These are strange times. More than half the world is on lock down. The other half is getting on in different ways. There are over three million people who have been infected by the corona virus disease. Having endured more than 30 days of not much movement here, the mind cannot fail to wander. Here are some of the things I have been musing over. Some revealing, and some not so intelligible. I can only ask for your indulgence
My first fleeting thoughts have been about herds. In observing the pandemic, I am constantly reminded of herds. Having a herd mentality means that there is a tendency for people’s behaviour or beliefs to conform to those of the group to which they belong. Thus groups with similar characteristics tend to think alike. The wealthy (depending on how you describe wealth) for example think in certain way, the rich (people with a lot of freshly minted personal money) think in a glitzy manner, and for most of us, the average joe and poor, we also have our thought inclinations.
The things we think, often become the way we act. Hence the reference to group think. This can be both good and bad, depending on the outcomes. The most obvious positive aspect of group think is ‘that there is safety in large numbers’ even if that safety may only be psychological. However, behaviorists tend to focus on negative outcomes of group think. That’s when we start talking about things like the ‘wisdom of crowds’, ‘trial by media’ and ‘bandwagon effects’.
Some commentators have always been wary about the ‘wisdom of the crowd’, knowing full well how it can quickly turn into a tyranny of the majority. When you cross into the grey area of popular arguments, then you run the risk of seeing the trees and instead of focusing on the forest. A good example in our midst is the raging debate about Members of Parliament awarding themselves a ‘Covid-19’ package of Uganda shillings twenty million each. There has been such a furor about this action that the big picture was lost to even the averagely intelligent. The big event which led to the MPs giving themselves ‘akasiimo’ is being completely missed.
In plain language, the facts are that there was a debate about approving a supplementary budget. The total package, that the MPs were being requested to pass was in the order of Ugx. 930 billion, of which the Covid-19 budget was Ugx 304 billion for various departments. The budget was passed almost without debate, except that there was that matter of the Ugx 20 billion for the honorables. That is what we call a ‘red herring’. It became a popular argument (though not fallacious this time) that the MPs were not in order to award themselves the said Ugx. 20 billion. The real issue was lost in a cascade of smoke screens and mirrors. Having come this far, I doubt if most of us can even recall what the real issue was. Remind me please! The lesson though is clear. Group think can be misleading, especially when we are not privy to all the facts. That’s not to say that the MPs were right. More a case of monkey see, monkey do.
Which brings us to the post lockdown era. First, we need to be reminded that ‘Covid-19’ is not going to go away. Probably over our lives, all of us will catch the virus but fewer and fewer people will die from it. Also, a vaccine may be found sooner than later. When we finally get back to business, it’s going to be a new normal. The post lockdown era is going to involve a paradigm shift. There will be losers and winners. Losers will include physical retail businesses, socially oriented businesses, tourism, air travel and all those with a herd mentality. Winners will include authoritarian governments, digital platforms and supply chain businesses. On which side will you be?
Samuel Sejjaaka is Country Team Leader at MAT ABACUS Business School. Twitter @samuelsejjaaka