Of Uganda’s Corporate Class and Pavlov’s Conditioning

Ivan Pavlov, a Russian Physiologist discovered Classic Conditioning accidentally. He learnt that there are some things that a dog doesn’t need to learn, like salivating whenever food is presented. Such a hardwired reflex in the dog is referred to as an unconditioned response.

He however also later discovered that objects or events that dogs associated with food triggered a similar response. Which is why after ringing a bell a number of times while feeding dogs, he tried ringing the bell without presenting the food and the dogs responded with the same intensity of salivation.

John Mungwako (name not real) has been working with a top tier company for over ten years. His was a dream come true when barely two years after graduating he was taken on in one of Uganda’s most prestigious companies. Life changed in an instant as the high salary and benefits he got automatically catapulted him into a new lifestyle and circle of people. Whatever he had earlier merely dreamt of was now at his finger tips. Training opportunities, travel, access to bank loans, corporate parties, subscription to exclusive clubs among others were things he begun contending with on a daily basis. Life indeed was good.

Borrowing from Pavlov’s dog findings, the corporate masters know too well the kind of stimuli needed to trigger the unconditioned stimuli called Work from the employees. By making their lives seemingly comfortable through; above average salaries that are incidentally eventually used to supplement their newly found high life, guaranteeing them loan applications for purchasing basics like iPads to personal cars and homes, strategically getting the employees to brand themselves as the company over self, they have succeeded in creating modern day Pavlov Pets that are ready to dance to every tune that is played by the employer for as long as the salary and benefits are dispensed.

This Pavlov approach in our corporate world has led most employees to believe that the honeymoon will last forever thereby making many throw all caution to the wind. Talk of investing in post employment business opportunities to many is akin to playing 1950’s Blues music to a Justin Bieber fan. The few that have considered such investment opportunities largely engage in them from a hobbyist’s perspective. Others are blinded by the belief that a large bank balance is the best guarantee to survival when the job opportunity vanishes. So, amidst their current lifestyle demands, they are waiting for that day when they will hopefully have amassed those large sums.

It was therefore not much of a surprise when the decisions by MTN Uganda and Africell to downsize their staff caused a lot of uproar with Africell being accused of racist practices and MTN Uganda of not being transparent with the process of transferring a section of its staff to ZTE, a Chinese technology company.

While these staff members may have had some legitimate concerns over the moves going on, my hunch tells me that the uncertainty that lay ahead is what bothered them most. Will the MTN staff keep getting the same benefits under the new employer? If yes, for how long? What kind of job security should they expect?

As for Africell, many must have been shell shocked with the short notice availed to them and had no idea what next they are likely to do. Imagine someone who is servicing a bank loan with two years to go, has to annually pay for GYM, Golf and other memberships allover the city, is educating his/her children in a very high end International school and probably rents an apartment in an upscale neighborhood of the city. What next? Where can they quickly find a new job that can maintain the status-quo?

The plight of these employees is symptomatic of victims of the Pavlov conditioning. While it suited their employers when it mattered, it has come back to haunt them now that they are parting ways. The fate that befell the MTN and Africell employees may not seem to bother you but if you are in the IT industry, you better watch the space carefully because it’s either time to re-invent yourself or be left by the roadside too just like it’s happening in India whose IT party is over.

Its therefore important for those who see themselves in a similar trend to wake up and smell the coffee. Dedication to one’s job is very good BUT you shouldn’t forget to always have a plan B in place considering that your employer will most likely be selfish in any situation that may see the two of you parting ways. If you have no ‘side hussle‘ or ‘side business’ as others call it, do not rest on your laurels until you have something up and running however basic. Your future in an environment that is more of political than professional (like most companies out there are) and over which you have no control is as uncertain as that of a cow in a lion infested game park.


Put your fears aside, chill the procrastination and start that something, even from your home. You can do it.

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