I owe a lot of people an apology. But because I can’t reach them all, I am going to do a public mea culpa here.
I have just returned from the trading center near my home where I went specifically to apologize to a woman who sits in the Airtel sales center. You see, I went in there the other day, found her behind a desk that hid her completely because she was sitting on a footstool. So, until you walked up to the desk and craned over, you couldn’t tell if there was anyone behind the desk or not. The short of it is that she wasn’t ready to offer a service, showed no interest when I asked for service and rolled her eyes when I asked for service. So, I laid into her. She rolled her eyes some more, asked why I was getting worked up and then went back to whatever she’d been doing before I interrupted her day.
I left, frustrated and angry but keenly aware that the woman I’d left behind was totally unaffected by my anger.
What then has prompted me to apologize to her?
This morning I tried loading mobile money on the MTN network. The treatment I received was eerily similar to the Airtel experience – when the MTN mobile offices were open which most weren’t, an hour after they were meant to be.
Which got me to thinking … you are really living in cloud-cuckoo-land if you expect the service provision to live up to reasonable expectations in this country.
But before I came to that conclusion, I had also been woken up from my dream-like slumber by the cautionary advice of someone I feel I should take seriously because he has lived and worked abroad as well as in Uganda. In a nutshell, he told me that rather than crow about this or that failure in the activist world in Uganda, it’s best to live and let live, while you do the best you can where you can. Sound advice I assure you.
If you expect anything to run on time, find another country other than Uganda to live in. If you expect professionals to keep their word, start disabusing yourself before you deal with Ugandan ones.
If you think a government contract is worth the paper it is written on in Uganda, you need to have your head examined. If you expect enthusiastic and/or knowledgeale service in a Ugandan restaurant, you are best advised to stay home and prepare your own meal.
As tends to be the case, our eyes are usually opened by those around us who are better at reading and articulating our frustrations. So it has been with my constant gripe about the abysmal customer service in Uganda, the mind-boggling levels of corruption even at the most basic levels, the endemic incompetence of ministers and toilet cleaners, the ease with which we misappropriate money that’s donated so that we can help those less fortunate than ourselves … and so on and so forth.
I am thus going to give a nod to the words of a friend from another forum who finally helped open my eyes to how forlorn my hopes are that anything in this country can ever be done right, that those who represent the masses will ever pretend that they are in it for anything other than their own self-aggrandizement, that … you get the point.
Here is my friend’s sobering assessment of what Uganda is today:
I’m at that point that I think [most Ugandans who understand how to survive in their country] reached about 25 years ago; where one knows that “it” won’t work, if it works, it won’t last, if it works and lasts then I’m probably dreaming it in my sleep.
What is the “it”?
It is those things plumbers, permanent secretaries, ministers, MPs, mechanics, presidents, judges etc., try to do for us in the name of duty and service.
Trying to talk about how “it” should be done is useless because those I’m talking to sometimes understand the matter better than I do. Trying to talk to those in charge is also useless since they believe they know best. So where does that leave me? Well, exactly where [most Ugandans] arrived at 25 years ago; calm and unbothered.
So a thieving politician gets a slap on the wrist by the judicial system. No big shock there! So the Northern bypass has serious flooding at Bwaise a few months after opening – hmm, no big shock there! That my mechanic replaced the wrong wheel bearing and in the process damaged my ABS – hmm no big shock there! That my experienced painter who was given a tin of paint, thinner and hardener to be mixed but put the thinner and hardener to one side and used the undiluted paint on the floor. It took 2 days to scrape off the mess plus cost of wasted paint. Hmm – no big shock there!
I am in tune with this place now! I don’t [nitpick] too much, or ask probing questions. I pay my money and calmly put my packet under my armpit and walk off. I took 10 curtains to be dry cleaned at [the cleaners]. I picked them up, put them in the car, paid 180K and drove off. 18 months ago I would h have inspected the curtains before paying. But what’s the point? If it’s a bad job, they will not make it better, so why invest in the aggravation?
No, this is Uganda – if it works thank God, if it doesn’t work don’t dwell on it, another failure is always looming round the corner!
Amen. Amen. Amen. That’s exactly why I went back to apologize to the Airtel sales woman.
My sincere apologies to all those Ugandans I can’t reach who I have nagged, harangued or embarrassed on account of what I perceived as their failure to deliver. I assure you it will not happen again.
This is Uganda – if it works thank God, if it doesn’t work don’t dwell on it, another failure is always looming round the corner! …
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