One of the most lasting recollections of my childhood is the queues of the Idi Amin era and his ‘economic war’. I recall lining up on the instructions of my old man at one of the town stores formerly owned by an Indian dukawallah to buy sugar and salt. The store was a shadow of its former self, with its shelves filled with bananas and a few groceries. The Asian exodus had taken a heavy toll on the economy. Most aspects of commerce had almost collapsed, and much of the country’s economic life was in disarray.
This particular store in Entebbe had been a beehive of activity when the Indian owner had ruled the roost. I clearly recall its name. If you lived in Entebbe in the 70’s you would have known it – ‘Friends Store’ it was called. The Indian owner, popularly known as ‘Kireevu’ on account of his beard knew most of his customers. On the rare days that my Dad picked me from school or on the Saturdays when he asked me to carry his ‘kikaapu’ as he did the family shopping it was a must that we went by Friends Store. Once inside, I would head for the toys shelf and pick one of those self-winding gadgets. The one over which the negotiations lasted forever (and I won) was a toy soldier on a motorcycle, replete with sirens. I must have dug a hole in my poor old mans pocket.
Fast forward to 2001, and Kizza Besigye declares his intention to participate in the Presidential ‘race’. It was Amama Mbabazi (of Temangalo fame, Prime Ministership, and the Orange party) who first introduced the idea of a political queue. He argued that Kizza Besigye had jumped the queue and was seeking to have his turn before very many more deserving men (no women please)! This in his considered opinion, was disrespectful. For one I did not know if there was a queue and to this day I am not aware if there is one.
In between the Amin era, school life and the ‘Temangalo chap’s declaration, one rarely comes across queues. Today it is worse because most people don’t know what courtesy means, especially that the scarcity of life’s amenities is a thing of the past. There is scant respect for the queue. In more developed societies, people will queue naturally and wait to get their turn. In Uganda the concept seems to be alien. At the bank, at the gas station and on the road someone will be trying to jump ahead and get served. It is utter chaos everywhere and is probably a big contributor to our chaotic existence.
About two years ago, there was a tiff between then City Executive Director and the Chief of Police regarding traffic control. The Chief of Police, in an unprecedented move, withdrew all traffic police for a day. The resulting disaster was one of ‘world cup’ proportions. Last week again there was a train and trailer accident along the Old Port Bell Road. As some ‘wanainchi’ tried to help themselves to the grain from the overturned trailer, car drivers were busy inventing all sorts of short cuts. The result was an incredible jam that lasted the whole day.
Let me cut to the chase. There seems to be a correlation between economic development and the ability to queue. Maybe it is a sociological thing, but communities that are underdeveloped (primitive?) seem to have a higher propensity for entropy (chaos). I am trying to interest one protégé to do a doctorate on entropy and economic growth but I can’t seem to lock him in. All said, I still think the queue should enter the realm of economic theory as a barometer of economic growth and development. Move over for the “queueometer’!
*This article was first written in February 2011. The original can be accessed at samuelsejjaaka.com
Samuel Sejjaaka is Country Team Leader at Abacus Business School. Twitter @samuelsejjaaka