The #Africell saga erupted fully last week along with two other stories you may not realise are related:
ONE: Makerere University graduate David Ojok was reportedly lynched by a group of students who accused him of being a thief. The news reports say Ojok was at the university to collect money owed to him by a student who had taken to evading him and, on this occasion, was labelled ‘thief’ and killed by a frenzied mob.
May his soul rest in eternal peace.
TWO: Mobs of South Africans took to the streets in Durban, Johannesburg and other spots, and physically attacked and, in some cases killed, black foreigners of African origin. The attacks were incited by comments made by the inappropriately named Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini and other leaders. In some instances, businesses owned by these black foreigners were looted and their premises burnt to the ground.
There are enough links about this online without my having to copy and paste any.
Before I go any further, here are a couple of disclaimers:
1. This is NOT a defence of the corporate body Africell Uganda Limited, or of the actions of any of its employees. This is my personal blog under which I only write personal thoughts, observations and experiences as and when I want to, and not at the behest of anyone else.
2. This blog is NEVER paid for and has only recently began considering taking advertising as you can see from the placeholder ad being tested to the right of this page. None of my clients in my professional life is ever given access to this blog as a rule that they all respect.
3. I will not alter my writing style, thoughts and observations to suit anybody besides myself and my family, so anyone who takes offence at this post – and others – is free to do so, as regular.
4. Only two people ever review any (not all) of my posts before I upload them – both of them for the purpose of holding me back should I be too angry or rude. Their comments are taken only as comments and I am not bound to act upon them, but these two people are important enough to me for their consultation to matter. Nobody else ever gets the chance.
Now, for some definitions, but presented briefly and simply so that the simpler minds don’t go into quick slumber:
Mob Justice: is not just the act of beating a thief to death; it is justice at the hands of a mob of people, whose actions will be guided more by collective emotion, mob hysteria, compromised information and insufficient consideration. <—I have made this definition up myself, so it would be good for a professional to chip in some time.
I believe that one of the reasons Mob Justice is different from Justice in a court of law, for instance, is the manner in which justice is arrived at. Because there are normally two sides to every story, the courts accept both sides, give them a fair hearing presented by professionals, and have an independent, well-learned and sagacious person arrive at a decision – a Judgement.
Xenophobia: The dictionary I use defines this as an “intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries.” On this continent, we normally hear this phrase applied to only the South Africans, but if we were more academic we could, perhaps, argue that the only reason some countries don’t talk about xenophobia is the arrangement of the country borders…
Racism: Again from my dictionary: “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.”
As I’ve said before even right here under this very blog, we ourselves accommodate and encourage racism, both by distinguishing other races as superior to ours, and by presenting our own race as inferior.
And as I’ve said before, we must fight it. We must change the way we think, behave, operate, live, so that nobody has reason to think we are inferior. But we also must fight back when people treat us as inferior.
But we must not cry wolf.
Neither must we not engage in hysterical mob justice.
Nor be xenophobic in our approach to ‘foreigners’, if we must address people in this manner.
(Idealistic? Yes – it makes sense to live life as a pursuit of ideals.)
According to the news reports, the person who led to David Ojok’s death allowed it happen in order to escape a personal financial obligation, but the repercussions brought in many more people who administered the killing. Ojok was reportedly a small entrepreneur or businessman, even at his early age, and his demise is unquestionably a loss to his family but also to the economy – occasioned by a selfish accusation acted upon by an unthinking mob.
And the more illustrative news reports from South Africa state that the xenophobic mobs ranted and accused the black African foreigners of taking their jobs, grabbing their opportunities, and occupying space that by rights should belong to South Africans.
The links between both these and the Africell story should be obvious, and I’ll only return to simplify them if you really, honestly need me to.
To use a phrase favoured by my daughter when she feels that a situation needs final clarification with everyone paying full attention: So, Let’s Review:
A few weeks ago the mobile phone company Africell Uganda laid off 59 members of staff as part of its restructuring of the company.
Read the story for yourselves, because this is not going to be about just that event (but read the story so that you have some background to this).
Along the way, the Africell team consulted me on the communications they were doing – as sometimes potential clients do, in order to avoid being misunderstood or misrepresented. As a result of that, I became privy to quite a lot of information that I cannot make public without permission, but the following is acceptable:
On the morning before the staff were laid off, the Africell Uganda Chief Operations Officer, Mohammed Ghaddar, sent an email to all staff of the organisation.
Later that day, though, an email was sent from the email address ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ to all staff of the company and some non-staff.
The email had nothing to do with Ghaddar’s communication that morning, since it hadn’t anticipated that Ghaddar would send his email.
The first point of contention the email listed was, “Racism and discrimination towards African employees. This is exhibited in defamatory, degrading insults verbally and through emails sent to Ugandan senior, junior and casual employees. For example, the Commercial Director has personally referred to some employees as monkeys and black African idiots which Ugandan employees deem disrespectful.”
I asked both Ghaddar and the Sales Director, Milad Khairallah what this racism charge was about, and had them both go through their emails to find the offensive ones. They obliged and couldn’t find any. I asked quite pointedly and seriously, as I normally do, whether there was any truth to this charge and what disrespect anyone might have conducted that could be labelled racist.
In one email I found that one official had referred to a supplier as an “idiot” (not directly at him) during a review of a conversation – something like, “the idiot said…”
Referring to someone as an Idiot is not racist; it may be rude and disrespectful, but it is not racist. In subsequent arguments last week, a number of people said it was wrong for a foreigner to call a Ugandan an idiot, and I laughed back and asked whether it was okay for a Ugandan to call a Ugandan an idiot, or a Ugandan to call a foreigner an idiot.
