Sunday January 12 2014

Tusaba Gavumenti Etuyambe: Could a 6-day week reduce this hopelessness?

By Joachim Buwembo

When the performance of English soccer side Manchester  United hit a new low last weekend, Ugandan Man U fans started appealing to our government in Kampala to help redeem the situation. How the Uganda government can help slow Man U’s decline is difficult to fathom. But who wants to fathom anything anymore? “Tusaba Gavumenti Etuyambe” is today the fastest growing movement, and it is pure cynicism.

The name of this cynical movement which we shall call TGE to save space means “We appeal to the government to help us.” Less than a month old, TGE already has more followers on social media than Walk-to-Work which later became For God and My country (FGM?) ever got onto the streets. But we may not see a crackdown on TGE anytime soon since, unlike FGM, it recognises the supremacy of the government. Some TGE posts have appealed to government over rich men buying KFC chicken for poor men’s wives, others have recycled the old peasant’s pleas to government to remove jiggers from their feet, some have appealed to government to return the eclipse in 2014 and one guy pleaded with government to intervene with his housegirl who puts too much salt in the sauce.

Although this begging government to solve each and every problem erupted on social media late December, the digital crowd should not claim copyright for TGE. They are just joining the masses who have for long been begging government for everything from giving them their human rights to helping them clean under their beds. I suspect this is one movement the government will really love as it makes it feel very important
This TGE could be an important land mark in the socio-political development of our country. While no good can come directly from begging government to babysit and spoon-feed the people, it is a sign that the elite are now conscious of the general hopelessness of the population. The people are recognising that it is ridiculous to ask government for everything, and are beginning to laugh at themselves. The realisation that will start sinking in is that government is simply not on position to solve all the problems and provide al the amenities that people are asking for. After all, the government collects and controls less than 20per cent of the money value of all transactions that take place in the country. And moreover, most of the economic activity is not recorded in the national accounts. If it were, then government’s share of the economy would be seen it its true perspective – less than one per cent! As more people start realising this, they will stop expecting too much from the government and start taking charge of their destiny. The time would then come when it is government asking the people to help it.

But for people in the public sector who work five days a week, we could start by boldly adding one day to the working week. The best place to start is the armed forces. Imagine what would happen if all members of the forces gave one day a week to a simple activity like tree planting. We are suggesting beginning with the forces because in other organisations, be it an office of computer programmers, the National Assembly, health workers or toilet cleaners at the taxi park, the suggestion to work an extra day would be met with clever but useless arguments. Today we have some 100,000 in the three traditional forces of Army, Police and Prisons, and this is not a classified secret. If each of them planted only 10 trees every sixth day of the week, that will add 52 million trees to our country every year. We would collect and plant seeds and seedlings of the indigenous trees. Those connected to the donor rackets would of course find clever reasons to oppose such a programme, but it would work. By the time Mr Geoffrey Kazinda comes out of prison, he would find Uganda with 200 million new trees to defeat climate change and provide future supplies (and wealth) of timber and fuels. 

Working a sixth day means adding 20 per cent to the weekly work output! Don’t we want this? When I floated the idea of a six-day week on Facebook, many were in support. But those who opposed gave reasons ranging from many people already working seven days and are still poor, others feared that wealth generated on the sixth day will end up in the pockets of the same people who are robbing the public today. So for them the “Tusaba Gavumenti Etuyambe” spirit should continue. Someone, however, argued that while we need to work an extra day, it should be strictly outside the public works, and should go to private investments. Land for instance, which is one of our greatest assets, is still grossly underutilised. So the opportunities waiting out there to be exploited on the sixth day are immeasurable.
Ultimately, the government would also benefit from the 20 per cent increased output in the public and private sectors. For it would have much more to collect in taxes without increasing the tax-rates!