The Many Faces of Child Labour

On labor day as millions of Ugandans celebrated a no-work day and enjoyed the chilly weather by burying themselves in bed, a good number of people were also on the streets; for them, it was business as usual. Many of these were children hawking eggs, fruits and all manner of merchandise to customers who were trying to get away from the cold as fast as they could.

Child Labour has many faces and most of the time it’s staring us right in the face. We live in a time when child rights activism is at an all-time high, but this is closely countered by the blatant disregard for these rights.

When I was in Gulu two weeks ago, a man in my village strangled his wife to death and consequently was put behind bars. The Four children with the eldest aged 14 and the youngest 8 years, were left to fend for themselves. I spoke to a couple of people in the area who were very casual about what happens to the kids, with one elder telling me “latin omwero omak kweri”  literally meaning that the eldest needs to pick a hoe for survival.

With the slow disintegration of the African values, he argues, no one is willingly going to pick up these children and add them to their burgeoning families that are living on a stressed finance envelope. In defense of his stance, he says, slowly walking away from community parenting and a drastic shift towards a more nuclear approach of family life is responsible for the reluctance of guardians picking up children other than their own these days.

Economic times are bad, he adds. There is no food, no money, and the rains seem to be less than willing to wet the grounds sufficiently for food to grow. The little food they have is being ravaged by the armyworm and somehow people expect for poor families to take on more children. He is also quick to add that in the days of their forefathers, children started work early in life, and were grounded and therefore respectful of the hard work as they grew up; meanwhile millennials are just a bunch of kids expecting clean food, clothes, school fees paid for just being a child.

When I press him for what then happens to this family, he says that most likely the eldest walks away from school and starts to work as a bread-winner for his siblings. His fate will most likely be rooted in brick making, which is a lucrative work for youth and young boys in the community. He is a just a case scenario of the entrance into child labor.

According to a Lunds University Report: Child labor; the effect on child, causes, and remedies to the revolving menace, Child Labour in Sub-Saharan Africa has 65.1 million children involved. Uganda’s Data from Uganda Bureau of statistics in a 2009/2010 Uganda National Household Surveys Report show that 51 percent of the children aged 5-17 years in Uganda were working and Overall, 25 percent of the children aged 5-17 years were child labourers with males (28%) having slightly higher rates than females (24%). It is further observed that Child labor was highest among children in the age group of 5-11 years (34%).

Imagine your 5-year-old who is supposed to be somewhere in kindergarten learning the alphabet and singing along to Bah Blah Black Sheep, out there frozen in the cold because the adult is not human enough to see beyond a pay-day. We are the people who go out in search of the house helps who are still below 14 years.

As a mother elaborates to me how It’s better getting a younger house help who can be both a playmate to your child and still do the tasks like washing and clean the house, she adds that they are also very trainable and still listen to you. When I ask if she doesn’t see this as child labor, she frowns and says ”how? is the child not getting paid?”

But is the child really getting any pay?

This House help will, of course, be up at 5 am to prepare their “Playmates” for school, running around to see that they have their breakfast on time before the dreaded van hoots. After the children leave, they are encumbered with the household duties of cooking, cleaning, washing, and before long the children are back and it’s between the children’s playtime, meals and bath time then the house help is off to bed AT 11 pm after utensils are cleaned and so on. At the end of the month, a meagre pay of 100,000 shillings is then sent to her parents, who will use it to pay fees for their most promising child; which most of the time is a boy. So then, year in and out she works for others earning little to nothing and us as the society then act shocked and spell-bound when we end up with maids likes Jolly Tumuhaire.

In the 2014 Lunds University Report, Poverty is cited as the biggest driver of child labor. With Uganda’s poverty level at 19.7% (As documented by the World Bank Poverty Assessment 2016), it’s no wonder children as young as 5 years are involved in jobs like brick making, Cattle keeping, Charcoal burning, Coffee growing, Fishing, Gold mining and so forth. With some of the sectors like fishing, coffee and gold contributing the biggest share of GDP, you would hope more is being done to arrest the growth of child labor in the country.

