“You’ve been played. We all have.” These are words from the TV series, Homeland. In this particular scene, Saul, the president’s aide, presents Senator Sam Paley with evidence on a Russian conspiracy that Paley believed. The evidence is pictures of people’s faces, with the role they were manipulated to play by Russian operatives inscribed underneath. With every descriptive picture that he sees, the pompous Paley becomes increasingly deflated; but what completely shocks him is his picture with the inscription, UI.
When he asks what the letters mean, Saul tells him, “Useful Idiot.” It is at this moment that Paley confronts the realisation that he is the titular useful idiot who has all along been manipulated by Russian operatives to impeach the American president.
In politico-speak, a useful idiot is a person who is a susceptible propagandist for a cause or purpose whose goals they are not entirely aware of. They are used cynically by the leaders of the cause to unwittingly support a cause they naively believe to be a force for good.
This week, the Jubilee Party vice chairman told the country to prepare for a Raila one-term transitional presidency in 2022, after which he would pave the way for a younger generation to take over the reins of power in 2027. His reasoning was that it was time to reward the ODM leader for all his struggles and the sacrifices he has made in pursuit of democratic growth and progress in the country. He went ahead to suggest that in addition there might be a prime minister from Mt Kenya, deputised by others from Coast and Rift Valley.
If you think Murathe owes you an apology for taking your vote for granted by dictating how and for who you should vote for, it says more about you than it says about him. Let me tell you why. But first, a few questions.
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Do you ever see problems in Kenya and have an idea how to fix them? And have you ever wished you had the power to rectify them? Have you also ever wondered why political rulers do not see things as clearly as you do? Instead, they act in seemingly selfish, destructive and shortsighted ways? Have you ever wondered if they are just plain moronic or something else is going on?
Well, you are not alone. Education misinforms us that democracy is a rule of the people, for the people, by the people. They call it the majority rule. Well, in the real world, this is a classic hoax. Political scholars re-educate us that in the real world, the political landscape is organised in a nested circle called the selectorate, that determines every leader’s power and longevity in office.
The outer circle is called the nominal selectorate, or the interchangeables, because they can be swayed and persuaded to cast their vote for ‘mtu wetu’ or his political ally. In our context, this is Wanjiku. The interchangeables are made to feel important in political rallies. Sadly, this is a lie. All they have is a tiny toe-hold in the nation’s political course.
The middle circle is called the real selectorate. This is the group that selects the leader. They are also known as the influentials. For example, in China, the president is selected by the voting members of the Communist Party. In Saudi Arabia, the prince succeeding the throne is selected by the ruling royal family, the House of Saud.
The inner circle is called the winning coalition or the essentials. This is the core that ultimately decides who rules. Those decisions are made in boardrooms and on golf courses. Support from the essentials translates to an assured victory because they give the required edge of one candidate over another. They have the power to instal and depose those in office and direct policy. And the scariest part is that they, the office aspirants and the office holders all know it.
This begs the question: where does the fiat on Raila’s 2022 presidency place Murathe? You be the judge. Finally, my unsolicited advice is to Wanjiku. Once you know something, you cannot unknow it. Likewise, we can forgive a child who is afraid of the dark, but the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.
– The writer is a political economist. Twitter: @mugwe_s