The employee – employer conundrum

Many a times there has been a disconnect between the people who are employed and those that employ. Many employers wrongly perceive that once someone is luck y enough to work for them , get paid regularly and have some minimal level of job security then that is good enough. Most of them believe that the above “embellishments” are sufficient to keep them glued onto their desks for all eternity. They turn out to be terrible abodements to their recipients.

Modern management however entails that in order to have a reasonable level of labour turnover, certain other factors should be considered. Employment usually encompasses two major factors: the growth of the company and the growth of individuals. Invariably, employees always look out for signs (visible or not) that the company is actually moving from one level to another, over time. This is so whether they are privy to strategic management plans or not. The signs that show that a company is growing include hiring 1st class managers in finance, sales, IT, etc. This will usually lead subordinate transfer of skills to the whole team and reap rewards for the company. Further, relevant additions to the capital base of a company will also tend to keep employee mistrusts at bay. If it is an IT firm e.g, investments in new soft and hardware will go a long way in alleying fears.

Many American and European firms believe in this to the extent that they offer stock options to many of their staff. This is intended to give morale to the employees as well as make them part of the company.

In my experience of more than 12 years as a finance manager and outsourcer , l have come across many companies whose short and long term plans for their staff are virtually nonexistent. Many of the Directors, in addition to taking part in day-to-day operations of the company, are also actively involved in the recruitment processes. Many of them make hire & fire decisions based on the mundane.

A parting shot: if you are a manager of an SME you are probably better off planning for your company’s growth other than pursue individuals gratification. This will in turn keep your staff and remove all the problems associated with high labour turnover.

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The Fallacy of big African Football stars

Like all things African, we have come to witness the deterioration of African football. This is very painful as most of the big clubs in the world rely solely on African stars for their genius, skill, power, and brilliance. However when it’s time for the major tournaments like the 2014 world cup in Brazil, what we see are lacklustre, disorganised, disheartened, and almost disoriented performances.

 Unlike other things African, most of these African football stars are millionaires; being paid in thousands of pounds/Euros per week. Therefore, there is actually very little they are getting by sweating blood for their nations. They drive the latest cars; date the most beautiful models, etc. They are rich and well fed looking for nothing more. Some of them even come with team doctors, hair stylists, chefs, etc. After all even the small allowances that is promised them is usually stolen by the FA officials of their countries.

Therefore, they do not play for glory or fame (perhaps infamy!?) from their compatriots because it comes from the crowds in old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, etc. These crowds matter in their lives because they buy the match day tickets, the club jerseys with their names and all manner of merchandise from the club stores. In retrospect, their fellow citizens only flock the video halls in their areas to pay paltry sums as low as $0.5 to watch games on TV. If they do not buy the fake Chelsea, Man U jerseys from china, they get the outdated used ones of seasons past. That is why they do not bother with their performance at home.

However if you take a look at teams like Egypt, which have mostly home based players, they do very well precisely because their glory/fame is at home. They will walk on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and get praised for their valour and brilliance. That is why they are gunning for their 3rd African title!

These players are also wont to lie about their ages. For a long time we have heard of Eto’o, Drogba, etc but they are still playing football and are in their 30s. Granted, they play well in Europe with these deflated ages but they are playing with Messi, Hazard, etc who have the finesse and talents that make the Africans look infallible. In an African tourney, however these “youngsters” have to play together on the same team and it shows as they can hardly chase the ball. The Nigerian under-17 team was tested for their ages for the world cup and 24 players on the team were over 17 years!

We cannot over-look the star crazed tabloids of Europe, which can create a star out of one so lacking in talent and skills. Most of this Europeanization of African football is because of the properly choreographed images of the TV / Newspaper / Tabloids that stars like Essien, Drogba, etc are made into cult figures; all they need to do is show up!

What we need to focus on is the grooming of local talent through professional, unbiased administration of soccer structures in our African countries. Instead of always inviting the stars who do not have the commitment, developing young talents and giving them the opportunity to play will go a long way in putting some sense into these millionaire no- good refugees. However, as is always the case, all things African will come to naught.

The Kiwi who married a Bedouin

I recently completed reading a fascinating book called “Married to a Bedouin” by Marguerite Van Geldermalsen. The book got me thinking whether we had our life’s priorities properly set out. In the book, the lady protagonist was from a totally different society with different norms, expectations and dreams. But she fell in love with someone whose society (Bedouin) was as different as chalk and cheese from hers and she completely went on to change the rest of her life.