The government has tried especially in the area of law formation. In 2015, Uganda made a significant advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. The Government introduced a bill to prohibit hazardous work for children and establish a minimum age for work of 16 years (United States DEPARTMENT OF LABOR. Bureau of International Labor Affairs). But We also know that one of the biggest problems Uganda has is the implementation of the various laws they pass left to right and Centre. The issues for the lack of implementation range from lack of personnel. The few personnel they have are not trained enough to handle child labor cases and in general sense a lack of finances to do anything significant in the fight against Child labor. The same reasons will be given for the various rights violations in the country; it’s the same song on any given day.

We are not going to do away with child labor by simply wishing it away, or making remarkable speeches on its ills. We need to dig in on all fronts.

The first step is to empower communities to be able to make a living. The government has over the years had programs like The National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS), Operation Wealth Creation (OWC ) which on paper are very good strategies to empower the impoverished, but these have been riddled with corruption scandals, and the programs instead benefiting officials in charge and their kith and kin. A comprehensive review of the projects should be done to ensure the rural communities are part of these projects. This way, they have enough money and their children are then not bound to be part of the workforce to feed their families.

The government has done much and yet so little with their Universal Primary Education(UPE). If parents, especially in the rural areas are convinced they are wasting their time sending their children to empty classrooms with no teachers, or to schools were the children barely learn anything, they will feel justified in putting their children to work instead of sending them to school. Government’s UPE needs to be able to provide a quality education, enough to ensure the child is proficient and knowledgeable beyond the cram work.

I realize as I interviewed people, people have a hard time distinguishing child labor is mostly regarded as a child paying dues or doing commensurate work for their age. And with poverty thrown in this mix, child labor trades on a very delicate line. More sensitization needs to be done in this area, many a parent are breaking the backs of their children under the pretext of having the child contribute towards the welfare of the family, we have seen this in sugar cane farms, gold mines and the like. The government needs to come out strongly and educate people about child labor. Given that 25% of the children aged 5-17 years were child laborers should be reason enough for the government to work on a sensitisation plan.

There is the implementation of laws protecting children that need to done more aggressively. But if history has taught us anything, this government will drag its feet in this area too. Social humanities are not a priority in government’s budget for FY 2017/2018 because the government wants to invest in more infrastructure. But if you don’t invest in your people, who will use those roads, who will go to those schools you intend to build. Who will come up with solutions to food insecurity?

For those innovative people, government preaches about, they need to start investing heavily in the children who will one day run this country, and they won’t do it by begging on the streets for adults who should know better.

Why Can’t Our Health System Deliver for The Common Ugandan?

Pictured below is a running drip hanging from a suitcase in Accident & Emergency (A & E) ward, Mulago, on one of the several busy mornings.

That and similar kinds of ingenious inventions are what the medical students, interns, nurses, and senior health officers on rotation in A & E have to resort to.

Like former US President Theodore Roosevelt said, “do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Where we are is, as one famous girl child activist Dr Stella Nyanzi in the media called it, the Boda-boda generation, and what we have is a health system in desperate need of revamping.

With the convenience of a boda-boda comes speed, and every other day the Casualty Department of Mulago Hospital wheels in victims of boda-boda accidents; users, riders, innocent passers-by. But there are only so many inventions a health professional can come up with and at the end of the day, when even basics like gloves become scarce, our hands are tied.

About $150m, about Shs 400bn annually is spent out of the country on medical bills for senior government officials, MPs, senior Army officers! Yet Mulago Hospital complex altogether receives only about 7bn annually from the Ministry of Health’s share of the national budget. The lack of prioritisation for our health system is and has been, killing it for a very long time. And unfortunately, the average Ugandan solely relies on the cheaper government-run health facilities like Mulago National Referral Hospital for health care without the luxury of insurance in private clinics. Recently when Kitgum Woman MP Beatrice Anywar was involved in a road accident, she was promptly airlifted to Case Clinic in Kampala—a privilege the average citizen does not enjoy. If our leaders understand the preference of Case Clinic over Mulago Hospital, it’s a wonder a drip hangs on old suit cases in hospital corridors. Do we vote badly then? Why does the common man continue to suffer?

