Stuff African People Like: Employment

Before we get into the festivities for the day, let me say a public congratulations to the founders of Ushahidi for winning Net Square and please stop by White African and express your love and support.

Office building

Africans collectively are probably the best educated group of middle managers the world over. We love employment.Entrepreneurship is for these crazy Westerners. Employment is OUR natural habitat.

When we are born, we all want to work in some big corporate office and wear a very expensive suit and just enough cologne so that everyone can whiff the money as you walk on by. We are taught to expect the long days in meetings, the powerpoint presentations and the water-cooler-oops-this-is-Africa-where-it-doesn’t-work-so-let’s-say-the-

tea-room-where-you-boil-some-tap-water-with-some-fantastic-tea-leaves while you complain about the pain in the Gluteus that your boss is being.

Right next to this love of employment is a hatred and fear of entrepreneurship. Africans don’t like risk and taking chances. We don’t care if the top 50 billionaires are predominantly business owners who created new niches and sub-niches in the marketplace, we reason the 500 poorest folk were probably trying to do the exact same thing. We hate the fact that entrepreneurship means responsibility, especially when we fail…boy do we loathe and dread failure.

And so the typical African likes to stay in their cushy office and make fun of anyone who might try something as crazy as entrepreneurship. The key to this one is quite simple:
Marvel at whatever job title the African may present to you and always keep in mind the story of someone who started some really stupid business that ended up failing. This will amuse the African and remind them why they do the 9 to 5 thing in the first place.

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No Comments

  • By Mzeiya, May 30, 2008 @ 11:54 am

    Its all about being in the comfort zone. However my take has always been employment harldy gets people to become rich. Financially stable yes but being rich- only a few get there through emploment alone. Not many of us will end up being CEOs but its worth aiming for that all the same. It gets tickier in the West where chances of an African immigrant netting the 6 figure salaries is not that high. I can be accused of being a pessimist here but thats the reality. Ok so now you get a situation where you may not be earning the 6 figure salary (say you are getting 80k) and you can afford a lot of stuff that most people dont. What next? At the end of the day you are still working so much hard for someone else. While for a business you will be your own boss.

    Again I know some people go like: “am not in this job for the money bla bla”. If thats true, then you are fine, but for those who think that they can become tycoons out of employment please let me know how. The expensive suits, flashy gadgets, cars are usually the only possessions that some of us get to have. Dont forget most of it is bought on credit.

    Another joy for venturing into business is that you can create opportunities(not necessarily jobs) for people in need especially back home.

    I would never discourage anyone to seek employment especially if you have been through tertiaty education. All things constant, there are good chances that you will not fail. But we still need to recognize those who choose to pursue the line of business.

  • By rags, May 30, 2008 @ 1:50 pm

    I myself am trying to get into the Entrepreneur mindset. Hope it works out for me.

  • By acolyte, May 30, 2008 @ 1:52 pm

    This one sadly goes way beyond Africans. In the West here employment is a major staple that is why when job cuts are announced things become narrow. But yes we Africans do love the idea of working at a desk and preferably with a fancy title we can bandy about.
    But I think the lower the class ladder you go in Africa, the more entrepreneurs you find. It also goes the same way the higher you go in class, our middle class love to be employed.

  • By Kelly, May 30, 2008 @ 7:02 pm

    Yeah, we africans sure do love employment, but there is also something to say for those of us (me included) who will always have some sort of deal going on on the side. The main reason most people end up never quitting is the fact that if you go into business and fail, here in Africa, there is a higher price to pay. Don’t forget, Africa is not as kind to enterprenuers like the West, here it’s a battle.

    It’s not easy to get a job once you’ve given up what you have, so what happens when you sink everything in business? What most of us end up doing is running things on the side, until when you have security (like real estate), then you drop the job.

    IMO, Africans are gradually moving away from the employment mindset, just that it has to be gradual. This is especially true for the people in our generation. Most guys want to work till the 30s, then go out there and follow their passions. Lets hope it works out!

  • By Mwangi, May 30, 2008 @ 9:32 pm

    @Mzeiya: About the financial stability thing, I must respectfully disagree, employment, especially in this flat world is far from a rock upon which to rest yourself.
    Last weekend I was talking to a friend of mine who is about my age and him and his brother have started their own businesses. Like me, they dropped out and decided to do their own thing. Of course their parents got on their case initially about going back to school to get the degree and the job which would be the foundation lest things go wrong. Well, then the father was fired and was on the job hunt for the next few months (with quite some adventure in between). It was then that he realized that when you are employed you are pretty much a tool in a machine that’s not owned by you but by the board and the CEO. Perhaps if the business is run by a worker’s cooperative as it does in many third world countries you can say it’s a strong foundation but if it’s being run by a board or a CEO or a partnership, the bottom line is their profits and the continuation of the business, not your job security.
    As I said in the post on my opinions on Melb, I really don’t know how deep institutional racism is and so I can’t speak as to whether or not there is a “glass ceiling” for Africans on the basis of race….we are one of the first generations to experiment with what the limits are within the Australian society and so I am sure that people will crop up in the next few months and years who reach new heights.
    An article worth checking out on an American dude earning 6 figures online:
    10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job

  • By Mwangi, May 30, 2008 @ 9:38 pm

    @rags: Do you have any idea what you’re goals are… start businesses and then sell them, make money by spreading some message, create a new industry, just have enough money to live a good life without having to go to work any day?