Marguerite Van Geldermalsen was a nurse born in New Zealand and on an ‘’adventure ‘’ tour in 1978; she missed her bus stayed with and came to be married to Mohammad Abdallah Othman, a Bedouin souvenir-seller from the ancient city of Petra in Jordan. She made a home with him in a 2000-year old cave carved into the red rock of a hillside, became the resident nurse and lived like the Bedouin. She learned Arabic, became a Muslim and gave birth to three children. She lived in the Petra region till Muhammad’s death in 2002 when she went to live in Sidney with her children.

The Bedouins are a part of a predominantly desert-dwelling Arabian ethnic group traditionally divided into tribes, or clans. Historically, the Bedouin engaged in nomadic herding, agriculture and sometimes fishing. The Arabian Peninsula is the original home of the Bedouin and from here they started to spread out to surrounding deserts, forced out by the lack of water and food. They live in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Israel and in Jordan mostly in Petra where the author resided. The Jordanian government provides the Bedouin with different services such as education, housing and health clinics. However, some Bedouins give it up and prefer their traditional nomadic lifestyle.

What was very intriguing about this life story was the way people can be easily transformed from a high class life to a ‘low class’ living with an action as simple as changing ones name. The lady in the book came to be accustomed to living an open life sharing happiness, troubles, misfortunes, etc with her in-laws and friends. Her brothers- and sisters-in-law were constantly visiting and helping with house chores things that were very alien to the author and when she complained about this to her husband, he only said; ‘’what’s a little tea and sugar to us?’’

In a way it made their society closely knit as all problems / solutions were easily shared. Like the time after having bought an old vehicle she was awoken in the middle of the night to transport an expecting woman to the hospital in Ma’an (30 kms away) or the time she had to fill in for the Doctor or the time she made clothes for friends on her treadle sewing machine. And all these gestures were reciprocated by all the inhabitants all over this area.

Having stayed in a 2000-year old cave house with no electricity, water, plumbing, etc and without any problems except for the occasional scorpion, it brings to question why we strive so much for opulence and accumulating stuff which do not add value to our lives. The author was very happy in her abode; wearing a mudraga (cover dress), playing cards with her husband and in-laws, occasionally listening to the BBC when batteries permitted and lived without a worry in life.

The book also got me thinking that religion should play an important role in shaping our lives. For instance all the fortunes and misfortunes that befell anyone was summarised in a simple sentence; “we have done what we could; the rest is up to God’.’ No type of calamity or good fortune could not be summed up in this sentence. This in a way made people have very few expectations of life and only waited for what befell them as they believed that whatever happened was meant to happen. Therefore they did not strive very much with the ‘’expected’’ trend of living like educating their children but only concentrated on the things that were more pertinent in them leading a ‘normal’ life e.g., how to feed the goats, when and where to move during the cold months, where to get a bride from, etc.

In Africa where I grew up and live there is an increasing tendency to try and achieve any thing with European/ American connotations through pursuing western education, wearing western clothes and adopting all things western. Invariably this has led to a societal disconnect between what is seen to be right and what should actually be done. This has lead to all manner of decadence arising from the fact that individuals, in their pursuit of their next car, mobile phone, house, suit, etc, tend to forget that long lasting human relationships are the most fulfilling to make.

The author goes about her life (in the book) within the humblest of means. Simple foods, simple clothing, everything was simplified. From the way they collected water, the donkey rides, the sunsets from their cave ledge, making the taaboon bread, smoking heeshy, the ‘showing of the child’ ceremonies, etc. This is not to say she never faced any challenges, she did especially from the cultural shook, the persistent poverty, the harsh climate, etc.

I now believe that if one surrounds oneself with a good support structure of in-laws and friends one can live just about anywhere in the world. The question remains as to whether this can be achievable in the today’s modern rat -race societies in which we live. And in the words of the author; its best to look at the good things of where you are at the time and to do what feels right in the circumstances.

All in all, it was a good read!

Whose problems are they solving?

According to wikipedia an NGO is

“usually applied only to organizations that pursue wider social aims that have political aspects, but are not openly political organizations such as political parties.”

An NGO’s orientation refers to the type of activities it takes on. These activities might include human rights, environmental, or development work which can be at a local, regional, national or international scale.

 

 

In Africa there are many NGO operating under some of the above orientations. In the past NGO were majorly involved in getting aid from rich nations and distributing it, according to their orientation, to the poor nations to reduce poverty and a myriad of other social problems. The result: making the recipients subservient to their supporters and thus reducing initiative and resourcefulness that comes from people managing their own affairs in spite of their limitations.

With the prolonged credit crunch in the rich nations, the budgets of these NGO have continually been constricted year after year. In effect, the focus has now turned to the survivability of these NGOs in their areas of operation and yet they have to continue to show relevance even though after more than a century of operations the poverty and social problems they have been trying to eradicate have increased 1000-fold.