Has all hope been lost? There has been a promising though dragged conversation on the Uganda National Health Insurance Bill 2007. The possibility of Ugandans to afford universe health care coverage is exciting! The proposed plan will have the scheme financed by 4 percent monthly contributions from an employee’s earnings, with the employer contributing an additional 4 percent. But meanwhile, Ministry of Finance has already given negative feedback as regards the certificate of financial implication. Mbu ‘where will government get money to cover for indigents?’; When Shs139b in FY 17/18 budget is planned for special meals, drinks! More to this reality is whether our national healthcare centres will be responsive and satisfactory when the working class come knocking. Have doctors and other health personnel been motivated enough! What has been/will be the fate of the informal sector ( tomato sellers, hawkers, boda-boda riders and peasants) who are the bulk!

And finally the fundamental contradiction still lingers; how people in top government positions, even the president of Uganda can’t consume the same exact health care services they plan. This hypocrisy needs to stop!

This is a Guest Blog By Ahimbisibwe Prosper

The Human Trafficking Ghost; It is getting worse by the day

Bridget was her name, she was about 18 going to 19, a child according to the Ugandan law. We had met a few times because she was a cousin to John, a former workmate who she visited every now and then at work. Bridget was orphaned when she was little and her mother struggled to raise her and her siblings single-handedly. Consequently like many Ugandan girls, she had to drop out of school because of poverty. Neither literacy nor numeracy was her strong points, at least that’s the deduction I made from the conversations we had on those few occasions. English comprehension wasn’t her forte but as I tried to talk her out of going to Oman, I really hoped she’d understand.

Hitherto that she’d told of this exciting opportunity John had found for her on the Internet. Everything she explained was too good to be true; a good paying job as a domestic servant, no travel or visa costs and then expeditious handling of her travel plans. Of course, being as cautious as they come, I conducted due diligence on this God sent agency. A website with insufficient information, a fictitious address and to top it, shared the name and branding of a renowned human resource agency overseas.  It then dawned on me that the agency was a possible trafficking scheme.

In a lengthy conversation later that day I explained my fears to both John and Bridget.  I explained to John specifically about the role he’d played in selling this child and the consequences on the Prevention of Trafficking Person act because together with her mother, they’d bought into the juicy idea and could take no advice to cancel plans as the adults. For Bridget, I tried to explain the plight of many Ugandan domestic workers abroad in the middle east especially. But that did not faze her, no amount of video or newspaper reports changed her mind.

John took my advice but his aunt and cousin, not so much and now John appeared like one sabotaging a good future for the teenager now that it was seemingly real. He had become the enemy of progress. Bridget would be a maid, take care of rich old people and send her mum the killing she’d made, or so they thought. I cautioned her, told her of how traffickers confiscate passports and phones and that she should be careful and survive at whatever cost and look for a way to contact home while planning an escape from whoever had enslaved her in case the need arose.

Long story short, it was December 2015 when Bridget finally flew to Oman with the encouragement from her mother without informing anyone. It is a year and 4 months now and nobody, not even her mother, has heard from her. Our fears are yet to be confirmed but we only hope she’ll live to come back home someday. This is probably a story you’ve heard a thousand-fold. But yes, we now join the many other families that are waiting for their children, husbands and wives, if not rich like they’d hoped, but at least alive.

Just a couple of weeks ago, news broke out of 4 young women from Kampala who were rescued in Tororo after the Police were tipped off by hotel management; they would soon be crossing the Malaba border to Kenya to catch their flight to Oman. None of that made me sleep better, because more girls had probably crossed over a few days ago, and more still did a few days later. It doesn’t stop. I am now pretty sure that’s what happened to Bridget. Kenya now provides a quick and more insidious manner for trafficking.

I do not know if it is our ignorance or something worse; because these recruitment companies are obviously trafficking. Even I could tell that this company was shady. What of the police who undergo vigorous training, aren’t they able to discern and pick out these wrong characters? I sometimes wonder to myself, am sure other citizens have carried the same thoughts; “if I were the police, I would just go over right that moment, arrest them, lock them up and close these life-threatening agencies.  I mean, these unlicensed agencies are right here under our noses; they’re not even hiding!

It keeps getting worse, I say. These adverts not only (boldly) run on our national television stations, but also on the streets printed on A4 sheets complete with contacts. It is easy to think that security would call these numbers undercover and close more agencies the next day but well… what do we know?

