Early birds catch the government worms

Juma was retired and had started a second career. However, he just couldn’t seem to get to work on time. Every day he was at least 30 minutes late. However, he was a good and clever worker, so the owner was in a quandary about how to deal with it. Finally, he called Juma into the office for a talk.
‘Juma, I have to tell you, I like your work ethic, you do a top class job, but your being late so often is quite a worry.’
‘Yes, I realize that, sir, and I am working on it.’ replied Juma.
‘I’m pleased to hear that,” said the owner. “It’s odd though, you’re coming in late when I know you retired from the Army. What did they say if you came in late there?’ Juma replied, ‘They said, Good morning, General!’

Sometime in 2006, I had the good fortune to attend a Rwanda Investment Conference organized by the Rwandan Government to showcase and set the scene for foreign investment in the country. My colleague and I arrived at the venue at about 8:15 a.m. having been warned to get there early as the doors would be closed once President Kagame entered the conference centre for the opening ceremony at 9 a.m. We patiently lined up through the security checks and I was pleasantly surprised to find the entire cabinet as well as their permanent secretaries had taken their seats on the front rows. My colleague, who had done business in Rwanda before, said that this was the opportunity to meet the Ministers and set up any meetings that one required. Conference attendees mixed freely with the Ministers and lots of business cards were exchanged and meetings set up as I watched. At 8:58 a.m. President Kagame strode in onto the podium and, on cue, the Rwandan national anthem began to play. At 9:00 a.m. on the dot, President Kagame sat down and the function began. For a time Nazi like me, it took every ounce of self-control not to stand up and give the man a hi five.

A year later found me in Jinja, Uganda where construction for the Bujagali Hydroelectric Power Station was being commissioned. The project was a joint venture between the Investment Promotion Services, a division of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development and an American energy company Sithe Global Power. The government of Uganda is a minority shareholder in the venture as well. Due to it being a critical pillar of Uganda’s infrastructure, President Museveni would be the guest of honor. His Highness the Aga Khan was also present due to the size and the importance of the project. Now if anyone has been around a function with His Highness the Aga Khan you will know that he is accorded protocols equal to a head of state so you can imagine the level of security at the venue. My colleague John and I arrived at the venue at least an hour earlier than the slated official start time of 10 a.m. to ensure we got good seats. John had a whole bunch of magazines in the back seat of his car as we left Kampala. “You need to have plenty of reading material at a presidential function in Uganda,” was his response to my quizzical expression. I shortly got to see why.

As soon as we got to Bujagali, our mobile phones stopped working due to the signal jamming devices that are used at any Ugandan presidential function. His Highness the Aga Khan was already on site and meeting guests in a separate holding tent that had been set aside for him. At 10 a.m. guests were still milling about and I asked John why we weren’t being asked to take our seats. He chuckled and handed me a couple of magazines. “Brace yourself,” were John’s ominous words. President Museveni arrived at the venue at 2 p.m. or exactly four hours late, with absolutely no apologies for keeping any of the guests waiting including His Highness. As soon as the national anthem was sung, he sat down and promptly closed his eyes in a peaceful repose. They only flew open when he was called to make his speech about 45 minutes later.

We were hot, hungry and extremely frazzled by the time we left the venue. The President had demonstrated, quite succinctly, what he thought of foreign investors on his home soil. On Thursday last week I was having lunch with some colleagues at a popular Westlands restaurant frequented by leading business executives and government officials. It was the last day of the Pre-Global Entrepreneurship Summit events at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC). Some of my colleagues had attended the opening ceremony earlier in the week and noted with disappointment that none of the Cabinet Secretaries had remained behind after the President left shortly after opening the event. The disappointment stemmed from the fact that the quality of exhibitions and panel discussions were so high that they warranted a level of engagement from senior government officials if they were indeed committed to showcasing the Kenyan entrepreneurial talent that had an enviable global spotlight. Present at the restaurant was a Cabinet Secretary who was in the printed agenda as being the lead government official for the closing ceremony that was slated for 3 p.m. The Cabinet Secretary comfortably sat sipping a glass of wine even as I left the restaurant at 3:15 p.m. It can’t be said that the official flag on the Cabinet Secretary’s flag would magically transform into wings and fly the government official to KICC at least 5 kilometres away.

But the conference participants at KICC could afford to wait for a leisurely lunch to end. After all they had nothing but time to wait. For wine to be sipped. At this time of global attention on Kenya’s biggest showcase events. Mentally, I doffed my hat to the Cabinet Secretary as I left the restaurant, “Good afternoon, General.”

Carol.musyoka@gmail.com
Twitter: @carolmusyoka

  • Ade

    My pet peeve.
    As a civil servant, this is the everyday norm. Meeting supposed to start at 2pm, starts at 4.30pm and runs until 8pm. The Generals usually have no respect for meeting attendees.

    • http://carolmusyoka.com Carol Musyoka

      Fully agree!

  • http://bankelele.co.ke bankelele

    Amazing. My rule here is to avoid presidential events as much as possible as they require over half a working day of commitment (being two hours early for security + event time) — it’s not like any other meeting that you can arrive at ten minutes early and assume that it will start at the indicated time

  • http://bankelele.co.ke bankelele

    Also avoid going to meetings / announcements at a minister’s office. There, they are are liberty to delay you as much as possible and serve you tea & mandazi as an acceptable apology for the delay.

    • http://carolmusyoka.com Carol Musyoka

      The tea and mandazi is if you are lucky. It’s really a crying shame.

  • Daniel Mackenzie

    haha nice piece …this things always happen and we seem to never learn…discipline is key

  • mathew

    I am one of those saying banks are fleecing us. How can the CBK governer tell the public to shun banks with high interest rates???

    • http://carolmusyoka.com Carol Musyoka

      The Governor was telling customers to stop complaining and vote with their feet.