By Denis Jjuuko
On Thursday last week, Ugandans marked the International Women’s Day. Being a Thursday, you probably spent half the day in bed and may be visited a relative or a friend later. Imagine if it had been a Friday or a Monday. Probably you would have visited the national park or some other far off place.
Public holidays that fall on Friday or Monday are good for business. Hotels, restaurants and other entertainment places make money as people plan lots of activities on such long weekends. Local tourism may benefit as Ugandans spend a long weekend away from home. Those who want to spend time on the farms, planting trees or building a country home long for such weekends. Kwanjula or traditional weddings were people travel upcountry would be many on such weekends. Fuel stations and those in the transport business would register increased sales. Politicians and those who are working to ensure they are not voted in next time, spend such weekends ‘meeting’ in the constituencies. And when people travel, they buy lots of stuff to go with. Even the roast chicken guy at Namawojolo or Lukaya would eventually benefit from a public holiday. In short, Uganda’s economy would benefit a lot.
This means that if we want as a country to benefit our economy from these public holidays, we should move them to either Monday or Friday. That way, people would plan these weekends and spend money, which would have a ripple effect on the economy. A public holiday that falls on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday or Sunday is bad for business. It is just like any other day — consumers don’t make a lot of long-term plans. The working or middle class most times simply lazily stays in bed.
This isn’t even a novel idea because a lot of the so-called bank holidays in the United Kingdom are on Mondays. On such days, there is even football to ensure that the economy benefits. In many countries, public holidays that fall on Saturday or Sunday are shifted to Monday. This is deliberately done to ensure that businesses benefit. And people carry out long term planning for such holidays because they know they will have time to do a lot as opposed to working on Monday and then you are off on Tuesday and then back to work on Wednesday. In fact, if you work upcountry, you don’t even travel for a Tuesday public holiday. That denies the economy money you would have spent. The roast gonja (plantain banana) woman doesn’t make an extra shilling.
In the US, it is deliberate that Thanksgiving Weekend starts on Thursday with the following day being Black Friday where businesses make a killing selling all sorts of stuff. In fact for the US, they went even further in their public holiday planning. Apart from some days like Independence Day, their public holidays are not date specific like ours rather they are day and week specific. For example, the Martin Luther King Jr Day is the third Monday of January while the Memorial Day is the last Monday of May and Labour Day is the first Monday of September. They could have chosen specific dates but they know the benefits to the economy of a long weekend.
However, religious holidays like Christmas should be left intact, as that is a global phenomenon. Whoever planned the Easter weekend had the economy in mind. But others like EiD and Martyrs Day could be tweaked. Imagine this year’s Martyrs Day is on a Sunday. The Catholics should be left to go to Namugongo and do their thing but the official public holiday should be on Monday. I don’t know whether the Janan Luwum Day is a religious holiday or not but why should it be date specific? We should simply say third Monday of February. Eid (the one that is celebrated after Ramadhan) should be handled the same way. The Muslims can break their fast and go celebrate but the official public holiday can be on another day; a Friday or Monday. In fact, that is what the Kenyans do. The government doesn’t wait to first spot the moon, for them they choose a day and declare it the official public holiday. So non-Muslims go to work on Eid like it is a normal working day and then the whole country marks the day on the chosen day.
Deliberate planning for the economy is important if the country is to benefit from its public holidays. Public holidays just for the sake of them don’t benefit the economy. In fact, they are hated by most business owners as they are considered costly since the workers stay away yet they would still be paid at the end of the month. So for companies to benefit, a plan should be devised so that they can make sales from the public holidays. It is high time, therefore, we shifted most of our public holidays to Monday or Friday.
The writer is a media consultant and businessman. firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo of pilgrims at Namugongo Catholic Martyrs Shrine. Internet photo