The Folly of Kalyegiralism


Journalist Timothy Kalyegira. Photo via Twitter

The country of Uganda, in the world celebrated writer and journalist Timothy Kalyegira lives in, is one hell of a place. It is a backward, Stone Age basket case whose people are so ignorant of basic manners; are devoid of any trace of intellectualism that they make Al Hajj Nasser Ntege Ssebagala look like Mark Twain.

Kalyegira’s works since the 1990s have oozed this contempt for ordinary African people in general, and Ugandans in particular. His latest assault on our ‘backwardness’ came in the form of his review of “Queen of Katwe”, the Disney movie based on a real life story of a young Ugandan girl who defies insurmountable odds to become a national chess champion.

Now, since I am not a movie reviewer and I am totally an ignoramus on all things film criticism, plus the fact that I have not watched the movie except the trailer (unlike the Mighty Kalyegira who watched a whole TWENTY MINUTES of it), I will not responded to his characterisations of the movie.  Maybe it is indeed shitty. Its performance at the opening weekend at the box office even appears to agree. It looks to have bombed, for now. But that is immaterial to this writing. After all, it wouldn’t be the first well reviewed movie to bomb at the box office.

Rather I will look at the other comments Kalyegira made for why, in his view the movie is shitty. He came back to his favourite punching bag: Ugandans and their backward, know-nothing state. Let’s roll some of his commentary, verbatim, via his Facebook page:

“Uganda traumatises me. The atmosphere of low-brow, the lack of mental and emotional depth, the lacklustre culture, the slowness, the childish sense of humour, the half-literate mindset, the mediocrity, the “maalo” that is our African cultures — these things traumatise me about Uganda and the other African countries I’ve visited: Eritrea, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya”

It would be a mistake to describe the illness that ails Brother Tim as merely elitism.  Elitism is the belief or attitude that a select group of people with a certain intrinsic quality or worth, high intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or even ancestry and other distinctive attributes— are the ones whose views on matters are to be taken more seriously or carry more weight; whose views or actions are more likely to be constructive to society as a whole; or whose extraordinary skills, abilities, or wisdom render them especially fit to govern’

Neither is it enough to call Mr. Kalyegira an intellectual snob.  Snobbery is simply the behaviour or attitude of people who think they are better than other people. Intellectual snobs take pride in their own knowledge and achievements and tend to become judgmental about others to boost their own egos.

More on a snob, at the immensely helpful

  1. A person who imitates, cultivates, or slavishly admires social superiors and is condescending or overbearing to others.
  2. A person who believes himself or herself an expert or connoisseur in a given field and is condescending toward or disdainful of those who hold other opinions or have different tastes regarding this field

Mr. Kalyegira is all these things and some. Which is why I am crafting a new condition among the family of elitism illnesses: Kalyegiralism: This is elitism and snobbism on steroids. Kalyegiralism, as opposed to elitism and snobbism needs treatment.

If you have been following Kalyegira, you will realise that his elitist and snobbish attitudes that shine through his commentary have  an element of self-loathing too. I do not know Mr Kalyegira personally so I can’t give a clinical diagnosis of his character. But I know he is Ugandan, and I have read almost everything he has ever written. His condescending attitude towards Ugandans and the Ugandan way of life is beyond intellectually snobbery and elitism. It’s beyond dismissal of an inept and superficial society. There is an element of HATE for our way of life. Which in a way is self hate, as the subjects of his ridicule are his brothers, uncles, and cousins.

Self-loathing is a term as old as psychology itself. A person born of modest means, unable to live in the society, class or circumstances he so desperately wishes he had been born into, decides to HATE that which he is. Self-loathing elitists live a difficult life. Theirs is an eternal odyssey to one day belong to that society or class they so desperately desire to have been born into, rather than strive to improve the state their societies are in. In the process, they hate everything about who they are, the society they live in. They trade in stereotypes against their own community. They  sometimes take it a notch higher: they deliberately consume goods from that class of people they so wish to become, marry from such ‘superior’ classes, speak like they speak, eat their food, etc.  They prefer living in utopia than in reality.

Self-loathing snobs in most cases do not realise they have this problem. They see their behaviour as part of their higher purpose on earth: that of higher individuals who must save the lesser society from itself.

My problem with Mr. Kalyegira is not that he criticizes the caliber of a society that we are. I even admit that some of the issues he points out are correct (I hate mediocrity probably more than he does!). My problem with his commentary is that he dismisses the entire country as a bunch of hapless ignoramuses who need intellectual salvation from the likes of himself. His view of the country is all doom and gloom. He rarely, if ever, offers any suggestions on how we can do, and be, better. This is wrong! You can have issues with the quality of our graduates, our limited intellectual curiosity, etc, without dismissing the whole society. There is no country on earth without these issues. How about emphasizing, and celebrating the miracle of kids who are born in these tough circumstances but who work their butts off, beat the odds and make something out of their lives? How about picking out the flowers also, not just the weeds?

