A few years ago, James Onen (Fat Boy) and I had a disagreement on his Facebook page over the legitimacy of what I called (and still call) the Museveni Junta.
He labeled me an extremist. I countered that he was defending the establishment which had lost every right to govern. The debate got so spirited that it unfortunately degenerated into a spat.
I still find a number of his views to be misogynist, aloof and revolting.
In the wake of the termination of his employment contract with Sanyu FM, I have seen a stream of celebratory messages, taunts and relish at his and the fate of others with whom he was dismissed. I respectfully disagree with that approach.
You see, an objective analysis of the classes in our economy shows that it is high time the Ugandan working class—across professions, vocations, the gig economy and the ‘informal’ sector—appreciated our common fate and united around some basic minimums, regardless of the disparities in our worldviews, affiliations or persuasions.
Sudhir Ruparelia, one of Uganda’s oligarchs and kingpins in organized crime, happens to be the proprietor of Sanyu FM. His reputation for unethical and unconscionable business practices needs no elaboration.
It is his heir apparent, Rajiv, who has wielded the axe at the radio station and is leading the smear campaign against those who were sacked for protesting a pay cut. To avoid getting distracted from the point I want to make, I will deliberately stay away from the legality of the summary terminations.
In a society where workers are routinely mistreated, harassed, abused and exploited, Onen and his friends are experiencing what happens to the majority of working Ugandans every day.
Ours is a country where fields like accounting, media, medical, law and engineering firms not only pay peanuts but have no social security protections or safety nets.
The same is true for the banking/finance, telecommunications, insurance and hospitality industries. Those in the informal and gig economy are treated worse. It is fitting that I also debunk the abiding fallacy which holds that those who work in NGOs earn a living wage. Forget it!
It is wholesale exploitation everywhere of ordinary and mostly young Ugandans. We make the billions which fatten the same robber barons who have no qualms about summarily firing an entire team of workers at a popular radio station—knowing that there will always be an army of hungry, naïve, desperate young Ugandans ready to work for whatever crumbs the boss will offer.
Ironically, the above services are a major contributor to annual GDP which, apparently, has been on an upward trend. How then is it possible that the economic growth we see on Matia Kasaija’s charts does not translate into a standard of living that is commensurate to the cost of living for we workers?
The answer lies with the fact that we are a timid, poorly organized, under-represented and uninformed lot.
When Vision Group announced the first pay cuts and similar measures, the entire media fraternity and the rest of the Ugandan workforce should have raised hell and, at the very least, fought back in solidarity. The church bells that are sounded during a funeral are not played for the dead—they are a message to the living that a similar fate awaits them.
When we all kept quiet and left Vision staff to their devices, other media conglomerates and business proprietors got ideas and noticed that they could get away with murder. And so far, they have.
The axe has now hit Sanyu and it will soon reach us wherever we are. If in doubt, look at the National Budget and ask an economist about what it means for job creation and growth.
The same logic of being each other’s keepers should apply whenever unfair policies and legislation are proposed or passed by the ruling elites against teachers, boda boda riders, university students, matatu drivers and touts, residential and commercial tenants and food vendors, to name a few.
There might be a few differences in the way we behave, dress, live and drive or socialize, but at the end of the day, a doctor, a university student, a small business owner, a young professional in a bank, NGO, hospital, law firm or radio station and a casual labourer in Kikuubo are all ‘abantu ba wansi’ (everyday people).
We belong together and are in the same socioeconomic bracket. We have a common fate. We have a common predator: the corrupt, politically connected one percent who exploit our labour, talent and ingenuity while getting richer and expanding the income inequality gap between us and them. It is existential.
Anything that threatens the well-being of a person in our class should be treated as a threat to all of us regardless of whether we agree politically or hold different worldviews. There must be some bare minimums. Indeed, an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Therefore, unless you belong to the untouchable class of Ugandans, you cannot afford to be indifferent towards Fat Boy’s current misfortune.
A terribly sexist adage in my native Runyankore says that a co-wife who sees the stick that her husband uses to beat the other wives should throw it over the fence because after beating the others, it will be used on her.