Here we go again with my ‘silly’ ideas. But I must first take you back in time lest you forget that I have been cooking up these ‘silly ideas for a while (see www.samuelsejjaaka.com). It was the time that Dr. Kizza Besigye ‘impudently’ declared his wish to sit on the proverbial three-legged stool. I recall one ‘Right Honourable’ Amama Mbabazi rebuking him for trying to jump the queue. For most of us who live in Uganda, we had never known queues, unless you had grown up in the times of Idi Amin, when his soldiers enforced economic war queues with ‘kiboko’. Is the black man’s brain not in his buttocks?
Amama Mbabazi’s comments forced me to look closely at the economic import of queues. That’s when I came up with the idea of a ‘queuometer’. My hypothesis then (and now) was that the lower the respect a society held for a queue, the lower the level of economic development in that society. This is a theme you see everywhere in resource challenged societies. In all public places, the stampede is the order of things. In banks, at the taxi park and traffic jams, the queue has scant respect. Maybe then Kizza Besigye was being impudent; that is until Amama Mbabazi discovered there was no queue! As they say, the rest is history.
Fast-forward to this week and my friend good John Bigyemano corners me for a business discussion. Soon the conversation turned to the state of the economy. We all agreed that the economy was showing signs of stress (at least for the two of us). John then told me that he had baptized the current phenomenon of closed shops the ‘Four Padlock Syndrome’. ‘Why?’ I asked. He then narrated to me that whenever you see a closed shop that has four padlocks on it, the business owner would probably be in trouble. “The first padlock is for the landlord, the second for KCCA, the third is for URA and the fourth for suppliers”, he explained.
I was stumped by his ingenuous observation and all I could do was agree at the time. The conversation then moved on to other things. His clever son, who wanted to become a dollar millionaire at eighteen, the wonders of international travel and other sundry pleasantries.
After our encounter, I just couldn’t get over the idea of the padlocks. To my mind, the padlocks were not just four. What if the owner himself was a paranoid fellow who didn’t think one padlock was good enough to secure his premises? There also had to be a symbolic fifth one if his observation was to hold up. A smart business owner, on seeing that his business had been locked up would also add a padlock, lest the other guys connived to open the shop and sell his/her goods. So he/she would add his/her own padlock. John had just miscounted the ‘padlocks’. It was actually the ‘Five Padlock Syndrome’ for me now. And that’s when the academic in me kicked in.
Was it possible that suppliers of padlocks were doing a roaring trade? Thoughts of trailers of imported padlocks raced through my mind. I hypothesized that ‘there was a negative correlation between the sale of padlocks and economic growth’. As economic growth slowed down, the trade in padlocks would boom. Uganda Bureau of Statistics has beautiful data on economic growth. According to them, the economy is growing and we shall be moving back into the ‘6% club’ this year. So that is settled.
But as is the case with many of my musings, reality soon hit me. How was I going to collect data on padlock sales? Whom would I ask? Did we know who was benefiting from the import of padlocks? I can’t seem to get my mind around the idea of this padlock theory but now that I have planted the idea, you can get off your lazy backside and do the research.
Samuel Sejjaaka is Country Team Leader at Abacus Business School. Twitter @samuelsejjaaka