Last week, I met two old friends. One is an engineer and the other an accountant. We all graduated around the same year. Luckily, they were immediately hired by reputable companies based in Kampala. They wore fancy suits, had expensive phones and from Facebook images, they seemed to be doing very well. Naturally, I assumed they were swimming in money.
After the pleasantries, we had an honest conversation. I was shocked to learn that both were earning a gross salary of Ush 900,000, psychologically abused by their bosses and overworked. How is that even possible?
When you graduate top in your class and get hired by a renowned company everyone assumes you are making lots of money hence place high expectations on you, worst of all if you pursued a prestigious course. What they don’t know is behind that fancy degree, nice suit and swanky office is a tortured soul battling depression while trying to reconcile perceived social standing and an empty bank account.
My alma mater just like any other public university has two major divisions. The government-sponsored students who feel are smarter than the self-sponsored who in turn think of their counterparts as poor and conservative. The other division is between those taking courses like medicine, law, pharmacy and engineering, and the guys pursuing BA, education or business-related courses
Reality kicks in after 2 years when we are all required to go for industrial attachment. I spent two weeks visiting countless government offices and business consultancy firms across the city. It was all the same story.
“Drop your CV at the secretary’s desk, we will call you soonest a vacancy is available.”
None of them ever called, I suspect they tossed my papers into the trash can the moment I stepped out. Exhausted, I landed in an IT corporation located at the media plaza. Unable to sway me with promises, they brought in an extra desk and a letter directing that I start my internship the following Monday. Soon after, I got another internship spot at the Division planning department.
Most firms don’t pay interns. Some actually demand that you pay them some amount for equipping you with hands-on skills. I was so happy that I would walk in town with the intern’s badge hanging from my neck.
The two workplaces were completely different. My supervisor at the county offices was a shrewd chap. He would get to the office before official opening ours then leave at midday to check on his businesses. Since drawings for any infrastructural project must go through the department for approval before construction begins, there is rampant corruption as developers seek to hasten the process. He taught me how to survive in this industry and sometimes charge outrageous amounts for simple stuff.
The corporation had a more structured environment with all kinds of professionals ranging from accountants to architects. There were about ten engineers in my department. They were all brilliant and highly qualified. One time I chanced upon their pay slips. Boy, I was terribly disappointed.
First, their salaries weren’t competitive or anywhere close to what you imagine engineers make despite working for years. Secondly, although out there the society placed them on a pedestal they were struggling to maintain this image on a tight budget. Car loans and mortgage took a substantial amount of their monthly earnings. To make it worse, all the biggest contracts have been taken by the Chinese hence fewer projects available. We would spend most afternoons on Facebook or engage in endless political debates.
As an intern, my main duties involved rushing to the supermarket over lunch time to get the freshest samosas, sausages, and bread. I was also sent on all money-related errands. My superiors were convinced that all Bagandas are thieves. I guess they were applying the adage, set a thief to catch a thief.
I met one interesting plumber during a site visit. He would undertake at least five projects a month each earning him 2M – 4M in profit. That’s a cool 20-million shilling for someone with little basic education yet a university graduate would have to work for almost 5years to make half of that. Something didn’t feel right.
When we resumed our studies at the university, professors were more truthful about what awaited us out there. One lecturer after another expressed their regrets for choosing some of their educational careers. A highly-acclaimed transportation professor revealed how he regrets having studied to PhD level, which meant there were fewer job opportunities for him. His peers who went into business after their first degree were minting millions and doing so much better than him in all other spheres of life while he was struggling to make ends meet. To add salt to the injury, the Bachelor of Arts guys he used to look down upon were now his bosses, earning more than he does and rubbing it in his face. Certain I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life lamenting about how unfair life is like my professors
Being a country that places a high value on education, lots of parents push their kids to ostensibly esteemed careers thinking they will change family fortunes upon graduation. Many other young people get into careers with unrealistic expectations on remuneration. This is intensified by the fact that those already in the field don’t truthfully reveal to the young fellas what awaits them so as to protect the respect accorded to them by society.
Having interned in more than two different companies in the city where I interacted with the Kampala middle class citizens on a daily basis, I came to abhor the kind of lives they lead. Nothing scares me like the idea of being sucked into the middle class vortex, lose my zeal for achieving greatness and getting into a comfort zone should I take the job.
You have probably heard the news about Uganda being categorized as a middle-income country and how Ugandans consumerism spearheaded by the middle class influences the economy. For your edification (according to UNBS)the middle class consists of households which spend Ush 1M- 5M per month. The rich class comprises of those who spend more than Ush 10M a month.
This is my story.
To fully understand the nightmare of ending up a rich class wannabe a.k.a middle class,my life would play as follows.
Graduate with a 2 class upper and get a job in one of the already established companies in the city thanks to my parent’s connections. Having saved some money three months into the job I decide to take a soft loan to supplement the savings in order to move out of the nest. My choice of new digs would be influenced by what my acquaintances consider cool. High chances are that I would end up in an overpriced apartment in Nalya instead of a decent house in a less envious part of the city where one gets true value for their money.
A huge chunk of the loan would be spent on furniture, home electronics and to throw a house warming party.
Keen to maintain an image, taxis would become my preferred choice of transport until the application I made for a car loan goes through. The next step would be to acquire a noisy Subaru or a serious Toyota like Mark X. The operating costs of the latter car model can be quite grueling for someone depending on a fixed income. As soon as the word goes round that I have some new wheels the few opportunistic ladies I know from my nascent years would magically regain interest “ Hey Acram ! Haven’t seen you in a while…Can we hook up this Friday? ”
As a man, the last thing I want is to turn down a pretty lady so I would agree to meet her at some elegant joint on the outskirts of the city with the aim of impressing her.
