“I was taken around and shown things as a ‘useful idiot‘… that’s what my role was. I can’t understand why I was so gullible.”
Doris Lessing, British writer and Nobel Prize laureate in Literature commenting on a 1952 trip to the Soviet Union

The current brouhaha in Zambia over Robert Amsterdam’s “Useful Idiots” statement actually proves his point. None of the people who are claiming Amsterdam has insulted Zambians have bothered to actually read the statement he made and understand its context. He said:

“This wholesale undermining of rule of law is being guided by Fred M’membe of the Post Newspaper and his former business partner, Director of Public Prosecutions Mutembo Nchito. The two men have already allegedly abused their powers to force the government to help them avoid paying back debt to Development Bank of Zambia, and now, they are asking citizens to play the role of ‘useful idiots’ to support lifting immunity without even knowing why.”

How can any intellectually honest person who reads this conclude it is insulting to Zambians? In today’s Zambia Daily Mail editorial was the following:

“Calling Zambians idiots and backward does not resonate well with responsibility, fair play, and the very justice for all that Mr Amsterdam says he is fighting for as he defends fugitive client Henry and his father. The West does not allow one to use their freedom to abuse others, cast racial slurs and describe Zambians as idiots and backward in a world that has cut across racial barriers and embraced all people as equal. Mr Amsterdam has pushed the envelope here and shown his racial superiority complex.”

From the BBC website:

“The phrase ‘useful idiots’, supposedly Lenin’s, refers to Westerners duped into saying good things about bad regimes. In political jargon it was used to describe Soviet sympathisers in Western countries and the attitude of the Soviet government towards them. Useful idiots, in a broader sense, refers to Western journalists, travellers and intellectuals who gave their blessing – often with evangelistic fervour – to tyrannies and tyrants, thereby convincing politicians and public that utopias rather than Belsens thrived.”

It seems to me that the people expressing indignation with Mr Amsterdam are either ignorant or dishonest and a good chunk of them are “useful idiots”.


BBC Documentary on “Useful Idiots”

Daily Mail Editorial on 22 February 2013

Robert Amsterdam’s full statement