Lately, I have been doing a lot of reading about the power of role models in determining one’s success or failure. As parents, we are told that our children do as we say until they are about two years old, after which they start to do as we do and ignore what we say. We have all seen little girls play with dolls and feed them, bathe them, put them to bed, get them dressed and all that mothering. Apparently this is not because little girls’ DNA automatically makes them mums. They are just modelling behaviour that they see in the home. I will never forget the day I found one of my daughters spanking her doll for telling a lie; never mind that obviously the doll could not talk. I had spanked her the day before for a similar offence. Likewise, little boys love to play with cars and drive around crazily; again this is not in their DNA, they are modelling behaviour that they see. All this reminds me of the many games I played as a child which involved puffing away at make-believe cigarettes; daddy was a chain smoker and all my dad’s sisters smoked.
Modelling and behaviour
Modelling determines over 70 per cent of our behaviour and choices, yet most people attribute their fate in life to DNA and good or bad luck. I have always been intrigued by stereotypes associated with a particular gender, race, or tribe. Having grown up in a cross cultural setting; my parents were from different tribes, I was exposed at an early age to biases along tribal lines. My mum was from a tribe that is perceived as entrepreneurial and that places a high premium on wealth creation sometimes to the exclusion of all else. Dad, on the other hand ,was from a tribe perceived as easy-going, mild mannered and wired for soft life. Looking back on the two sides of my family, these attributes are largely due to behaviour patterns passed on from one generation to another.
My present job gives me exposure to the different countries within the East African Community (EAC). As I travel, I cannot help noticing behaviour patterns among the nationals of different countries.
The EAC reminds me of a typical family, with the five member states being siblings who possess different strengths, personalities, talents and peculiarities. Just over 50 years ago, the current EAC countries did not exist as we know them today and peoples of East Africa were going about life oblivious to the current borders. It is therefore not surprising that as a region we have so much in common and that we are intuitively similar in our thinking, traditions, customs, and lifestyles. That said, one cannot help noticing some clear differences between the five EAC “siblings” especially the three bigger countries, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. It can be argued that the development or under development of our individual economies is to a large extent determined by the natural endowments of our countries and the characteristics of our respective people.
All three countries have been richly endowed with unique natural and human resources. Tanzania has abundant mineral wealth; lots of well watered arable land and newly discovered gas reserves. They also have a wide variety of wild life, a beautiful countryside and sunny beaches that make tourism an important sector in their economy.
Kenya recently discovered oil and has some mineral wealth. Kenya also has attributes that attract tourists; beautiful sunny beaches, a scenic countryside thanks to the Rift Valley and the same wild life that we find in Tanzania. Interestingly both countries market Mountain Kilimanjaro as being exclusively theirs which goes back to my point about how the current borders mask how much we share or have in common. Additionally Kenya boasts a population with better skills than its neighbours, a people with strong entrepreneur instincts that are generally perceived as more energetic and dynamic than their EAC “siblings”.
Uganda is land locked, has fertile arable land, fresh water resources that make fish a major export of the country and until recently, reliable rainfall that made Uganda an important food basket for the region. Uganda’s tourism is not as developed as her neighbours and has the potential to grow exponentially if the EAC were to market the region as one tourist destination instead of each member state going it alone. Uganda has also discovered oil and has some mineral wealth.
The EAC member states have been blessed with similar natural resources and weather patterns, yet we are at different levels of development. How come some of the EAC siblings have been able to exploit and harness their resources better than others? Admittedly just like with any family where individual children have superior skills that shape their future and fate in life, some EAC member states have an edge over others. Kenya and Tanzania have a coastline giving them the much needed access to the sea. That said, to what extent is the current state of affairs in Uganda due to our being landlocked? Could it be that a big part of our lack of development and prosperity may be attributed to the inability of yesterday’s parents, leaders and society to be good role models for future generations? Has this led to the vicious cycle that Ugandans (and sadly most of Africa) find themselves in where every generation keeps modelling bad behaviour passed on from their parents’ generation?
The writer is Standard Chartered Bank’s head of financial markets in East Africa. E-mail: GraceTibihikirra.Makoko@sc.com