I am just saddened that at that time with all my suspicions, I did not tip off the police; maybe the agency could have been closed, and a lot of girls saved. (I am however told that these unlicensed agencies have mastered their art of survival, and that is why they boldly advertise on TV without coming to any harm. I do not want to think about how they do it.)

What is not being done right? From recent stories, a number of women and men have been assisted by the police to come back home; but is that the primary place we should be looking? Should we not focus on who is taking them away while they’re still strong, healthy but naïve young people instead of how to rescue them from the Middle East after they’re battered and weak from ALL kinds of enslavement?

In a Ministry of Internal Affairs’ 2013 annual report on the trend of trafficking in persons in Uganda that was published in February 2014, among the national interventions to combat trafficking was to form working groups in stakeholder ministries, departments and agencies on trafficking in persons, which by the end of the year were formed but lacked institutional support. I guess in simple English it just means that not enough work is being done. On top of that, “…a total of 8 capacity building workshops were held with a total of 350 stakeholder members trained…” all in regards to practical investigation techniques among others.

All the above are great initiatives. But if only we could start with the simple exercise of just visiting these offices that don’t care to stand out in the city and closing all that are unlicensed, we would have fewer victims to rescue with time. Most of the victims are young men and women who are only comfortable expressing themselves in local dialects, I, therefore, think that an advert should run on every local TV station depicting a brief Trafficking experience to create awareness of the vice and ways to avert it.

Access to Information should be prioritized in Uganda

Times have changed. In Uganda, public awareness about what’s happening has greatly improved thanks to the birth of the internet and the rise of traditional media. Many policy makers are using both online and offline media to communicate with their constituents and constituents are using the same to put them to book.

At the back of this, is the understanding that no democratic country can be referred to as one if the citizenry is not informed and such a citizenry is not possible without broad public access to information about the operations of government.

In terms of governance, this enables the citizenry to monitor operations of the government and is the basis for informed monitoring and debating of their actions. For the private and civil society sector, it (access to good information) helps in having a strong background when also putting the government(s) to book in case it deviates away from its mandate.

But is this the case?

Access to information in Uganda remains an illusion even when we’re a signatory to international obligations, for example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Declaration on the Rights of the Child, African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights which all recognise that the right to information is a fundamental right.

Back home, the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda states that every citizen has a right of access to information in the possession of the state or any other organ of the state except where the release of the information is likely to interfere with the security of the state or the right to the privacy of any other person under article 41.

The government even has gone ahead to provide public education airtime on radios, developed a government communication strategy to ease communication between its bodies, dedicate a full Ministry of ICT and National Guidance to implement its ICT policies and the recently set up Government Citizens Interaction Centre (GCIC) aimed at promoting citizens monitoring of its programs.


To even “prioritise” access to information further, Uganda enacted the Access to Information Act, 2005 making it be among the first countries on the continent to enact a law on the right to information. The main purpose of the Act is to empower the public to effectively scrutinise and participate in “government decisions that affect them”. It is supposed to promote an efficient, effective, transparent and accountable government by providing the public with timely, accessible and accurate information in the confines of the government agencies. However, much needs to be done to maintain the government’s commitments to ensuring the promotion of access to information.

To start with, the Act itself has been criticised for serving the opposite of what it is meant to serve. The Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) in its report Citizens’ Perceptions of Using ICT to Make Right to Information Requests in Uganda, showed how there is wide knowledge gap of the ATIA law and a need amongst citizens for effective channels through which to exercise their right to access information (page 14).


In the recent case of CEHURD and Others v. Executive Director of Mulago National Referral Hospital and Attorney General, health rights activists went to court as a last resort to get access to a document held by Mulago Hospital, the National Referral Hospital. The main case involves a woman who delivered twins at the hospital but was given only one live child at the time of discharge. The hospital claimed that the second baby had died shortly after birth, but they could not produce the dead body. The mother was discharged without any medical records or a death certificate for the child. Following pressure from the couple and their supporters, the hospital produced a dead body whose DNA was later found not to be a match with either of the supposed parents.

Secondly, CIPESA in its position paper on the right to information in Uganda, 2017 notes that the wide exemptions to accessible information: Under article 41, the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, where the release of the information is likely to prejudice the security or sovereignty of the State, or interfere with the right to privacy of any other person. However, the Access to Information Law, 2005 in Part III (section 23 – 34) lists exemptions which are too wide in scope and contradict the constitution.

