Rock on, you deluded idealists, we need you

Friday September 14 2018

Idealist

There are not many countries left in the world where trying to do a decent, honest and efficient job in the public sector is possible. But without these few brave souls who keep the machine of state ticking over, where would we be? FOTOSEARCH 

By ELSIE EYAKUZE
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There are aspirations that most decent African parents worry if they see them emerging in their children. The most charming of all career choices remain the service industries that are life-affirming.

We all tend to smile encouragingly when a young person says they want to be a teacher or a policeman or a doctor. This is usually because they have no idea what the job actually entails on a day-to-day basis until way later in life, and they don’t realise that in most of the world that will put you firmly in the strange and sometimes dangerous world of civil service.

If you grew up wanting to serve your country, well you are part of a fine and extremely large club of ambitious and mildly deluded folk.

Africans of my generation have a disadvantage: In most of our countries, when Independence came, the government was just about the only real employer, and the employer of choice to boot. Being a civil servant of any rank conferred status, social mobility and a credible income.

It was also a great way to get the public to send you to school and then benefit from your chosen profession. Gave it all an aura of something special, didn’t it?

Who knew the day would come when parents would actively discourage their offspring from the folly of pursuing a civil service career. I have observed older folks try to contain their concern or gently suggest alternatives when their children start getting too intense about “building the country” and “contributing to society” via government.

Think of what it has done to hardworking old folk to hear their bright young graduate tell them they have accepted a post at a public university, or as a clinician in a hamlet so small that they need a detailed country map to find it. Thus do dreams of a comfortable retirement die and instances of blood pressure rise.

Having been through the glory days, observed and contributed to the decline into what now passes for African public service, they know.

With that in mind, in these trying times it is important to affirm that the public sector remains a noble career choice. There are not many countries left in the world where trying to do a decent, honest and efficient job in the public sector is possible. But without these few brave souls who keep the machine of state ticking over, where would we be?

Don’t answer that question, it already takes too much effort to remain in denial about the number of failed states on the continent, some of them right next door.

When I visited Zimbabwe in 2017, Harare was clean, government offices were run with punctuality if not effectiveness and even if 70 per cent of the posters were for prayer group meetings, at least staff could be found at their work stations.

This in a country with no money where nobody foresaw the demise of the immortal Robert Mugabe. If you can “fail” with such discipline and pride, you’re in fact failing upwards. Very inspiring.

So to the brave and the few, those who have eschewed political careers, who hold on to professionalism in hostile environments, who go months without pay, who are subject to public dismissal and humiliation at the whim of the incumbent du jour, who speak the truth at the expense of your careers, I say: Rock on. You are the reason why some of us still dream.

Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report. E-mail: [email protected]