marie antoinette on a boda-boda!

STAND UP Comedy has become a big thing in Uganda over the last couple of years; so big that even the people charged with the most serious of matters are encroaching on the space of Pablo (Yagayo!), Salvadore and the deceptively diminutive Anne Kansiime.

Shop attendants, mechanics such as George Nigo of Ntinda, office messengers too numerous to name, Chief Financial Officers holding up legitimate payments, and most of all, politicians…the list is long. Last year, in exasperation, I started a series of blog posts titled, ‘Office Clowns’ with the intention of recounting every instance of clowning my employees and colleagues provided.

I realised I wouldn’t be left with much time to do regular work. Also, I had competition: the daily news.

Admit it: you laugh every time you read, watch or listen to the news here, don’t you?

Both the content and how it is presented, most times: A Karimojong priest talks about short dressing being immoral; a lawyer of many years’ experience conjures up an imbroglio a continent away over minerals on the extreme end of his home in Uganda, whose very ownership is in question; Generals warn each other through newspaper articles; a French passport holder gets arrested in Japan over drug charges decides to be a Ugandan national for this event, and Ugandan interpol happily accepts responsibility for helping her French-passport-carrying self.

This last one still has me riled. I like Iryn’s music and have danced with her once (and lived to tell) but I hate the way she spells her name and I am extremely irate at her holding a French passport for when times are good then choosing to be a Ugandan in trouble. The global statistics of Ugandans arrested over drugs have gone up a little bit instead of the French suffering!

Back to the comedy channel that is life in UG, like many of you out there, I refused to believe that Public Service State Minister Sezi Mbaguta had said teachers who were unhappy with their pay should go and operate boda-bodas.

You see, I suffer greatly from an ailment that makes me believe in the power of logic. This inhibits my understanding and appreciation of the politics and management of society around me.

For instance: how does a politician who relies on an electorate in a country like Uganda respond to the plea, “We want our pay increased!” by saying, “Go to hell!”?

Moreover when it involves teachers, who number 160,000 countrywide (remember, we can’t be sure because we don’t do census counts here…so just allow), of whom there must be a significant number in Rukungiri whose women Mrs. Mbaguta represents. Plus, teachers are influential people who talk to children and parents – almost everybody!

By week‘s end, the Uganda National Teachers Union had issued a statement calling for Mrs. Mbaguta to cancel her Comedy Tour – (title: “Marie Antoinette on a Boda-Boda“) or face the wrath of the people at the helm of education.

Was she really unaware that she was messing with people who can create the examination question: “What is the name of the woman you shouldn’t vote as your MP?” with the answers as: a) Sezi Mbaguta b) Mrs. Mbaguta c) Marie Antoinette Sezi d) Any of the above; <–and give this ’82 marks’ at all levels from Primary One to Tertiary Level?

To be a fair to her, what she actually said was, “..they want to invest in boda-boda or buy a car. If I say the salary is small – and I’ve said it for many, many, many years – that the salary is small, if I am a public officer and I think that the current salary does not live to my expectation, then you leave that particular job and get another one which will pay you well. But to be absent based on that you pay me little, it can’t be acceptable. It’s unacceptable and we want to appeal to teachers to do their job.”

This after MPs had grilled her over low pay for teachers and reports that some teachers had abandoned classes to run boda-bodas (riding them or owning them as investments).

Of course, MPs themselves are in no danger of facing this ignominy:

Their monthly salaries and pay includes a subsistence allowance of Ushs4.5million (enough to pay ten Graduate Level secondary school teachers), Mileage, Extra Constituency mileage of Ushs2.5m per month (the salaries of about ten entry level primary school teachers), Town running Ushs1million, Ushs200,000 medical allowance (about the salary of one entry level primary school teacher). I have also heard of a sitting allowance, Gratuity of Ushs3.5million and a Constituency Development Fund (CDF).

This CDF, according to The Observer of May 2012, was turned into a “secret pay rise” when MPs abolished it “because it was too little to have an impact”. It was Ushs2.9 billion being shared out among 375 MPs to use in their Constituencies.

Due to their great prowess in mathematics, thanks to teachers at different levels, the MPs worked out that the same money shared out among 375 MPs would have greater impact, and turned the CDF into allowances of sorts at around Ushs7.7million per MP per month (I asked the Parliament Public Relations people to refute The Observer story but they haven’t gotten back to me yet so…)

So Sezi Mbaguta earns about Ushs19million per month and is not about to go ride a boda-boda, while an entry-level primary teacher earns Ushs267,300, a secondary teacher (Diploma) Ushs350,000 and (Graduate) Ushs450,000.

Her colleagues in Parliament on the Social Services Committee who ditched teaching for Ushs19million a month include Judith Franca Akello (Agago Women), Alice Asianut Alaso (Serere Women), Victoria Rusoke Businge (Kabarole Women), Yahaya Gudoi (Mbale), John Nizeyimana Kamara (Kisoro), Aboud Kitatta (Bukoto West), Capt. Susan Lakot (UPDF), Betty Ahimbisibwe Mbabazi (Rubirizi), Connie Galiwango Nakayenza (Mbale Women), Gilbert Olanyo (Kilak), Joseph Gonzaga Ssewungu (Kalungu West) and Sylvia Namabidde Ssinabulya (Mityana Women).

But let’s be realistic – teachers earn less than most other professions the world over. And they do so out of sacrifice and a love for what they do. When they see their students doing well, they feel proud of their achievements.

Which is why Sezi Mbaguta is facing their wrath. Surely, after all her education, holder of degrees to Masters Level, she should have worded her “Go to hell!” message more politely like we always do.

Offer them SACCOs (not Sacks!), some NAADS and other opportunities. Sympathetically point out the other categories of people suffering all across the country – like Kasese flood victims and what not.

At her rate of public service management, to paraphrase some witty World Bank fellow of many years ago, we are soon going to have very many ill-educated people riding around on boda-bodas to attend some very low level stand-up comedy shows.

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