    If you know, I study this stuff all the time and can gladly point you to some resources………….If you don’t know I might be able to help with that too

  • By Mwangi, May 30, 2008 @ 9:41 pm

    @acolyte: You know it amazes me, everyday online I come to some new insight that I never would have arrived at on my own. You are right….the obsession with employment is a middle class thing….the lower classes are desperate and so learn how to hustle and survive (maybe that’s why so many of the rich in the States start out dirt poor) whereas the upper classes know how to maintain the wealth for their future generations (nepotism, trust funds, education etc etc).
    The middle class is in that constant state of anxiety where we are comfortable enough to not desperately need anything but are constantly driven by this uncomfortable urge to move higher up the ranks in our corporate office jobs.

    Thanks for teaching me my lesson for the day.

  • By Mwangi, May 30, 2008 @ 9:43 pm

    @Kelly: My father recently returned from Kenya and in addition to that I hang out a lot with someone who is fresh of the boat…the stories they tell me are absolutely amazing. We have so many entrepreneurs in fields as diverse as IT and the net, the arts, fashion, grass roots innovation, animation and of course thanks to your site I know of companies like Bunduz….why we don’t have a young entrepreneurs magazine somewhere offline or online by now, I don’t know, we need to celebrate this talent.

  • By Carol, May 30, 2008 @ 10:12 pm

    Nana hapendi salari?
    The clip is cool!

  • By Carol, May 30, 2008 @ 10:13 pm

    No I meant nani! Who does not like salari oh ho ho!

  • By Mwangi, May 30, 2008 @ 10:15 pm

    @Carol: It’s such a beautiful inspirational track with a beautiful inspirational video…..whoever did the cinematography for Salari and Sinzia by Nameless has my endless respect.

  • By Kelly, May 30, 2008 @ 10:44 pm

    @Mwangi, Kenyans are really trying, but it’s sad that our policies are so unfriendly to the small businesses. Punitive taxation, unfair competition, not to mention the political issues that just mess up.

    All in all, there is hope. Nameless is doing a great job. I don’t know if it’s me, but these days his songs and Wahu’s sound alike.

  • By Mwangi, May 30, 2008 @ 11:01 pm

    @Kelly: And that’s why an entrepreneurship magazine would be so great, so we can learn how to leverage and go through or around all these issues to build an entrepreneurial society from the grassroots up.
    I haven’t heard Wahu’s newest songs though I have heard they are pretty good? What do you expect, they are married, they probably hum the same songs in the shower……….

  • By akiey, May 31, 2008 @ 9:27 am

    I think Acolyte explained it way better than I would have myself. The notion of those middle classes being more comfy in employment holds true.

    From the looks of how you describe it, it seems like I may not be typical African for once as I really dislike anything that even pretends to be employment. I tip my hat off to all entrepreneurs for they are some of the biggest risk takers and being one you take risks every day.

    A regular paycheck is fine but it comes with it’s share of balaaz such as some unreasonable boss or a board of directors that has over ambitious goals & expectations that tend to put pressure on those below them.

  • By Mwangi, May 31, 2008 @ 9:34 am

    @akiey: I think that makes two of us who are atypical in that respect. Ever since I was a child I never wanted anyone to be in control or responsible for my destiny and always wanted a job where I was free to chose when and how I work.
    I grew up in a household full of business owners and I have compared it with employed life……to entrepreneurship, personally, I don’t even see it as the more risky option if you experiment with it while you are young and have access to greater safety nets which tend to minimize as you get older (and come right back in retirement age)

  • By Mzeiya, May 31, 2008 @ 3:20 pm

    Well I guess it all depends on which side of the proverbial coin you are looking at. I tend to think that if you have gone through the rigours of higher learning, the endless assignments, re-sits, burning midnight oil then its more appropriate you seek employment in your field. It again depends on the discipline you studied. If you are trained as a teacher, nurse, accountant etc you should first look for employment in organisations. As time passes by then you can choose whether to go it alone.

    However some people choosee never to be employed at all. I guess you need to be an employee to become an effective employer.

  • By akiey, May 31, 2008 @ 4:13 pm

    That’s something we have in common then. I too grew up watching my parents learn the ropes of entrepreneurship to a point where they mastered it. Saw the ups and downs that come with owning & operating a business and as you you pointed out, you learn to react to them. I think with time you realize they are but common necessary hazards that also present challenges to make owning your entreprise an interesting experience in itself.

    As Mzeiya puts it, acquiring skills through school or formal training makes sense that one seek employment in their field, something a good number of entrepreneurs have done and yep, when employed and you see things from that side of the desk/counter/street etc you learn the dos and donts of being an employer too, even if it means you become your own employer & employee.

    Personally, I apply the formula of getting a good education with as much diff skills as possible, get into the “working world” and with time use your formal skills to help establish and advance your entreprise that way you come close to a win-win situation.

  • By Mwangi, June 1, 2008 @ 4:40 am

    @Mzeiya: In my experience the psychology of employers and employees is so remarkably different: employers tend to be very unreasonable, tenacious people who seem to have an obsession with control and taking responsibility whereas employees tend to be people who work very well with other people, have empathy and abhor risk.
    So far I have met quite a few folks who go to University, get out and end up doing something completely different from their degree. Employment definitely has its advantages, but I am definitely the wrong person to ask about them, I am way too much on the other side of the fence.

  • By Mwangi, June 1, 2008 @ 4:43 am

    @akiey: As I said to Mzeiya, I am so far on the side of entrepreneurship that it’s quite difficult for me to contemplate going back to employment unless I am working to save up money to start my own business. For that reason me thinks that I am quite possibly the worst person to give opinions on employment, I am a spy from an enemy land ;)

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