A plague called degree (2)

This is the second part of Henry Mutebe’s piece. Enjoy!

“They don’t work because their parents cannot give them money. They work because it is a value that has been embedded in them from childhood. Once a student finishes high school, he takes on a part time job and saves money for use in the university or for travels. Few European parents will buy their child a ticket to come to Africa as a tourist. The child will have to work and save for such luxuries.

In those economies, if you want some money from your parents, you borrow and pay back. Nothing comes free. They teach you to live independently. Attending a University or having a degree is nothing new. You are not the first or the last. Serving people in a restaurant does not make anyone look less a graduate. Service is service! Work is a value added.

In those climes, most of the areas near Universities are filled with university students working as part timers. Students are encouraged to take up these part time jobs. The white people we like to imitate are doing what we consider too dirty or casual for a graduate in Africa.

A “technically” incompetent Chief Justice of Nigeria

It got me thinking about students in our Universities here in Uganda (you can substitute Nigeria or any other African country). I thought about all the restaurants around university campuses and the attitude of University students and graduates about these types of jobs. I thought about the poor attitude we have in the continent towards work. I looked at the chapatti boys and girls we despise who are minting money and doing great things in their lives and for their families. I thought about the people who fear nothing, who go out and just do it while we sit back.

The more I thought about it the more I realized why it would take us longer to develop. We have a generation of young people who feel that they are too educated to do certain jobs. We have a generation of children who have been prepared for a life that doesn’t exist. We have a crop of young people who appear whiter than the whites. My time in Europe taught me that we need to get back on the drawing board and re-orient our graduates.

Our young people should be oriented to appreciate the value of work. There is no reason why a University should not employ students to clean the Library, kitchen, dining halls, hostels. It is improper that a university canteen should find external staff when it has over 30,000 students who can work in shifts and serve other students.

The ability to do such “menial” jobs without feeling squeamish makes you a true leader. When students grow up with a sense of entitlement and a higher standard of living, it translates into greed when they get into national politics. They seek privileges that make them tower above everyone because they have a sense of superiority. For them, work is about money, status and not service.

Conversely, people who are willing to serve, and not merely earn, make better leaders. A service culture raises a generation of leaders who don’t do things to be seen or be thought of as higher and more qualified, but leaders who get things done. In some firms in western societies, when they look at a CV, service experience says a lot about the attitude of a person, their humility, values and philosophy towards work.

We seem to be raising a generation of children whose only image of the West is what they watch on TV. They speak using enhanced accents, and know the latest gossip or gadget. They are ‘cool’ but they have no idea what makes the West what it is. My experience there shows me something different. People work and do ordinary jobs and that’s how things get done.

We have a big problem in our society and we have to find a way to deal with it. If we are to get good leaders, we must first change the attitude of young people about work. An inflated self-image creates bad leaders who want to further segregate themselves from the ordinary people they consider low and less qualified.

Young people despise odd jobs because they believe work is all about status and money. Taken further into their lives, it means they may likely want to maintain status and money as their pursuits when they get into leadership positions. If we must correct our leadership and governance problems, we need to do something about the attitude of our undergraduates and graduates about their philosophies and values about work.

Do not despise work, go out there and just work. The Pope was once a bouncer at a club. Today he is one of the most powerful men in the world. Imagine that you had nothing to fear, what would you do to earn a living? Imagine that you had no degree or that anyone cares, what would you do to earn a living? Imagine, that no one is going to help you find a job, what would do?

I am not saying you should go and do what you don’t like but maybe, just maybe, you may need to develop a new attitude towards work. Serve people (in whatever capacity as opportunities unfold) and be happy to have served. You can never tell what the future holds, and you may never know who you will meet at your humble place of work.

Even for you that are already employed in ‘high’ places, it would not be a bad idea to go out and find a part time job (if you have time) or volunteer services in the evening or weekend at any place where your services can be of use.

Meet people, network and just keep yourself meaningfully active. Degrees are everywhere. Literally everyone has them, so just forget about the whole hype about it and be true to yourself. Don’t despise menial jobs. Serve.”

Thank you Henry Mutebe. You have spoken well. Service is life’s only pathway to true greatness. A short cut to the top will eventually cut anyone who follows it short! If you read the biographies of great men and women regarded as society’s heroes, you will see the route they followed to get to the point where society sees them as icons. Service is the rent you pay for the space you occupy on planet earth. If you can help as many people as possible to get what they want, you will never be caught derelict or stranded on life’s journey. Greatness is never hatched on the laps of haughty insolence or indulgent arrogance. Why do you think that very brilliant people with great ideas but who bypass several rungs of connecting with the electorate – ward, Local Government, State – to run for Presidency or governorship on the platform of a new party hardly win elections? They have not served a significant number of people in a significant way to command that significant level of trust!

Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!