The number of Ugandans going to the Middle East to work has been rising over the years. The Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies (UAERA) reports that we have over 140,000 Ugandans employed there. But as Uganda’s labour export market grows, so are concerns over the atmosphere surrounding the labour market, particularly with exports to the Middle East.
The reality on the ground is that Uganda does not offer enough hope to its citizens that they can have gainful employment here. Every year higher institutions of learning pass out hundreds of thousands of work candidates but the local job market only absorbs a few. Even the few who are employed have no contracts and therefore no job security. Additionally, many institutions in Uganda pay peanuts.
One of the options left for young people is to venture into external employment. Every now and then reports of harassment of Ugandans, especially girls working in the Middle East, come in. There are reports of torture and killings. Locally here many are conned of their money and left stranded, at home. But many of Uganda’s youth still strive to find a way to enter the Middle East, legally or illegally, for work.
We can make all the noise about our young people being cheated, mistreated, raped and killed but, unless we provide employment, we are wasting our time. No young mother, in many cases a graduate, is happy to leave her baby behind to go overseas and work as a maid or a cleaner. It is the unfavourable conditions at home that force her into that.
The amount of energy these young people put in while in the Middle East can make the individuals and the country rich if they used it at home – but what should they do here? We need to create an environment that gives people hope that they can be successful at home. That is not possible where corruption is rampant, taxation is illogical, and the government is not seen to be putting enough effort into planning for its people. This means we need to tackle the question of governance to give people hope and belief that they can achieve at home.
Secondly, because conditions at home are not favourable, the external labour market is so important to us. Our young people earn the money they probably would find hard to get here. They look after themselves and their families and, whatever little they earn as individuals; it makes a difference to our economy.
Government should streamline the external labour market and make sure it is beneficial and safe for all parties involved. This will involve fighting human trafficking, monitoring activities of the certified labour export companies, and ensuring that there are binding agreements with the countries that import our labour.