Elitist Education: Turning Workplaces in Favor of Drivers

Elitist Education: Turning Workplaces in Favor of Drivers

Its not all about that degree.

By Sylvia Kasoga
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First published: October 4, 2005

Some things take a long time to change. Take the disadvantages of higher education for example. In the 1970s, to be highly educated in Uganda was a risky business. The military government of the day was deeply suspicious of educated people, who were deemed to be dangerous. Many of the educated that didn't flee the country were killed.

Today, higher education is required for most jobs. That is why so many people these days are going to university to earn a degree or improve on their 'papers' in the hope that this will open for them the doors of employment and thus better life.

But no sooner have they finished their courses than they realize that this kind of education has its disadvantages. Many of us have leant that it tends to condemn a person to total dependency on salaried employment; making you vulnerable to sudden destitution should you lose that job.

Strangely enough, at the end of the day, when you trace the adult lives of people at most work places, it is the drivers, messengers and cleaners who do better as far as individual financial security is concerned. This is our new reality world.

After working for five years, a tea girl will have invested more than the secretary along with whom she was recruited. You look around and you will notice that the driver will be more financially solid than the mid rank graduate officer.

The tea girl, you see doesn't only earn a salary. She also supplies refreshment to the secretaries at break time. She arrives at work much earlier than they do, to make sure her merchandise is distributed to various agents such as junior tea girls in the nearby offices and a few street side vendors.

When the secretaries arrive, the tea girl greets them politely and asks what they would like for their break. Since she extends credit, many of her 'bosses' are in her debt. They pay as soon as they get their salaries, because it would be beneath their dignity to default on the tea girl's money.

Meanwhile, her younger sister, whom she brought over from the village two years ago, is manning their stall in the market, where they sell second hand clothes.

From among these clothes, the elder sister regularly selects the "first class" pieces and sells them at higher prices to the secretaries, who do not want to be seen in the down market stalls like Balikudembe (formerly Owino) bargaining for used garments.

Because of spending so much time with educated people, the tea girl has decided that the child, whose birth forced her out of school six years ago, will have the best education she can provide. She puts the child in a good school and pushes her to work for good grades. She will even make sacrifices to pay for private coaching.

As for our driver, he is doing equally well. Extremely humble and obliging before the executives, he is regarded as indispensable. After working there for 10 years, he knows the secrets of the top men in the organization. They therefore tend to let him get away with small sins like bills that seem on the high side for the mileage covered.

Unbeknown to his bosses, the driver is running two or three taxis as well as a small shop near his home. He has a line of one-room rental houses (mizigo) in a far off place like Nansana and any tenant who is late with the monthly payment is evicted ruthlessly.

His drivers and wives, who double as shop assistants, bow lower before him than he does before his bosses at work. His children, who are subjected to very strict discipline, will be sent to the best schools if they are academically promising. Otherwise, they are absorbed into the family business at an earlier age. He rules over his small empire with an iron hand-for the driver is the new master of our uncertain world.

Of course you know that the tea girl and the driver get salaries that are much lower than those of the secretary and the middle class officer. But because they live close to the ground, as it were, they spend much less and so are able to save and invest.

The young graduate, on the other hand, cannot imagine running a soda-and-cake network in the office. So, she has no income apart from her official salary. And its not much these days. Yet she will always be seen at Nandos, Garden City or the Venue, the expensive 'happening' places in town. And she wears trendy clothes, keen to impress.

So, come the end of the month, she has no money left, whereas the driver no longer touches his salary, relying instead on his diverse incomes to run his home.

The graduate cannot invest in places s/he frequents and the circles s/he moves in; s/he cannot build a five star hotel, which he or she would be comfortable to own. But the driver can open kiosks and bars in his slum. One day, both these people will have to leave their employment. No prizes for guessing who is better prepared for life after retirement or sacking.

The privatization and downsizing of public service gave us many sad cases of senior officers who tried to start business with their retirement packages. At their age, it was too late to learn new tricks, and most got cleaned out within a week, ending up as frustrated alcoholics. Unlike the drivers and tea girls, they hardly knew 'the world'.

You must have seen or heard about them. The stronger ones converted their family cars into cabs, and can be seen touting for teenage passengers, or quarrelling with their growing children who cannot cope with the fall in their standard of living.

As the driver's and tea girl's offspring join the business sector with ease, the former officer's sons and daughters sit around idly talking about western film stars and singers, now that Big Brother Africa has ended. Such are dangers of an elitist education.

By Sylvia Kasoga
more from author >>
First published: October 4, 2005