It’s about time to start talking to and not at each other

Author, Benjamin Rukwengye. PHOTO/FILE. 

What you need to know:

We must get retired professionals into classrooms and lecture rooms but also into staff rooms – to teach or simply have conversations.

One of the most interesting statistics about Uganda is that only two percent of the population is above 65 years. It is baffling because you can’t really find explanations why. Was it the wars and political instability of especially the 70s, 80s and 90s? Was it the Aids scourge? Is it poverty and disease? Hard to tell.

What’s easy to tell is that that two percent also constitutes the people who knitted together our social, economic and political fabric, and have then moved on into retirement. They were here when the colonialists handed over; when their kinsmen took over and moved things along or screwed them up. They were here when politicians deployed the military against the citizens; here when the economy tanked, and they know what moves were made to get it back up. They were here when Hiv/Aids ravaged an entire generation; and are here watching as corruption, social breakdown and maladministration get mainstreamed.

Where do people go to, in Uganda, after they have retired? What do they do with all the time on their hands? How do they deal with the newfound and apparent irrelevance of their lives? How do they deal with not being important anymore?

Do they start missing church services because they will not be given seats at the front? How does it feel when the event MC doesn’t ask you to stand and wave? How do they deal with not having enough resources to dispense favors anymore? How about their multiple wives, side pieces, and tens of children? How do they deal with the pressure of finding upkeep?

This must be why they hang on and make their exit a matter of life and death, right? It must be why they falsify age, and ‘touch on’ the constitution. It must be why they beg, cajole, blackmail and threaten whoever has the power to, to keep them around till the creator calls them home. Right?

I ask because I had a conversation with a friend last weekend, who told me that her father, a retired accountant, has so much time on him and has taken to volunteering on a church project. I thought that was a very interesting, if not critical move. In his selfless action, we might have found an answer to some of the problems we are grappling with.

If you look around, many people around you are their family’s first generation. Whether as entrepreneurs, politicians, police or army commanders, public servants, doctors, social workers, educationists, scientists, innovators, creatives, etc. Which means that many of us are simply winging it and making grave mistakes while at it. Yet, we don’t have to, if we propose to learn from those who have gone before us. How do we make use of the tens of professionals with excellent service records – public and private – who retire and are lost to relative obscurity? Think of all the retired teachers, security officers, health workers, administrators, politicians, etc.  For a country and society usually looking like it is on a freefall, there has got to be a place for an older generation to share their experiences.

For that to happen, we can’t leave this teaching to their volition, and hope that they will offer their time at our churches, in our schools, at our offices and in our businesses. We have got to be deliberate about creating these structures and making use of them. Government ministries, departments and agencies have got to build mentorship structures that enable civil and public servants to tap into the wisdom of their retired colleagues.

We must get retired professionals into classrooms and lecture rooms but also into staff rooms – to teach or simply have conversations. They might not know what to do with the world as it is today and likely can’t tell us what to do. If anything, it is unlikely that we shall listen. But they know how we got here and must have ideas on what we must not do, if we don’t want to get stuck or even slide back to where we came from.

It is George Orwell who said that ‘Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.’ In there, you will find a need for a lot more intergenerational dialogues and a reason for why we are where we are now.

Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds. @Rukwengye

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