These exemptions, which include cabinet minutes and those of its committees, limit the enjoyment of the right to information by restricting access to vital records. In simple terms, It doesn’t make sense to have a law that grants access to information, if there is not at the same time a clear and workable system of mechanisms to enable citizens to use the law.

How can we improve access to information in Uganda?

Today in Uganda many people are connected to the internet. According to the Internet World Stats, there are approximately 11,924,927 internet users in Uganda as at the end of 2016. These Ugandans “enter the internet” through internet access devices and they navigate freely around it, and those people who learn how to navigate better in that space are finding that they have better access to information about jobs and education and all the good things that our society produces.

The Ugandan government, therefore, needs to embrace e-governance as a fast means of providing information to citizens. Through the internet and social media, we can improve access to information and ultimately realise increased usage that will promote confidence to make information requests as well as promote timely and proactive disclosure of information.

But we also need to be careful. There is a difference between having access to information and having the savvy it takes to interpret it. The information that is provided needs to be broken down to be interpreted by the general public so as we realise the ultimate need as to why the information is being provided- to be understood.

Therefore, participation in democratic processes requires citizens who have adequate knowledge of their rights in order to participate meaningfully. Secrecy reduces the information available to the citizenry, hobbling their ability to participate meaningfully. This can only be achieved if the government sees passage, implementation and enforcement of a vigorous access to information law as a priority.

On the other hand, citizens should care about access to information because it gives them an opportunity to take part in the country’s priority setting, monitor the government actions, hold the government accountable, and to assure equal treatment and equal justice. Information belongs to the people as per the Constitution; the government only holds it in our name.

For Ugandan Communicators in the Wake of Dr Stella Nyanzi’s Arrest: How Free is our Freedom of Expression?

Stella Nyanzi (who describes herself as a “thinker, scholar, poetess, lyricist, writer, Facebooker and creative producer”) was charged by the Uganda Police in March, 2017, for offensive communication contrary to section 25 of the Computer Misuse Act 2011.

The particulars of the offense read as follows,

“Stella Nyanzi … made a suggestion or proposal referring to his Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, the President of the Republic of Uganda as among others ‘A pair of Buttocks’ which suggestion/proposal is obscene or indecent.”

Since Nyanzi’s arrest, Ugandan communicators including those who utilize social media platforms such as Blogs, Facebook and Twitter have been debating the question, “How free is our Freedom of Expression and when does offensive language become criminal? This Blog seeks to contribute to that ongoing debate.

The Freedom of Expression is guaranteed under Article 29(1) (a) of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. This provision states that “every person shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression which shall include freedom of the press and other media.” ‘Other media’ in this context includes Social Media platforms like Facebook that Stella Nyanzi utilized to voice her critique on how Uganda is being governed. While the current Constitution is lauded for being progressive and democratic, it gives no definition of the right to freedom of expression.

The old 1962 and 1967 Constitutions defined the right to freedom of expression as “Freedom to hold opinion and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.” This definition is still relevant today as was held by the Supreme Court of Uganda.

Every person therefore has a right to hold an opinion as well as the right to decide whether to express it or not. An opinion can be disseminated through political discourse, canvassing, cultural and artistic expression, religious discourse, teaching, and through commercial advertising. Stella Nyanzi often utilizes cultural and artistic expression such as her undress protest at Makerere University in 2016.

‘Offensive expression’ should only cover grave expressions such as those that incite discrimination on the basis of race, religion or nationality. Recent developments have however revealed that most of what is referred to as ‘offensive language’ in Uganda is usually personal opinions against the regime and does not qualify to be categorized as ‘offensive’.

Dr Stella Nyanzi
Dr Stella Nyanzi

Besides Stella Nyanzi, other Ugandans have had their right to freedom of expression gagged on grounds of ‘offensive language’. In October 2016, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) issued a directive against NTV compelling the TV station to stop broadcasting programmes featuring Frank Gashumba as a guest speaker because the political analyst was allegedly using profane and abusive language. Earlier in November 2015, the UCC issued a similar directive against five Radio Stations as well as four Television Stations, which routinely hosted Mirundi Tamale, a renowned Political Analyst.

The pertinent question to pause here is; in what circumstances is the state justified to limit the right to freedom of expression?