If this society that Kalyegira so despises could produce him and his intellectual peers, then I would have expected his argument to be around ‘how do we revive the tenets of this society that produced me’ to address the current intellectual stagnation and social malaise? It is here that I would expect him to discuss reinvigorating the formerly excellent missionary schools that he went to, fighting corruption, boosting public management and improving work ethic. But alas, that’s not what Kalyegira does in his commentaries. According to him, Uganda as a society is done.

 How Liberal elitism created Donald Trump

Allow me to digress a little a bit and tell you how dangerous this can be:

It is elitism like this that has created Donald Trump in America, and is fuelling far-right fundamentalism in Europe and other places. For years liberals talked down on ordinary people in America. Barack Obama, in 2008 was caught on a hidden recorder dismissing rural Americans who were not buying into his ‘Hope and Change’ campaign as “bitter people who cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

His democratic primary Opponent then, Hillary Clinton seized on those remarks, and clobbered him in most remaining primaries in states with large rural, conservative populations like Pennsylvania.

But Hillary, being a democratic  snob as well, her criticism of Obama’s snobbism then was pure hypocrisy as a few years later would show.  she recently made her disdainful attitudes towards ‘lesser’ people known, when, at an event she called Donald Trump’s supporters ‘a basket of deplorables’, who support him because they are racists.

In America, intellectual snobs (who for the most part are highly educated democrats) have for years used the derogatory term “hillbillies”, to refer to unsophisticated country persons, mostly those living in the remote regions of the Appalachians; what Kalyegira and his ilk here in Uganda call ‘villagers.’

These American ‘villagers’ got their man, Donald Trump; a buffoonish character who doesn’t give a damn about rules or ‘manners’, and they were hooked. Many of you are asking how a person like Donald Trump, a guy incapable of making a coherent sentence is threatening to defeat Hillary Clinton. Well part of it is Kalyegiralism; the American version. To understand these dynamics, read a book by a kid who ‘escaped’ ‘the village’ in America and went to Yale. “Hillbilly Elegy” by J. D Vance is a classic. It somewhat explains why ‘villagers’ behave the way they do.

Lest I forget, let me remind you that snobbism knows no ideology. If you followed the 2012 US presidential election, you remember too, that Mitt Romney, Obama’s Republican challenger was caught on a hot mic dismissing Obama’s supporters as a bunch of moochers. Said he: “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what…who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims. …These are people who pay no income tax. …and so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Now, shockingly most arrogant comments by snobs on ‘lesser people’always contain some truth. Some are even entirely true. That is the same with Kalyegira’s commentary

The problem, as I said before, is the lack of empathy and effort to understand the condition of these people they are dismissing, or prescribing ideas that should help them improve their lot. That’s why these ‘villagers’ hate these elitists as much as they dismiss them.

‘Villagers’, like other people, have real problems. But they too have an ego, a sense of self-worth, a sense of dignity. They don’t like being talked down to or dismissed. Rather they wish to be considered the adults that they are, however little schooling they might have. They need empathy and compassion where they seem to be behaving irrationally. Instead Elites dismiss their behaviour as ‘anti-intellectualism’ or worse stupidity.  Once these ‘villagers’ hit back, you may not like their rebellion!

Imagine if Kalyegira were to run for a parliamentary seat in one of the rural constituencies in his native Kabarole! How many folks do you think would vote for him?

This is where Museveni becomes a master strategist. For all you might criticise him for, the son of Kaguta is not a snob. Part of it may be his own background; having grown in a household with limited means (something Kalyegira has criticised him for in the past). While Kampala’s elite, drunk on Kalyegiralism busy themselves conducting polls, facebooking and tweeting during elections, Museveni is hanging out with his villagers, ‘providing for their needs’. And when he wins, Kalyegiralists come out guns brazing that he has rigged. Well, he does rig but that in itself doesn’t win him elections. He understands his ‘villagers’ better than you do, and in their view is empathetic to their problems.

But maybe I am wrong. After all, I am a typical villager myself. Born, raised and educated in rural Kisoro, I left for the first time when I was coming to Makerere in 2002. Maybe, just maybe; I am not of a stature to criticise Kalyegiralism.

But I sure know that too much of it is not good for your health.

Drop me a line on or follow me on Twitter @BernardSabiti


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