By Denis Jjuuko
For every 100 police officers that retire from the force every year, six die by suicide according to a report attributed to a doctor within the police force. Many of these officers, according to the report, once they are asked to “go home”, they realize they have nowhere to go. Going home is euphemism for retirement. So the Police is now conducting mental health clinics to sensitize their officers. Perhaps, it will help reduce this unwanted number.
To be honest, retirement isn’t a problem limited to police officers. Many people struggle to cope once retired and unable to earn any meaningful income. Many others may not die by suicide but lack of a sustainable income accelerates their death. The children, once a retirement plan for many parents, are struggling to sustain themselves. So, parents in retirement are left at the mercy of the children. That is why those policemen kill themselves. But we only talk about them because they are easy to track. The number of retirees dying by suicide may be higher and perhaps we need to track them to find a solution.
The solution largely lies with the workers themselves. At university or institutions from where we graduate to employment, we are taught all sorts of things but nobody tells students that planning for retirement starts the day they graduate or find a job. It is easier to save little money over a long period of time than saving huge sums for a short period of time. If you start saving at 25 years old, you won’t have to save as much as somebody who is starting to do so in their 40s. This is because if you start saving at 25 and you retire at 60, that is 35 years of saving. The guy who starts at 40, only has 20 years to save. That would require a significant sum than the guy who starts at 25.
I understand that most people earn so little and it is easier for people to say that they can’t save but the thing about life is that most people are capable of adjusting once the road gets tough. The issue is how to do it before the road gets tough and probably impassable.
Children are the biggest cost to most parents and indeed many people claim that they spend all their lives educating children and therefore left with nothing. Paying school fees is the biggest hurdle most parents face. If school fees is the biggest challenge most adult Ugandans face, how about producing fewer children or those we can ably look after? But if you move across the country, you see children giving birth to children! A policeman sharing a uniport with several families should be on family planning and not giving birth with reckless abandon!
It is important that parents enroll their kids into schools they can afford. There was a story sometime back of a parent an international school took to court for defaulting on fees. Why take a child to a school that you can’t afford? Children, if raised well and get some form of education, they will be fine. In fact, children will have to teach themselves a lot of stuff if they are to survive in this century. A good school is great if you can afford it but there is no need to be indebted to the bone so that Junior can be friends with a minister or an ambassador’s son.
Rent is the other issue most people talk about as an impediment to saving for retirement. Indeed, failure to own a house was mentioned by the police doctor as a leading cause of death by suicide by the retired police officers. Again, if one has fewer children, they might afford to build themselves a comfortable home that they can use for retirement. But if you are feeding 10 kids at every meal, it will be difficult to save. Remember, this is Africa. There will always be some other children you are looking after or supporting once in a while.
I often see young people especially the so-called corporate class failing to build yet they are earning some income. They don’t want to live anywhere beyond Najjeera claiming it is far to buy in Mpigi, Mukono or Ziroobwe. Yet Najjeera was unlivable by the previous corporate types because it was far. By the time they wake up to acquire land in Ziroobwe, it will be unaffordable and they will now be grappling with school fees and servicing car loans.
So, if you don’t want to die by suicide a few years after retirement, you have got to save today. Have as few children as you can look after and plan in time where you will live during retirement so that when you are asked to “go home”, you don’t instead look for a rope and the tallest tree to end your life.
The writer is a communication and visibility consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org