The first time I visited a developed country I noticed the streets were empty at 10am. I thought there was a problem. On inquiring, I was told people are busy working indoors.
Compare that with Nairobi at 10am, streets are full of people. We could argue they are working- scientifically, there is motion. But the truth might be different. A visit to the rural areas lately reveals that shopping centers are full of people much earlier in the day than in the past. Lots of these people are idling around. Some are already drunk, though the brew crackdown has had a dramatic reduction in the number young men drunk at dawn. In school, if you want to be unpopular teacher give students assignments, or work. Ever noted mathematics is the most unpopular subject among students particularly in high school? It involves intellectual work. Talk to employers and their biggest concern today is getting people who can work, despite all the joblessness. But it is more subtle than that.
Most people nowadays do not want to work; they prefer to delegate or give orders. It is no wonder lot of decisions are never made. Why is work being looked down upon, yet even in our traditional societies, hard workers were respected. Hardworking girls even got husbands faster. Why is work being avoided yet most religions condemn laziness? Some argue persuasively that, the law is to blame particularly for those at decision making levels. Many fear that if they make decisions and take action (work), and something goes wrong, they will find themselves in court. To avoid litigation, just do nothing, do not work. The only people who seem to work in Kenya are those that have no choice because it is matter of life and death. That includes farmers, who feed themselves and the nation.
Even those in the noble profession have been caught in the trend. How many times do court cases bounce because some learned friend is not available, not working? How often do some doctors behave in a manner likely to suggest you are bothering him? Do all teachers inspire their kids in the spirit of Horace Mann? To be fair, other professions and trades are not innocent. What percentage of Kenyans really work?
What surprises me is that people do not want to work in their own businesses. Have you been mistreated when taking business to someone? May be am biased, but the younger generation is the worst affected. A customer comes and you cannot stop talking on the phone, because you see him as a nuisance. Does it surprise you we have so few indigenous multinational corporations? Have we not made strikes our staple? Are strikes not another way to avoid work? Without a critical mass of Kenyans believing in work, it is no wonder talking has become the leading industry, with people looking for mentors and motivation speakers. Why do you need a mentor when you have a mind yourself? Why do you need to be motivated when you can motivate yourself intrinsically by setting goals in life? We have argued that corruption is driven partly by our hatred for work. Why work when short cuts can earn you millions? The truth is that we never made work part of our national culture like America’s protestant work ethics or Asian values. Hatred for work cuts across social classes and education levels.
Where does this allergy for work originate? We hire someone to take care of our kids, called house-help. Occasionally, they help them into helplessness. As we grow up, we see those who ‘never’ work progressing. Compare someone who spends a day in the shamba in hot sun or rain and someone who spends a day in the office under a roof in a tie (who invented this piece of cloth?).
The compensation system seem to reward those ‘who do not work’. In other countries, the gap between blue collar and white collar jobs is not that big. Who earns most money in Kenya? You may quickly say it’s CEOs of big corporations or MPs. My hunch tells it is brokers. By the time we are adults and leaving school, we have learnt to avoid work. Truth be told, in developed countries people avoid work, by enslaving technology. They even use machines to harvest grapes! Remember the resistance to tea harvesting machines? In Kenya, work avoidance is also manifested in relentless pursuit of higher education to get promotion, work less and earn more. In Kenya, we do not want to enslave technology, the reason we avoid studying sciences and technology in schools. Look at graduation lists of our universities and break down the list into areas of concentration. Paradoxically, we love the fruits of technology from our cars to mobile phones that saves us lots of work. Shall we ever love work? We need to work if we have to change the economic fortunes of Kenya. We must start with our kids. If they loved work, we would have no problem with corruption. Work and leisure are part of high school syllabus, but that is too late.
We need to incentivize work, so that no one avoids it. People will do any work as long as it has right compensation. Have you noted how costly it has become to pay fundis? I recall buying a car spare part for a car in USA for $7 (Sh714), but it cost me $40 (Sh4,080) to fix it-because the work of a mechanic is valued. Do we need to re-look at our labour laws to ensure that real work is compensated and not the positions? Any analysis of the supply chain can easily reveal where real work is done. Do you need to re-look at the connection between academic qualifications and compensation? Do we need to reward counties that work harder and contribute more to the national coffers?
The lack of an economic breakthrough in Kenya and most African countries in the last 50 years can be partly attributed to the fact that we avoid work, what economics is all about. In fact another name for work is economic activity. Why do poor countries stop working at 5pm while the rich countries work 24 hours? Economist Paul Krugman put it more succinctly while commenting on the growth of Asian tigers; they grew through perspiration, not inspiration. Do we have too many Kenyans waiting for inspiration, from motivation speakers, mentors and divine intervention?
I hope I have worked while writing this piece.