The right to “hold opinions and to impart ideas and information” is not an absolute one and according to Article 43 of the Constitution, it can be limited if its enjoyment will prejudice the freedoms of others or if Public Interest demands so.

Ugandan Communicators only cross the line of Freedom of Expression when their spoken, written, sign language  and  nonverbal  expression such as  images and objects of art are offensive enough. To qualify as offensive enough, the communication must threaten national security, or, public health, or, public order, or, public morals, or, it must be an infringement of the rights of others. Only then, can the State limit the Communicator’s Freedom of Expression, However the limitation must satisfy three tests before being imposed by the State.

The limitation must be provided for in a specific Law. In the case of Stella Nyanzi the Law that was relied on is the Computer Misuse Act 2011 which creates the crime of offensive communication.Section 25 of that law provides that a person commits the crime when he/she willfully and repeatedly uses electronic communication to disturb or attempts to disturb the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person with no legitimate purpose. Determining what amounts to ‘disturbing the peace and quiet’ is a legal question that must be answered before convicting the individual.

Yong-Joo Kang of Korea was arrested and detained under allegations of contravening the National Security Law because he wrote publications opposing the state military regime of the 1980’s and these were said to be aimed at destroying the free and democratic basic order of Korea. The Human Rights Committee heard his case and found that any law that compels an individual to alter his/her political opinion restricts the freedom of expression. Holding a dissenting view about the ruling party does not amount to ‘disturbing the peace’ and therefore Ugandan Communicators are entitled by right to hold opposing opinions against the Government and to express these opinions through various mediums.

Secondly, the limitation must have a legitimate aim. The law should be aimed at protecting national security, or, public health, or, public order, or, public morals, or, the rights of others. A desire to shield a government from criticism can never justify limitations on free speech.

Thirdly, the limitation must be necessary. This test requires that the objective of the limitation should be sufficiently important to override a fundamental right. The measures set to achieve the objective must not be arbitrary, unfair or based on irrational considerations. The means used to impair the right to freedom of expression must be proportionate and necessary to the objective of the limitation. When Andrew Mwenda and Charles Onyango Obbo challenged the law criminalizing the ‘publication of false news’, the Supreme Court found in their favour and held that the law was unconstitutional because it failed to meet the tests outlined above.

Ugandan Communicators should boldly hold and express their views, plainly or metaphorically and we should not be intimidated when State threatens us, as has been done to some of the vocal political analysts. Criticism of Government is pertinent in attaining a free and democratic Uganda and we can legally do this using our art, our words and our bodies as long as we keep within the permissible boundaries set by both National and International laws.

This blog was originally curated from Daphine Arinda’s Blog


In the wake of Human Trafficking, what can we all do?

Three decades ago, Northern Uganda’s gruesome past with the advent of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) ushered in some of the worst cases of human trafficking that the country has experienced. The period between 1987 and 2006 saw scores of women, men and children being abducted to serve as soldiers, sex slaves as well as hard labourers. Human trafficking was, for the people of the north just a fraction of the atrocities experienced during this insurgency.

Human trafficking is defined as the illegal/unlawful movement of people from one place to another with the intention to exploit those being trafficked. To date, this heinous crime is rife and has just changed forms and Uganda serves as a source, transit and destination for trafficked victims. Within its borders and to neighbouring countries mostly children and women are tr

photo: Sven Torfinn Uganda, Kitgum, October 2003 Night commuters
photo: Sven Torfinn
Uganda, Kitgum, October 2003
Night commuters

aded as domestic servants or for commercial sexual exploitation. According to the 2013 National Annual report on Trafficking Persons, the year registered the highest levels of trafficking with 800 victims and children and women were the most victims. Of the number, 97% were children trafficked within Ugandan borders of whom 52% were females trafficked as sex slaves and maids.

Across the transatlantic borders, a new form has taken hold. Ugandans of all ages seek better economic opportunities or nkuba kyeyo (loosely translated as the search for greener pastures). The biggest exports of these nkuba kyeyo end up mostly in the Middle East and Southeast Asia as domestic workers, guards, sex workers or as recently reported, mercenaries for $600 or more. In the externalisation of labour, some people end up in gainful employment, however, it has also been exploited by traffickers who take advantage of unsuspecting victims. The report indicated that 51.7% of the trafficked victims were female while 18% merely children. The Malaba and Busia boarders were noticeably the most commonly used transit routes for traffickers and their victims.

