Someone I know bought a small farm with a farmhouse two hours out of the city. His most pressing problem, after handing over the money, was to find someone to move into the farmhouse and keep things in good nick.
Instinctively, he reached back into the comfortable recesses of family, but the maternal uncle he hired for the gig did not last long: Two months in, he upped stakes, cleaned out the farmhouse – he had come to the job with only the shirt on his back – and disappeared into the labyrinthine clan land.
The clan co-conspirators eventually gave him up, the stolen items were recovered and reinstalled, and the matter dropped, not for want of prosecution, but for need for familial calm.
Convinced the familiarity breeds contempt and chicanery, Farm Owner turned to his networks, which produced a young lad from Mbale, barely out of his teens. He had dropped out of school after his family failed to maintain a steady friendship with finance, and was looking to work his way back into school. The Farm Owner gave him a deal: If he worked diligently for a year, he would get his wages with a year’s school fees as a bonus at the end of it. He stayed a month. Then disappeared into the warm embrace of friends, family, and destitution.
Various emissaries begged Farm Owner to give Team Relatives another chance, and another young lad from the village was quickly drafted and pressed into service. He arrived on a Thursday evening and was told to await Farm Owner’s arrival over the weekend to receive instructions.
When Farm Owner arrived 36 hours later, the lad had felled one mature Mvule tree – apparently to burn charcoal – and was mid-swing, with axe, attacking another. Had the axe not been part of the equation, Farm Owner later said, the lad would have ended up as part of the ‘funeral pyre’ for the beloved tree.
In less than three months, Farm Owner had gone through three workers, despite offering a good wage, decent accommodation and relatively light work. I recalled this story during a recent lunch with Benjamin Rukwengye, a young man who left his job to set up Boundless Minds, a youth mentorship project.
You would think that in a country with very high youth unemployment, young people would be falling over themselves to seize every opportunity or to make the most of whatever skills they have. That is true of many – and it is always interesting and refreshing to find examples of young ‘hustlers’ starting businesses or trying to run things to earn a decent and honest living.
But we must do more to help our youth with the boring but essential values necessary to navigate the river of life. I am talking of basic things like honesty, hardwork, diligence, ambition, patience, and constant self-improvement.
Thanks to the Internet and smart phones, young men and women today have all the information they need at their fingertips yet they often lack the mentorship to forge knowledge into wisdom. They can teach themselves how to write code or build rockets, but there are virtues – think perseverance, delayed gratification, moderation in views – that cannot simply be downloaded; they have to be seen or experienced to be believed.
The social economic dislocation of the structural adjustment programme yanked away at social safety nets and inspired an entire generation – those who have come of age over the past two decades – to learn how to feather their nests, by hook or crook, in case the tide of fortune ebbed away.
Yet stories abound of young children who have inherited family fortunes only to snort them up on the velvet tables of Macau or watch them go up in smoke like Montecristo Cubans. If you love your kids, stealing a million dollars to set them up is no guarantee that they will grow the wealth or even learn how to take care of themselves.
But if you already have a million dollars, you can give some of it to organisations mentoring a new generation of young and honest workers – and there are a few around. You might even give some of your time to teaching them how not to be like you when they grow up – it will probably be therapeutic and make you feel better, and will help young people learn how to love work.
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s freedom fighter. [email protected] Twitter: @Kalinaki.