

Armed politicians, who say they are serving military officers, remind us not to mess with the peace they fought so hard for - when we dare to disagree with them.  They won the war and we are the spoils. 

MP Kato Lubwama, a laughter technician, says we should reward him with another term in Parliament - because only then will it be our turn to eat, as he will share the spoils this time. Useful idiots should also eat. Basajja Mivule, once like Paul, became Saul miraculously, after a spell in State custody. 

Now he is begging the President for a new car like everyone else in a suit or cassock- while Balaam smiles knowingly next to him. Balaam’s ability to rehabilitate the ‘blind’ with money means there is a price for being usefully idiotic. Many of us are willing to pay it; we just have not had the opportunity.

Andrew Mwenda defended Mwesigwa Rukutana for a gun crime caught on video.
We are all useful idiots. We are idiots for not speaking up because our silence is complicity, for removing ourselves from spaces where decisions that affect our lives are made, for tearing down trivially those that dare to speak up, for laughing off yet another corruption scandal.

  Ms Olivia Nalubwama is political analyst and passionate Ugandan. smugmountain@gmail.com