If you drive along our highways early in the morning, you are most likely to see women with hoes going to till the land.
On a certain highway, I counted about 20 women and only two men in a radius of about 20 kilometres. The figures are not that different along many other highways.
As women head to the gardens, men sit along the towns presumably talking about the previous night’s Premier League match as they wait for probably a truck to have an accident so they can loot! Or to put it politely, waiting for a deal in hope of getting rich quick. That is why the most advertised thing around the African Cup of Nations this year was sports betting.
I was in Kabale last week in a village that grows a lot of potatoes (known as Irish potatoes). As I drove by, I could see majorly women working in the valleys where the potatoes are grown. The men were in towns with their folded arms quickly offering to drive with us to show us directions of where we were going — for free in hope of earning a tip. Nobody gets themselves out of poverty by earning tips even if they worked in a five-star restaurant.
I don’t know why anyone would wake up and sit in a town centre as their wives work in the garden. What happened to men? What happened to African men being the breadwinners? This is not just in Kabale. It is the norm across the country. Of course there are many men who work hard but there are many who simply sit around begging.
Yet once the time comes to harvest, it is men who now go to the towns to sell. Some of them don’t even return home after selling. They get a concubine; drink some cheap gin and return home to sell more.
Yet, like former Miss Uganda Stellah Nantumbwe says in a recent interview, “the Ugandan woman is still finding her way” and need to “defy social expectations.” A woman works in the garden all season but cannot negotiate a good deal for her produce with the buyer.
There is need, Nantumbwe adds: “to truly support one another and embrace our differences and harness that diversity that creates a perfect rainbow of talent, personality and uniqueness that would enable women negotiate for what truly belongs to them.”
According to the World Bank, women contribute a higher than average share of crop labor in the country’s agriculture sector.
“They make up more than half of Uganda’s agricultural workforce and a higher proportion of women than men work in farming —76 per cent versus 62 per cent,” says the Leveling the Field for Women Farmers in Uganda report.
So, if men are being outnumbered in a sector that employs the majority of Ugandans, where are they working? Waiting for deals and accidents in the townships is the wrong strategy.
I asked one district official why they aren’t doing enough to reduce the number of idle energetic young men that wake up to sit around these dirty towns. He said: “this is now a town council, people expect jobs that match the town’s status.”
Apparently, once a village has been declared a town council, the youth abandon farming and start imitating the lives of their cousins on Luwum street in Kampala. You know, if you are ‘smart’, you wake up, shine your shoes, tie your trousers way above the waist and go to Luwum street. Somehow, you will make a sale. You will sell something more expensively [than its going price] to somebody.
If Luwum street isn’t working, go to Lumumba avenue and look for whoever wants to buy a very old car and put your mark up. Although once in a while you will make money, it is a very unsustainable way of earning a living.
Declarations that a village has been turned into a town council and a town council into a municipality won’t create jobs. These declarations must match efforts to create real jobs. The easiest way is to encourage men not to abandon jobs in agriculture.
If men worked with their wives in these gardens instead of chasing deals in the city and wasting their youth betting in hope of becoming millionaires, they would actually harvest more, sell more and get themselves out of real poverty.
The writer is a communication and visibility consultant.