Tuesday, 1.24pm. I am on the back of a boda-boda shuttling from one meeting to the next when I open an email confirming me as a columnist of this distinguished newspaper. I freeze, for a moment, then punch the air in ecstasy.
But soon, my joy gets interrupted when the editor writes back, asking me to decide on the name I would like the column to go by. Then it starts to get real, not whether I will consistently make sense, but mostly for and to whom I will be writing.
At a conference the other week, a bank executive revealed that “only 1.2 per cent of Ugandans earn more than Shs1 million per month.” The average entry level salary for graduates is about Shs350,000. Imagine! But we have more millions of unsalaried working people and even more that are not even able to graduate. So I am thinking about most of my peers, chocking on the realities of poor-to-no pay, and young un/underemployed graduates with family expectations – and wondering how they are breaking even.
Swaib, my boda boda guy, on whose bike I was when I received that email, makes more money than I do some months. But like every boda boda (motor cycle taxi) in this town, his life is on such a precarious edge, pursued by overzealous law enforcement officers and a prime candidate for a hit by an errant motorist. How does he break even?
We live in time of such plenty and yet there are more without than those with. More information but more ignorance. More schools but less learning. Bigger government but more corruption. More churches but more thieving. Bigger armies and more insecurity. More taxes but more poverty. So who is breaking even?
Most of us are living on the edge. We are barely breaking even, which is exactly why we must keep pushing – especially because the price of not doing so is much higher than any of us can afford. Those who are breaking even must be made to understand the risk posed by those who are not.
Listen, it is dangerous when the majority are deprived and oppressed, and know it. It is even more dangerous when the privileged are stone-deaf or choose to major in minors. Soon, Swaib will want to break even.
The poorly paid and unsalaried will want to break even. The rest of us, unable to cope with black tax and the millennial exertions on Instagram, will be chocking on perpetual debt owed to others who will likely sink with us. We will want to break even.
So I was thinking about all these things when I decided to share my favourite poem with you, reader; because of all the ways in which it speaks to what is important. Citizen agency. Purpose. Dignity. Respect – that grovels to none.
So when I write, it will be to and for us, for omuntu wa bulijjo (the ordinary person - not to be confused with omunti wa wansi -a lowly person). It will be with the hope that we can nudge each other’s consciousness and start pivoting, towards and beyond the break even point. Let us read how, from Chief Tecumseh…
Live Your Life
“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart;
Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours;
Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life;
Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people;
Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.
Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place;
Show respect to all people and grovel to none;
When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living;
If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself;
Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision;
When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way;
Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”