I have many friends and colleagues who are either psychologists, or students of human behaviour. But none of them have ever explained sufficiently to me what it is in Ugandans that make them complain to high water about things going wrong, threaten to expose all, and then turn around and say they will only do so if they are dared, or challenged (and that is the longest statement I have written in a very long time!).
Largely, naming and shaming usually works where systems do not work (sounds familiar?). In Uganda there are no consumer protection agencies, and the way the systems works is that so-called ‘big men’ and politicians get away with all kinds of abuse. In circumstances like these, naming and shaming is usually the last and only resort for normal citizens to stop impunity and abuse.
My good friend Pumla last week shared a picture of a driver that had parked so badly that she had no way of getting into her car. Of course she was incensed at the insensitivity of the driver, so she took a picture and put it on Facebook. But she blotted out the offending car’s number plates. Her reasoning? That ‘even those with bad manners are entitled to privacy’; so why did she share the picture? Was it just to let off steam, or in the hope that offending driver would change his ways? But why would he if he or she wasn’t named, and thus shamed?
In such a situation the police, or parking attendants, should have clamped that car and made the driver pay a fine, in that way they would think twice before parking badly and inconveniencing others. But we all know that is not going to happen, the police are too busy doing the job of traffic lights, and the parking attendants think their main job is to show women how to park cars. So Pumla my dear, there really was no work done. That driver will go his merry way inconveniencing every other driver they meet.
History is full of stories where naming and shaming has worked, where nothing else would. We know that autocratic societies do not respect human rights, and the Soviet Union was one of the most autocratic ever. So when dissident and human rights campaigner Andrei Sakharov got under their skin, they shipped him and his wife off to a labour camp in Siberia.
No means of negotiations or pleas from other countries made any difference, so somebody in Washington came up with the brilliant idea of changing the street name where the Soviet Embassy was to Andrei Sakharov. The embassy address thus became ‘No. 1 Andrei Sakharov Plaza’; the letterhead had to be printed with Sakharov’s full name, and they had to mention and see Sakharov’s name almost on a daily basis. Ashamed, after a year Sakharov was released.
There is a Facebook page named Kampala Food Network, where foodies get together to share experiences about, well, food. Service providers advertise their wares there, but woe befalls anyone that dares to complain of poor service. Often that person would be criticised for not approaching the provider personally and sorting out the problem, instead of ‘trying to spoil their businesses’. I don’t know what psychology that is, where the victim is at fault and the perpetrator gets away with shoddy work. Is there any surprise, then, that in our society often victims of sexual harassment are blamed for inciting the abuse?
Most service providers now are taking advantage of social media to freely advertise their wares, and invite the public to like their pages or groups. This is our chance as the public to make them accountable to us.
For example, when power goes off, folks are quick to post and call Umeme all kinds of names, most of them unprintable in a family paper like this one. They don’t wait to ask for an explanation why power off, maybe some transformer blew, or the old systems get overloaded when it rained and switched off automatically; no, they just rant away. Now somebody even proudly got a dictionary of insults ready to take the Umeme rants to a new level. If they can do that, why keep quite when you get bad food in a place, or some manager is acting like they are doing you a favour to serve you?
As I wrote this someone posted on the Kampala Food Network page that those that ‘de-campaign others businesses should stay in 2017’. To their credit, and hopefully it is a sign of the times, almost all of the forty-something comments that followed were blasting her for that post. In fact one of the comments gave me the headline for this column, indeed ‘naming and shaming should be the game’ this year.