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Middle class captives of the state

By Morris DC komakech

Fear of severing state patronage makes intellectual mediocrity in Uganda’s politics inevitable

In “The missing intellectual voice” (The Independent June 21), Andrew Mwenda revealed interesting traits of the social and political transformation in Uganda.

Mwenda validated my long standing belief that Uganda’s politics has become the dumping ground for mediocrity.

I would like to agree to some observations made in that article but differ fundamentally from the interpretation that public spaces have been dominated by intellectually inept and professionally unsuccessful Ugandans. This observation would signify a depredation of the aptitude of ordinary Ugandans, most of whom have become who they are – maligned and justifiably angry and bitter – because of the government that they have, and not because they have failed professionally.

Indeed, the level of mediocrity that dogs our politics reflects also the kind of dominant players who shape the political spheres. The brutality the NRM regime applies to diminish avenues of civil engagement has mediated the suppression of quality public discourses.

The regime has violated every article of the constitution on fundamental human rights and liberties with impunity. It has trampled our freedom of speech, association, and other fundamental conditions necessary for free intellectual nurturance and enlightenment.

The regime is most delusional when called to account and thrives on the acquiescence of uncritical masses. It has either proposed or enacted draconian laws such as denial of bail, preventive confinement, and lately the Public Order Bill. Under the latter, to socialise minimally, even over a drink of the local brew called malwa, groups will be required to obtain police permission. It indiscriminately uses teargas.

Such use of brutality as preeminent instrument of legitimation of political authority tends to discourage the intellectual middle-class from participating in the political spheres.

Pierre Bourdieu, a French sociologist discovered that the nature of public education carries an essentially arbitrary cultural scheme based on power domination. More widely, Bourdieu concluded that the reproduction of culture through education is shown to play a key part in the reproduction of the whole social and political systems. In relations, the mediocrity prevailing in the social and political spheres in Uganda, are produced and reproduced by the regime’s established social and political cultures which significantly impact on the quality of socio-political discourses.

Mwenda opines that the middle class is committing a blunder by retreating into the comfort zones of their professional successes, thereby ceding the public realms to those who lack values and skills to enlightened politics. Indeed, the so-called successful middle-class in Uganda is a group subject to state patronage (custody). The larger composite of this group are a creation of the system, either processed through statehouse scholarships scheme and/or seconded to positions that they hold at the behest of the regime as cadres. Majority of the seemingly successful middle-class in Uganda qualifies as atypical middle-class and are incapable of self-replenishment without direct state intervention. This group cannot participate in shaping the political spheres out of absolute fear of severing the state patronage that holds each one of them in place. They are intellectuals in captivity. In essence, to legitimise their very occupancy of social and political spaces, their false values then manifest as a simultaneously paradoxical state of being calm/submissive, reflective/protective, refined/loyal, thoughtful/indebted, balanced/secured and insightful/fearfulness.

After all, in the real intellectual world, the most accomplished intellectuals actually disdain complexity and hold themselves with utmost simplicity and humility.

The folly of the so-called intellectuals and accomplished professionals can be identified in their abstract imperial tastes. Mostly, they aspire for western ideals and use such calibrations to judge their repressed and maligned fellow citizens harshly as inadequate.

In their worlds, the description of being professionally successful encompasses hobnobbing between Presidential suites in various capital cities to sell their souls here and there; basing on what is western as the litmus test of class and self-actualisation, working for international NGOs and to some, consorting with foreigners and so forth.

In reality, Uganda as a whole has been transformed into a state of mediocrity, whether you view it from the standpoint of an intellectual, peasant, middle-class or otherwise. Uganda is a place where the coupling of autonomy and intellectual engagement are denied thereby shrinking the extent of intellectual development. It is a place where intellectualism is dismissed as dissent and mediocrity uplifted by the state as the “new normal”.

The true middle-class is holed up in intellectual captivity. This explains why graduates of Uganda’s Universities and colleges perform relatively well in professional atmospheres outside of Uganda. Outside, they enjoy fundamental freedom to think and express their thoughts in the form of innovations. Even Ugandans who would pass for angry social media gurus, when accorded free intellectual spaces to exert themselves, they would thrive.

Morris Komakech is a Ugandan social critic and political analyst based in Canada. Can be contacted via

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