You are either gaming the system, or it is the system itself that is playing you. This is the skeptical view of the world from the Abunuwasi Phenomenon, which defines unspoken values of East Africans that are depicted by the character of the same name in the popular Kiswahili storybook.
If you didn’t steal the election, then somebody else did; if your competitor is winning marketshare then he must be doing something shady; and all the negative news articles about our brands have been planted by our opponents. Within the Abunuwasi Phenomenon we are convinced that nobody is beyond reproach; not your neighbours, not the industry captains, not the politicians and not even the clergy.
Under this tacit system of values we avoid being the victim by staying constantly on the offensive, saying “no” as a standard response to any request before considering it, and by generally being suspicious of everyone’s motives. Duplicity seems to be its hallmark as in one moment you can be extremely harsh to the advertising sales executive who sold you a page 5 ad in the dailies which appeared after the obituaries, and in the next moment offer excuses for your customer service executive for overpromising and underdelivering because they succumbed to client pressure.
One way to evade the loss and embarrassment of being taken for a ride in an environment where there is a potential trickster in every soul, it to have a heightened sense of awareness and develop an instinct to identify the telltale signs of the Phenomenon.
We all have to battle with the Fundi Mentality where workmen often claim to have more skills than Macgyver. That’s not possible, and there’s a tonne of disappointment at the end of any contract entered into with them. Similar over claims can be found in the SME sector, where new businesses hungry for cash leap out of their area of expertise to capture every shilling they can, because their survival depends on it.
Companies to be wary of are those that offer sophisticated services that are announced in large letters atop their offices, and then extend auxiliary services that are not complimentary to their primary expertise. Thus when you find a company offering turn-key IT automation services for large scale industries, as well as ‘cell phone airtime’ and ‘photocopying services’, run for the hills.
Another way to avoid falling prey to the Abunuwasi Phenomenon is to work with companies that have built a strong reputation. “A good name is more desirable than great riches,” says the Book of Proverbs and the divinely inspired author should know because some of the Abunuwasi stories originated from his part of the world.
A spotless reputation is built deliberately over time through maintaining a positive attitude toward the task at hand and the relationships that revolve around it. It demands consistency in delivering the desired result and the ability to make good where the system falls short of expectations. A good name loathes mediocrity and strives to fully satisfy the market need by doing more and going further.
Time is a friend of a good name and an enemy to a shady operator as it stretches the duration to scrutinise the details, and in those very details we may find Abunuwasi himself.