By Dr. Ian Clarke
I have always been a ‘hands on’ kind of person in my management style, but there are many managers who sit in their office, issue directives to their staff and expect things to work. They have their organogram, their reporting lines, and their hierarchy, and do not see it as their job to engage with the ordinary worker.
In fact, they see this as interference with their supervisors who report to them. A hands-off style of management works in circumstances where the organization is disciplined, and people actually do what they say they are doing. However, it doesn’t work in Africa, where people have a tendency to tell their boss one thing, but are doing something different.
When I was Mayor I was told that the role of a politician was to be ‘eyes on, hands off’, but I wondered if this really worked, or if such a philosophy was actually the root cause of why some government projects are dysfunctional. I was usually not to be found in my office, but on the street with the workers who were filling in the potholes, or digging out the drains, and sometimes I was the one who was directing the traffic when we were causing an obstruction.
This was not exactly ‘eyes on, hands off’, but the KCCA workers worked harder when I was around, and we accomplished much more. I should make it clear that I didn’t actually do the work, but just being there made things run better.
In Uganda there is a big difference between theory and practice: we learn the theory, but we don’t understand how it is applied to practice. Politicians stand in Parliament, or in the Council Chamber and make speeches, but they don’t know how to make things work on the ground.
Many well meaning government projects fail because the politicians don’t know how to be hands on, so the ‘technocrats’ give them all sorts of excuses as to why they are not delivering. African managers (whether political or business leaders) need to understand things practically and be sufficiently ‘hands on’ to ensure delivery.
I have often heard it said that many Ugandans are waiting for a ‘hand-out’ because Uganda has benefited from (or suffered from) too much aid. Aid plays to both the interests of aid organizations and to the recipients who benefit from it.
The aid organization cannot raise money if there is not a victim, and many Ugandans readily accept the role of victim, so long as they are getting something for nothing; thus we establish a cycle of dependency. There are many genuine situations where aid is life saving, but it is also all too easy for people to develop an attitude of entitlement where they have their hand out and don’t have to take responsibility for themselves.
Many Ugandan men impregnate girls and take absolutely no responsibility for the child they have brought into this world, leaving 100% responsibility on the mother.
They have developed an entitlement mentality that the government is responsible for the education and health services for their child, so they don’t need to bother to provide. But the fact is that the government can no longer cope with the steep population increase, so the resources for UPE, and free healthcare are simply not enough to go around.
Realistically there are few governments, which could provide the resources to match the rate of population growth that we are experiencing in Uganda (which is why China took drastic measures in their one child policy).
Ugandan women are amazing in the amount of responsibility they shoulder for their children, but what about the men who irresponsibly produce children whom they do not provide for, and assume there will be a government hand-out.
‘Hands up!’ may be the final stage of our destruction: the point at which poverty and inequality has become so pronounced that the poor take what they want by force, and warlords and gangs of thugs, such as Boda 2010, steal and kill with impunity. The final result is anarchy, and we pray that we never reach this point.
However, there is a downward decline, from being ‘hands on’, where we work together to achieve results, to being ‘hands off’, where we are disconnected from what is going on, to ‘hands out’, where we have a sense of entitlement coupled with irresponsible behavior, to ‘hands up!’ where the divide between rich and poor is so great that we live behind walls and electrified fences as has become the norm in South Africa.