The vitriol and emotion thrown at the matter, though, involved many people angrily using much worse words about Africell and people who work there – including suppliers of services…such as Communications Consultancy services.
But back to the point, I began asking for information about this Racism as stated by email@example.com. Right there in the Africell corridors, a day before the 59 employees were terminated, I asked a number of people about it and they all expressed ignorance.
A couple of them told me privately later in the day, off the premises, that there was quite some tension because of the anxiety of change.
I know about this anxiety of change – which is why Africell contacted me.
I have seen this happen in many corporate environments, in Uganda and elsewhere. In fact, at one of the companies where I worked, there was a charge of racism in our Germany offices because of a change in structure that put a couple of British people at the helm of a company operating in Germany!
The tactic of calling out “Racism!” during these company restructuring processes is effective for raising publicity and anger, but weak in achieving much else.
In the case of Africell, right from when the twitter campaign #ExposeAfricell was started, by the twitter handle @GeeksUg, I have asked everyone – anyone – to please share the evidence of Racism.
So far, none has been shared. It has been easier to ‘leak’ an email sent by me to Africell’s HR Director than the one containing racist remarks…
Speaking of that email, and complaints that I have sold myself out to work for racism, it would be good to read the email and note:
1. I am providing consultancy services re: the restructuring and communicating the positives of the move, not Racism.
2. The advice I provide in that email is quite sound and sensible, even if I do say so myself.
3. In that email, I am pushing for positive communication, which is what I always do; never negative communication.
As usual, though, some of the commentators in this matter have not even read the text of that email, while others bravely announced that they were “reading between the lines”, which is the same as making up their own information!
I am getting used to the jaundice that comes with people refusing (not just failing) to simply read text in full to try to understand, let alone analyse, it.
A little analysis into the matter, for instance, would raise questions such as:
1. How come the accusations of racism are coming out now, after people are being fired? And if it’s because they are finally free to speak, why are they not doing so (yet – in case the evidence is sent while I am posting this), instead of this anonymous, non-presentation of the facts and evidence?
2. What exactly are the crucial numbers involved here? Telecommunication companies talk about ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) and only MTN Uganda declares profits in Uganda, so how badly was Orange Uganda doing? What were their ARPUs?
A quick google search will reveal this to anybody searching. Early in 2014 it was reported that the telecommunications ARPUs in Uganda were the lowest in the region.
3. Can the 59 Ugandan employees who were terminated really all get replaced by Lebanese? If so, how many Lebanese and what will they be earning, and does it make business sense to the owners of the company?
4. If the company says it needs to drop people in order to gun forward, what is the alternative that they haven’t considered?
5. What were the salaries of the 59 people who were let go, and how do they compare with others in the same job bracket in this sector – especially vis a vis the ARPUs mentioned in 2. above?
6. What was the performance of Orange Uganda Limited? Surely this information is available at the banks where Orange held accounts, and at the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC)? Was the company as unviable as we have occasionally heard it being said elsewhere?
The questions are many, and all end up back at a business decision taken by the new owners of a company that have taken on an entity that was going under but needed turning around through painful means.
It is an unfortunate step that companies have to take but one that is taken all the time – especially in mergers and acquisitions. That doesn’t make it easier for the people being laid off, and it doesn’t mean that the ones doing the lay-offs are devils either.
And it certainly doesn’t mean that the people or companies working for foreign-owned companies are ‘mafiosi’, as some chaps declared.
Of course, there are those people who are confusing Simon Kaheru their “friend” on social media, with Simon Kaheru the Consultant or Analyst with Media Analyst.
If the South African government contacted me right now for advice on how to get out of this quandary that has South Africans in general of appearing to be xenophobic, I MIGHT listen to them and offer advice.
But I would not take a meeting with that King Zwelithini, because he is quite clearly a mad man, as far as those remarks go.
I don’t think all South Africans are xenophobic, and I don’t think it is government policy for foreigners to be thrown out or discriminated against. But I do know that they have issues and seem to appear xenophobic even as a government, though I can’t indict them squarely – the same way we still deal with the United States even though all evidence says that blacks are still treated as inferior beings there.
You see, Simon Kaheru (@skaheru
) your friend on social media does not jump about after any and every single cause that people express opinion on. With those that he does comment on, he normally tries to check the veracity of the information behind them before doing so…and the online record shows this quite clearly.
Luckily, I am not easily intimidated by trolls or taunts from people who don’t (or won’t) read, let alone analyse.
So I will continue to do what I do for a living – provide professional consultancy services in communications for corporate organisations, SMEs and individuals.
If that company collapsed today then that would put about 1,000 Ugandans out of work – on top of the 59. I would be a fool to wish for Africell to collapse – and those dropping their SIM cards in so-called protest at the 59 being unemployed are practically threatening the employment of the 1,000 or so currently employed at the company.
If companies such as Media Analyst, or Consultants such as myself, refuse to do work without rational reason, then we will go out of business and increase the numbers of the unemployed as well.
So for those who think I am a “Mafia” because I have been consulted by this company, use this:
Some people might argue that since for a number of years now I have paid to this company well over Ushs500,000 a month (airtime and data services) to Orange and now Africell, it would be good to take paid work from them to provide professional services.
But those would be drowned out by the ones calling for my blood and saying that the correct thing would have been to refuse to do so.
And if I said that those are idiots, please don’t call me racist.
Plus, until I have something that shows me an individual is racist, I have nothing to go on to condemn them – the raw, personal negative emotion needs some fuel.