If the repossession of your mental health is currently hinged on getting a job in Uganda, I don’t need a medical degree to tell you that you are going to fall into a long slump of depression, and eventually watch your mind fly off the rails because there’s no job on the way; it’s that bad!
This harsh reality has been lived by natives who have since given up on the government coming to their rescue and have decided to tie their own bootstraps by resorting to slavish jobs in the Middle East. Jobs for which they pay thousands of dollars they don’t have.
It doesn’t help that the severity of the matter is mixed-up in a pile of conflicting reports advanced by the parliament of Uganda, Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos), World Bank, and the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
In a survey conducted by Ubos — National Labour Force Survey 2021; it is specified that out of a labour force of 11.3 million people, only 1.3 million accounting for 12 per cent are unemployed.
A parliamentary report on the state of the economy released in June 2022 placed the rate of unemployment at 8.8 per cent while ILO’s modelled estimates affirmed the unemployment rate as of 2022 at 4.3 per cent with the World Bank declaring the total youth unemployment rate in Uganda to be 6.6 per cent for 2022.
Now, as one who is physically present in the country and has a general feel of what’s happening; notwithstanding the reputation the government of Uganda has earned in spinning statistics across the board to make it look better, I endorse ILO’s figures as they paint a more realistic picture of the situation on the ground.
Put simply, unemployment is a situation where those actively seeking jobs and can work don’t have work, or those who have been eliminated from their positions because there’s no work to do at their companies are idle.
It [unemployment] is a major indicator of the health of an economy as a high unemployment rate means the economy isn’t able to generate jobs for those seeking work and is a measure of how well, or not, the government is running the economy.
A low unemployment rate is a double-edged sword because it implies that an economy is healthy and is generating enough jobs for those seeking work. Adversely, it could mean that a large proportion of the working population stopped looking for jobs because they don’t exist and these fall into the category of discouraged workers.
In the case of Uganda, the latter holds true. An increase in discouraged workers in Uganda is the aftermath of an unending spell of corruption in all its shades: nepotism, sectarianism, tribalism.
The low production of companies translating into a small number of jobs created. Low investment in the economy; for one, because it’s unstable — the media has for a while been flustered with gory images of violence, political persecution and violation of human rights.
This, in addition to high poverty levels which make a return on investment in Uganda’s economy highly unlikely. The failing of Shoprite, Africell, Picfare Limited, Nytil garments, Uchumi, Tuskys, and Game stores; businesses that had been running for decades is testimony to this.
There has been little to no incentives for entrepreneurs to set up shop in Uganda mostly because of pronounced red tape ingrained in the governance structure of the country: there’s a ministry set to watch another ministry, and a minister to watch another minister all in the same role(s).
Intimating that if you are going to do business in Uganda as is the norm, you have got to grease the palms of all these officials before they take you to the ‘big man’. This culture has scared off serious investors, and instead played in the favour of impostors who have embarked on projects that have been a no-show such as Finasi International, Lubowa hospital, Velupillai Kananathan of the Tri Star Apparels /AGOA fiasco.
Even though unemployment has been a serious issue for a long time, the powers that be have done little to nothing to try and deal with the problem save for the passing of idealistic laws that have no bearing whatsoever on the monster at hand — unemployment.
The Employment Act 2006 was passed to tackle unemployment, and an Employment (Amendment) bill, 2022 is in the works. Even if the law in place and its amendment are good on paper, they don’t offer solutions to the prevailing state of joblessness as they should, considering that good laws take into account the prevailing circumstances in time and place.
Let me give you, for instance, Section 35(I) of the Employment Act 2006 reads: “Every person employing an employee shall notify the district labour officer of any employment vacancy whenever it occurs”.
This doesn’t happen in practice as employers will be looking to quickly fill vacant posts rather than run them first through the district. In the circumstances where vacancies have been run by the labour officers at the district level, innumerable cases of corruption and misconduct have been reported to occur with complaints of officers soliciting for bribes, and sex for jobs at district levels.
Everyone in Uganda knows someone who has been a victim of this. If you don’t, I do. The Employment (Amendment) Bill, 2022 proposes Section 92B that allows the minister to declare a range of jobs that aren’t offered to migrant workers and are exclusive to nationals.
Clearly, this amendment is going to do little to nothing to address the influx of foreigners especially of Asian descent, working as supermarket attendants, factory workers, and mobile money agents. Taking from the locals jobs that should be reserved for them.
All in all, unemployment costs the government revenue in lost payroll tax deductions, and to check it, the government can do the following:
Cut red tape and bureaucracy since it’s a bedrock of corruption as it elongates the periods of getting jobs. It also leads to discouragement of investment and penetration into the labour market by those seeking jobs, and those looking to create them.
The government of Uganda has got to directly embrace research and development [R&D] to boost the private sector. The private sector generally shies away from lengthy R&D projects because they are expensive and take a long time to materialize.
The government can take up these projects and push them to a point where the private sector will pick them up and in the shortest time translate this research into jobs. The research in question can be scientific, knowledge-based, or technological in nature.
The government should invest in health, education, and agriculture. This alone will create a myriad of jobs and will set the foundation for the success of the manufacturing sector.
However, if the government directly invests in the manufacturing sector without investing in agriculture, health and education, the aftermath will be catastrophic because of an ill-prepared and impoverished human resource.
Further, the available employment laws should be acted on where necessary especially Section 6(5) of the Employment Act 2006, and its amendment and Section 92B in the proposed 2022 bill which limits the range of jobs open to migrant workers.
By and by, the government can source jobs for natives abroad in countries where there seems to be acute labour shortages, countries like Canada, South Korea, Serbia, Germany [Germany’s Labour minister, Hubertus Heil says the country will lack seven million workers by 2035].
Uganda can form labour partnerships with these countries to supply skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour seeing as we can satisfactorily bridge that gap.
The executive should realise that it is their role to create an environment where entrepreneurship and job creation can flourish and, where need arises, find work for its people.
It should not for a minute forget that behind the statistics of unemployment sits a demoralised, hysterically gassed crop of Ugandans who have been stripped of their dignity by the harshness of long periods of joblessness. This group mostly made up of youth is oozing with a desperation that can be played on by [opportunistic] leaders to cause chaos in the already prevailing murky state of affairs.