On Friday, the said lady makes an entrance with two friends in tow. They go ahead and order pricey liquor with names I’ve never heard before while I squirm in my seat. Nonetheless, we spend the next few hours partying like it’s the end of the world reminiscing the great times we had back in campus. At around 4 am the lass asks me to take her back home which is on the other side of town. Upon reaching her place she gives me a peck on the cheek before scampering upstairs bashing all hopes I had about getting lucky that night.
The next morning I nurse a nasty over night fatigue exacerbated by the thought of having wasted all the money I had planned to invest in the stock market the previous night. There is always next time, I console my troubled soul. Since I don’t have many responsibilities partying all weekend long becomes permanently ingrained in my schedule. No cool party within the city center or bugolobi ever goes down without my presence.
Five years later I’m approaching 30. My mother’s incessant demands for me to settle down finally get to me. After goggling on the best way to propose, I settle on an idea then borrow some money from my buddy Bright to finance it. My girlfriend Joan and I head to queen Elizabeth during the wildebeest migration. While on a hot-air balloon ride I go down on my knee and pop the question. “ Will you marry me?” Of course she says yes. Who in their right mind turns down an amazingly romantic guy like me?(hehe) I ensure every bit of the charade is photographed so that I can later publish the pictures on this blog to arouse envy especially among the ladies who rejected me…hehe.
This stirs a buzz on social media as young Ugandan ladies call on their men to emulate me while the guys try their best to criticize the whole thing. A few months later I round up 2 dozens of friends and relatives then extract a substantial contribution from them to go towards bankrolling my wedding. The wedding has to be glamorous. Something so grand that everyone will talk about it for days without a care of the kind of damage that would do to my finances.
As years progress I sire two beautiful kids. I decide to take a loan to pursue an MBA. A smart move since upon graduating my employer promotes me to middle level management. Now that the pay is better, I move into a bigger apartment and take yet another loan to buy a bigger ride befitting a man of my stature. The changes don’t stop there. Soon enough I switch joints where I shop, eat and drink for fancier ones. I also transfer my kids to private schools whose annual tuition fee is more than the price of a quarter acre plot along Gayaza Road.
The changes put so much pressure on me that I have to take an advance salary almost every month in order to stay afloat.
Life is still good thanks to my employer who occasionally sponsors me for trips abroad where I acquire a phony accent after a 2 weeks stay. Back in the city I make a point of attending events like Blankets & Wine with my beautiful wife. During Easter and Christmas holidays I take my young family to mombasa. All these trips are closely followed by countless pictures uploaded on Instagram for the world to see. As for spiritual growth, my family only worships at home and maybe once in a while on idd at the supreme mosque,we only listen to the prosperity gospel after all who wants to hear about hell? When it comes to gadgets, I would sale a kidney if I have to in order to acquire every new version of the iPhone. It’s official, I’m in the middle class bubble.
One day I wake up only to realize my potbelly has grown so huge that I can no longer see my junk down there thanks to a decade of leading an unhealthy lifestyle. It also hits me, I ought to plan for retirement and how to put my kids through college. With all the money I borrowed in my youth to support my fancy lifestyle the future looks grim. I’m left with no choice but to take a mortgage since a man of my age ought to own a house. I start a small business on the side to help me dig myself out of debt. The business goes under in less than a year.
As if aware of my desperate situation the boss puts me on a short leash, threatening to take action should I fail to give in to her unreasonable demands. Fully cognizant of the fact that without the job and incentives it offers my family would sink to abject poverty. I work even harder, wake up at 5:30am every weekday, maneuver through heavy traffic to work, skip lunch then pass through the local bar on my way home(yes i have started drinking). I virtually turn into a robot. Same people, same schedule every single day. Afraid of losing money I only make safe investments which are often less profitable.
Midlife crisis strikes. Career stagnation turns me into a constant grumbler. I find faulty in everything from the country’s governance to my wife’s cooking. I mistreat anyone whom I think is beneath me. It depresses me further to see former classmates’ lead better lives. This resentment grows bigger every single day. I keep wishing I had pursued my dreams when I had a chance instead of choosing the safest option. Sometimes I even contemplate suicide.
To stir some excitement, I go after young impressionable campus girls. The pretty young things laugh at my dry jokes making me feel all young again thanks to my generosity. Tired of my philandering ways and neglect , my wife goes back to her parents home. Our differences grow exponential to the point we amicably decide to divorce. She takes away my kids.Loneliness and depression leads me to seek solace in the bottle (yes am still a moslem).
One morning after binge drinking I drive into a stationary truck. As life drains out of my mangled body, my whole life flashes before my eyes. Who will take care of my kids? What will I be remembered for? Would things have turned differently had I pursued my passion? Having not lived my life to the fullest, my demise doesn’t even stir a buzz on twitter. Instead of leaving my kids a fortune I leave them with endless debts. They grow up without a father figure and soon enough forget my existence.
Fellow Young Ugandan youths, when did living an average life become so enticing? The only way one can amass real wealth is by applying the law of delayed gratification; planning for the future, cutting on expenses, saving and investing. Taking endless loans to maintain an image is bound to result in dire financial consequences in the future.
It’s time someone said it, average living (read middle-class) is not good enough!
The question still remains is University Education really worth the Expectaions ?
My Friend Esther says “some of our expectations are met ..how you maximize your expectations is up to u”
Credit: Acramist Blog