DERRICK TUMUSIIME: Is A Bin Man more Essential than a Banker? Rethinking Work in a Post COVID-19 World

Derick Tumusiime is a Ugandan writer based in the United Kingdom. (Courtesy Photo)

When the Ugandan government in 1987 carried out its currency devaluation programme by almost 76%, most Ugandans did not cause a fuss. I reckon at the time they were exhausted from the ravages of war and the people probably gave the new administration the benefit of the doubt. If it happened today, I would not even want to speculate what would happen.

That year was a turning point in my father’s relationship with banks. He withdrew all that was left after the devaluation. Up until his untimely death 30 years later, he never held a bank account. He would later tell me in not so many words why he never held an account, “Banking is necessary, banks are not.” If that statement does not resonate in the current situation then I do not know what does. In a post-COVID-19 world are banks necessary?? I leave that to you to maul over!

I am not a futurist, however, in watershed moments like the ongoing pandemic that is COVID-19 and the continued lockdown, we need to ponder on issues that affect our lives in this fast-paced world that we live in. By the time the lockdown ends, and the pandemic becomes an afterthought in our ever-changing world remember the plague, Spanish flu, Ebola, Zika, Sar’s …….

In the aftermath of COVID-19 the world will have changed, but whether we are futurists or not we should be able to pause, think, recalibrate and ask ourselves some uncomfortable questions about the future and our place in it, and for me one of those questions is work.

Work is one of the fundamental questions since it is a basic aspect in the fabric of our daily lives. We need to reflect and assess our relationship with work and ask ourselves the age-old conundrum do we live to work or work to live? It has been quite a revelation on what is considered essential and non-essential work.

The debate on what is essential has shattered some long-held views on the work that we do that is vital to our survival. That is a debate for another day. However, without prejudice, we all have an idea of what is essential work when the proverbial shit hits the fan!

At best work is still an abstract concept it is both a noun and a verb, human beings are the only animals who have to work. For those who need a brief history of work for the religious, I recommend Genesis 2:3 & 3:19. For the worldly, Adam Smith in his seminal book The Wealth of Nations {Smith 1937 30-1}.

We have a love hate relationship with work as witnessed with the ongoing pandemic and lockdown and a lot of contradictions to go with this relationship.

We define ourselves by what we do, yet we get offended when asked or lie to extenuate our standing in society.

We spend most of our adult lives at work, yet we never develop any meaningful relationships there.

We complain how work has taken over our lives, yet when an act of God gives us a much-needed hiatus, we fret and realise how our lives are embedded in our work.

We work to have a better life, yet when we are stopped to preserve our lives, we resent it. It is quite a revelation as to how bad we are at doing nothing.

In an age where we are the most connected, by mobile phones, computers, and several social media platforms such as, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, zoom, skype, Instagram to mention but the most obvious. The constant amount of boredom outrage is quite a marvel to behold. Psychologists refer to it as the paradox of progress” eh…

Instead of all this outrage drivel, we should be asking ourselves some hard questions about how we work, would like to work and the kind of work future we envision, or we would like to be a part of. And carry out our own SWOT {Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats} analysis.

If we do not ask ourselves these questions and help formulate the narrative and the future of work that we want. Make no mistake there are technocrats and politicians asking these questions and dreaming up, formulating policies’ that are going to shape the future of work.

What we must keep in mind is that despite the lockdown, despite all the prophets of doom and gloom, the pessimists, the nay Sayers, the cynics, the world economy has not collapsed. I can hear calls for a more streamlined civil service, parliament the list goes on. The supply chains have carried on. So, the questions we should be asking are.

Is working from home where possible in a connected world the way forward?

Should essential work that has been disproportionately underpaid be upped?

Are certain jobs necessary if they are not productive in the grand scheme of things?

As world economies contemplate to become inward looking what is our place in that new world?

I leave you with some words of caution. In an ever-globalised world and at the rate at which technology is advancing. Someone or something can always do your job a little better, faster, or cheaper than you can. And politicians in there double speak will never be on your side. ‘We are in it together’. In your dreams!

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