Short term and long term thinking

If you blinked last week then you missed the tale of the ‘fisherman’s economic rationale. The long and short of the story is that underdeveloped communities or societies tend to live like the proverbial fisherman – from hand to mouth. Sometimes it is called the ‘curse of plenty’ or to borrow from the oil industry, the ‘Dutch disease’. The lake/sea is there. Because it is there, there will be fish to catch tomorrow. Why not deplete today’s catch?

Another academic who has spent a lifetime studying culture, refers to this particular attribute or difference between some cultures as short termism vs. long termism. Societies with a short term view of things tend not to delay self-gratification. Thus as in the case of our fisherman, why not spend our  nest egg today?

In introducing the idea of scenario planning, I was again alluding to the long termism displayed by the Chinese in dealing with matters of nationhood. In the Chinese scenario, eight key uncertainties were examined. These were international wars/terror, protectionism, America, commodity prices, Taiwan, political unrest , bird flu (read epidemics) and deterioration of the environment. Are we then surprised that the Chinese have been able to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic more effectively than other nations?

For us African’s we have been lucky that the onset of the pandemic has lagged. Many attribute this to God (another issue that has been extensively analyzed by cultural anthropologists) and being in the tropics. I hope we don’t suffer the severity of the attacks being experienced in Italy and such like places. A more plausible explanation of why the onset of COVID-19 has been delayed was given to me by a chap who enjoys the science of these things. His argument was that just like Africa was one of the last places to be conquered by the explorers because of disease and inaccessibility, COVID-19 has taken longer to get here because Africa remains, to a large extent, disconnected from the World’s busiest travel routes. To prove his point, he took out his cell phone and showed me an App called FlightRadar24. His hypothesis was that the denser the flow of air traffic (as shown on the app) the higher the probability of COVID-19 being transmitted to a given location. I have not yet found an argument to rebut his hypothesis.

But that did not stop some charlatan explorers from arriving on our shores with a type of snake oil that can cure all sorts of ailments, including the dreaded COVID-19. Within no time they had sold some to our Honorable Speaker. Before you could say Rip Van Winkle, they were in Statehouse trying to sell the same snake oil to the Old Man. Photo opportunities were not missed, and patents were being ‘given’ to Uganda in complete disregard of the dictum ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’! These events, have given our social media activists a field day. The Honorable speaker became ‘Aunty Becky’ and memes went flying left and right. More serious observers soon unearthed reports of an Indian debacle which involved a minster and a parliamentarian and one of the said snake oil salesmen. We have not yet established if it is the same fellow, but that too shall come to pass.

The good news is that after all the muck raising, government has taken up its responsibilities and issued more informed guidelines on what should be done. Starting this Friday, March 20th, social gatherings will be limited. Schools will close, and all other activities that increase the risk of infection will be curtailed. We drunkards have been specifically warned to stay away from bars because of our proclivity to spit at each other! What we have not been told is how we shall deal with the economic fallout from this pandemic. It may be a case of God for us all and  every one for themselves.

Samuel Sejjaaka is Country Team Leader at MAT ABACUS Business School. Twitter @samuelsejjaaka