A total of 1,300 graduates from Makerere University were awarded degrees and PHDs in May 2022. Makerere University accounts for only one out of five public universities in Uganda, excluding the private universities, which have since released graduates in 2022.
Recent statistics show note that in 2018/19 total student enrolment escalated from 261,087 to 275,254, showing an increase of 5.43%. University enrollment was at its highest number, with 192,346 registered students per year. Tertiary institutions also had a total enrolment of about 130,000, with university enrolment accounting for about 71 per cent of this.
Positive government policies are encouraging more participation of the private sector in the provision of education services, meaning the above trends of enrolment will continue to skyrocket.
The question is, can the Ugandan job market accommodate all this labour that is churned out every year? The answer is simply NO and this is why labour externalisation in Uganda is a necessary evil.
The job market in Uganda is designed in such a way that only the “lucky” graduates land white-collar jobs, and these earn around Shs500,000/= for a start, and many don’t even get the chance to get these jobs after applying endlessly.
The majority later resort to side hustles or businesses to survive and keep life going. Therefore, the external labour program presents many opportunities and a lot to offer to these desperate young Ugandans that are in need of jobs.
Labour externalization was launched in 2005 and since then we have 225 licensed recruitment companies with over 600,000 migrant workers who have been deployed abroad since then. For the last 10 years, over 12,000 Ugandans have left for the Middle East in search of employment opportunities with the number adding to 140,402 migrant workers as of April 2021.
The Account Information Service Provider report indicates that labour externalization contributes Shs4.5 trillion as revenue to the Gross Domestic Product which is higher than coffee export receipts.
The high population growth rate as a result of the fertility rate has led to a high increase in the labour force, which is reflected in the large number of young people who are untrained and unskilled who enter the labour market every year with limited job opportunities to absorb them. This is where labour externalization creates room for such people.
The number of Ugandans living in poverty is still overwhelming in many rural areas and also in the center of the city. This is where we find many young girls doing all they can so as to see themselves getting to a place where they can provide for their friends or families. I am looking at a minimal wage or salary for these people where they earn about $270 (Shs1m) per month for two years. This means they are able to earn a gross income of Shs24m, some of which can be sent back home to take care of their people.
Labour externalization in itself is not bad but it has since lost its way since many are now using it as a money-minting machine within the country. Today, reports indicate that since labour externalization gained momentum five years ago, 90 cases of domestic violence are reported annually and 257 sickness and disease cases are reported every year, with 88 deaths.
There is a need to align all stakeholders in the migration industry to come and work together and not as enemies of each other so that we can clean up our businesses.
Setting up a minimum standard wage for migrants will also go a long way in the prevention of these torture cases and increase the number of victims in the Middle East and across the world.
I personally propose that the government take up the labour externalization program into their own hands to protect the citizens of the country and the income that comes with labour externalization and not leave it to the capitalists who are business-minded with selfish minds and hearts because many are beginning to lose interest in labour externalization, hence the government losing out the most in terms of income.
We need proper monitoring structures that will go a long way in tracking our own citizens that work in these countries for security purposes. I propose that we get to the core of the torture cases and find out what the root cause of these problems is and later find ways to address them. Strict standards should be put up for people who want to go out and work.
Ugandan migrant workers need to be recognized as important and an integral part of Uganda made of brave citizens, who are making great sacrifices for not only their families but their country. They need all the support that should be institutionalized and funded.
Finally, I call upon all migrant stakeholders to join us on October 2nd, 2022, at Kololo Independence grounds for the Migrant stakeholders run.
The writer, Abdallah Kayonde is the President of the Migrant Workers’ Voice.