 

The result of the above has been in a reduction in the project-related funding and more on the creating networks and partnerships with both private and public sectors. (That is why whichever budding new-age president comes to power (rigs an election, coups, etc) will always find ‘friends’ in the donor community). This mainly involves organizing workshops, seminars, travelling upcountry and paying consultants to explain how all this works, etc. All this makes up for unproductive consumption for the people whose lives the NGOs are supposed to be transforming.

 

 

 

According a recently published report for example, Ugandan (East Africa) NGOs engage in activities that aid the development process such as supporting farmers (21.8%), providing credit (10.5%), sanitation (9.2%) and community development (27.5%). As is the case with caring services the world over, NGOs in Uganda are active in health, curative (15.1%) and preventative (13%), and social services, counselling (18%). From the above, it shows that the largest percentage of NGOs budgets goes to community development which involves consulting, discussion (with community leaders) and brainstorming tailor-made solutions to community problems. Inevitably, this will lead to large amounts of money being paid out to consultants, workshops, monitoring and evaluation offices, etc adversely affecting the ability of the NGOs to deliver the actual physical solutions that brought them to these areas in the first place.

 

It is an open secret that the consultants and experts that are employed are highly paid individuals whose compensation does not only include salaries and allowances but also housing, international education for their children, the latest SUVs, unlimited internet, etc. These costs could be in the tens of thousands ($) a month for one such individual. It is little wonder therefore, that many highly educated, foreign individuals have made forays into managing African projects intended to eradicate the same poverty, hunger and diseases that their predecessors have been fighting since time immemorial.

It is not bad to pay these professionals, however is it criminal that we belabour the processes of planning and consulting on problems that have existed and still do from one generation to the next? Aren’t there indigenous individuals who can be used to deliver these solutions in their areas? Don’t the NGOs need to use the enumerable reports generated by the World Bank, UN, EU, etc, instead of hiring their own experts to consult and manage these ‘projects’? These monies can then be ploughed back where it is needed most in providing solutions and changing people’s livelihoods. This as opposed to employing over priced individuals to tell people what their problems are without offering measurable, sustainable solutions.

 

The fairer side of corruption….

If only the debate about corruption and its evils can go away. But just like doctors say, dirt is good and so is corruption, in a way. Looking at it from any lay man’s point of view, it sounds fantastic, even wonderful! In actual fact the dirt helps the body build up immunity against infections, some might  even be life threatening.

It occurs at all levels of society, from local to national governments, civil society, judiciary functions, large and small businesses, military and other services and so on. In Africa it is endemic and there is no end in sight. Many presidents from Nigeria to Myanmar, South Africa to the South Korea and yours truly (Uganda’s leader)  have paid lip service to the eradication of this problem, but it is just that: lip service. Many of them get political capital.

At the risk of appearing to be an enabler / appeaser, I think all this pilfered money should be given proper channels through which it can be helpful, not only to the politicians and their ‘causes’ but to the societies and communities in which they live. The money should be able to easily flow back to the communities in form investments. It should not however be in form of soap, sugar, etc. every odd five years (read election time). It is no secret that Switzerland and Luxemburg’s development were partially due to their “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy where many businessmen & politicians with shoddy dealings deposit huge amounts of money, mostly stolen, in their economies. From the Nazis of old to modern day democratic dictators, all are guilty! Factories, farms, ranches, etc could be set up to create employment, build capacity and improve the household incomes and wealth of nations.

We regularly read and hear of public officials involved in one scandal after another and we wonder where all the money goes. Well, most of them (African politicians) have children in European schools, visit hospitals in South Africa & America, etc but all of this does not account for the years and years of “collections” from the national coffers. Others are wont to keep the money under their beds and in ceilings where it becomes fodder for vermin.

My idea is that since apparently no one is clean from this problem then the government should put in place avenues through which these embezzled funds are used productively for the good of the county. Instead of naming, shunning & shaming, confiscating property & money (which is also in turn stolen) why not encourage the “cadres” to set up building estates, construction companies, cooperative unions / Saccos, etc.

Let the cadres consolidate “their” funds and provide cheap loans, build schools, provide low cost housing, etc. We often hear of forced ‘contributions’ by the cadres to the party especially during campaigns. Why not setup well known means of investment. This is very feasible in the long-run because actual investments are made which are transferable, taxable, etc. This will improve the employment situation in the country, increase GDP, private co-finance, etc.

The government’s role in all this should be to ease up the functions of the regulatory authorities, after all they are not immune themselves! Government officials should be given more leeway to setup private businesses without having to be impeded by investigations & inquiries over their wealth. The need to declare personal wealth to the regulators should also be scraped in order to encourage innovation & positive thinking. Then perhaps all of us will benefit from this scourge and not just a few.