Friday, July 17, 2015

You are a slave. And you don't know it.

“We keep you on this boat to row,” said the Roman soldier. “Row and you will live.” He did not have to tell them the repercussions for not rowing. They saw the results in fellow slaves being beaten and thrown overboard to drown in the turbulent seas.

That happened over a century ago. In our modern society we would rise up and riot in anger if we ever heard of anyone being treated as a slave. What we fail to understand is that slavery still lives on, and modern-day slavery is worse than ancient slavery because it is self-inflicted.

But before we go any further, let’s first look at how slavery looked like long ago. A powerful man would get people to work for him just because he was more powerful than them. Most times it was because he had conquered them in battle. Sometimes it would be because they owed him money they couldn’t repay. Other times it was because they were unlucky to be born of slave parents.

To be a slave meant that your master owned you. And because you were his property, you were not entitled to a wage. However, your master was responsible for your livelihood. He provided you with accommodation, food, clothing, medical care and entertainment. You were his asset, so he had to take care of you in order to get the highest level of productivity from you.

Fast-forward to the twenty-first century. Obama speaks of freedom for all. But the majority of us are still slaves at heart. Our employers are our slave masters. The only difference is that now instead of providing for us, they give us a wage so we could provide for our needs to be able to survive long enough to get to work the next day, and the next day, until the next pay cheque.

We may not want to admit it, but we are slaves by virtue of the fact that our incomes get spent on accommodation, food, clothing, medical care and entertainment. In fact, there is no boss who would like to pay you more than enough for those five necessities.

While being interviewed for my former job, my employer asked me where I stayed when we were negotiating for a salary. You see, she wasn’t looking at my worth, and how much I was going to produce for the company. She was looking at the least amount of money she had to spend on my transport to keep me coming to work every day. She even argued that she would provide me with lunch at work!

This slavery does not know class. It does not know academic qualifications. Whether you earn millions per month or a few hundred thousand shillings, you are, and will always be a slave if all you spend your salary on are accommodation, food, clothing, medical care and entertainment.

Your employer is not interested in making you rich. He wants you comfortable enough to keep coming to work every day. In fact, the day you stop being productive is the day you will be thrown overboard.

So how do you get out of this slavery? It’s very simple.

Stop spending all that you earn!

Not all the money that you earn is yours, my friend. It is only the money that you save that is yours. However much you earn, if all gets spent, then none of that money was yours. To steal some wisdom from ancient Babylon, from the book, The Richest Man in Babylon, “A tenth of all that you earn is yours to keep.”

When you spend money on rent, that money is not yours. It’s your landlord’s. Money you take to the market to buy food is not yours. It’s for the market vendor.

I happen to work in an industry with some of the least paid workers in Uganda. No, it’s not the academia. It is the hotel industry. According to a Kenyan chef who trained me during my internship, Uganda’s hotel workers are paid the least, compared to other hotel workers in all of East Africa. He is an old man who has worked in many hotels in the whole of East Africa, but cannot retire because he is a slave. The day he stops producing food is the day he will be thrown overboard.

I met this old chef at a very beautiful hotel. He is the one who opened my eyes to the fact that there are still slaves even in this twenty-first century. I decided to listen to this guy and learn from him as much as I could because, firstly, he is a seasoned chef, and secondly, I’ve always dreamt of being a chef. But the more I listened to him, the more I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to be like him.

One day I told him so. He was surprised that I wouldn’t want to be like him. He knew how much I loved cooking. He had seen a lot of potential in me, and had spoken to management about the possibility of retaining me in his kitchen after my internship. But he could not understand why I wouldn’t want to join slavery, like him, till I was old.

He was so blinded by his passion for cooking that he didn’t realise that he was a slave.

I didn’t want to be like him, so I turned down the job offer at that place.

I went back to that hotel last weekend to relax and have some beer. I met the old chef. He had hired a friend of mine to work with him. My friend told me of how he was working his back off but hadn’t gotten a salary in over three months.

“Why don’t you quit?” I asked him.

“But then what will I do? I need this job. And if I quit now, I won’t be paid the money they owe me.”

He was getting used to being a slave.

As I sipped my beer, I promised myself never to settle for being a slave. Although my mind is wired with a slave mentality, I purposed to fight it.

I am reminded of the 2012 movie, Django Unchained. Django was a slave who refused to remain a slave. In a society that treated all black people as slaves, where even the black people were comfortable being nothing more than slaves, Django refused to settle.

Be like Django. Be like me. Don’t be a slave.


  1. This is a piece worth acting on...well-done Paul. Very insightful

    1. Great! I'll come down to Kigali to check on you and see your progress.


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