It is not always rainbows and butterflies for many who end up in these situations because a sizable number have alleged that their destinations were not as rosy as their handlers had painted them to be. Despite the stories of how diabolical working in the Middle East is, it has not deterred those opting to leave Uganda in hope of providing for their largely poor households. Some even preferring unlicensed recruitment agencies as long as they offered a ray of hope.

The Platform for Labour Action in June 2016 produced a report titled, Assessment of Schemes, Routes and Factors that Promote Prevalence of Trafficking Persons across Borders in Uganda. In it, findings from a survey conducted with 137 Victims of International Trafficking were published, among other things, some of the reasons why they opted to take up jobs abroad.

Poverty ranked high on the list, 44% cited this as a precursor, desperation caused by living below the poverty line, many dependants as well as the prospect of getting rich quick schemes prompted them to. Unemployment also scored high on the reasons for the continued outflow of labour this coupled the ever increasing population and few jobs have burdened many young people, 35% voiced this a reason. Traffickers have indeed mastered the exploitation of their victims’ vulnerabilities.


These socio-economic problems require government interventions without doubt and progressive strides have been made in this direction, The Ministry of Gender labour and Social Development has spearheaded the implementation of the Youth Livelihood Fund and

Women’s Entrepreneurship Fund and other social programmes in a bid to close the existing employment gaps and poverty. However, we are yet to see outcome indicators showing declines in both instances as a result of these initiatives. The ministry also issued a ban on externalisation of labour pending investigations and that did not sit well with both prospective workers and recruitment agencies with many calling for a lift on the ban.


On the other hand, Government has profited greatly from externalisation of labour by receiving $35 million (Shs 125.8b) per month from the Middle East only. The government has even taken measures to cement this line of revenue by licensing companies and signing MOUs with respective governments like Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Many questions remain on; how protected are these workers outside Uganda’s boundaries? Does the Government’s jurisdiction stop within its borders or does it extend to such nations with which legal contracts have been signed? What measures and guidelines are put in place to protect them once on foreign soil?

The Penal Code as well as The Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act, 2009 criminalise the act and the latter further institutes the Coordination Office for Preventing Trafficking in Persons under the Ministry of Internal Affairs. However, the unit has faced many challenges like understaffing and poor resource allocation leaving a lot to be desired in the execution of its mandate. Both the staffing and funding gaps ought to be fixed to crack down on the levels of trafficking of Ugandans.

Because the measures have not deterred trafficking tendencies, the US State Department report ranks Uganda under the Tier 2 watch. This means that although Uganda is making efforts to comply with the minimum requirements of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act 2000 it has not yet fully complied.

Therefore while government should exert more effort to crack down on this vice with the means at its disposal, long-term solutions lie in addressing household poverty and youth unemployment and keeping girls and boys in school. Prosecution and creating public awareness and strengthening border controls also go a long way in the efforts to combat trafficking. In addition, promoting security in previously or currently destabilised areas that act as hotbeds for traffickers like in the Northern and Karamoja regions respectively is important.

Parliament should draft and pass a law on externalisation of labour that will regulate the process, interpret the intricacies involved, provide a fund to help victims of trafficking in the guise of externalisation, create liaison offices in countries where Ugandans are exported to mention a few.

The general public, on the other hand, ought to be vigilant and look out for those elements that perpetrate trafficking especially within our neighbourhoods. For those seeking employment outside Uganda, leveraging the existence of licenced companies is wise because then, one stands a better chance of seeking recourse in the event of wrong doing.

Human trafficking is abhorrent, let’s all work towards eliminating it every possible way we can.

The Face of Uganda’s Struggle against Cancer

Over the past five years, many fundraisers in the form of car washes, marathons, movies have been held in support of cancer patients and generally in the fight against cancer. Over time, we have seen the #SaveCarol campaign in April last year that raised UGX 300m with which she was taken to the US for treatment, the #HelpRosemary campaign that raised over 130m and saw to the building of the new waiting shed at the Uganda Cancer Institute by NTV Uganda, the Rotary fraternity of Uganda along with Centenary Bank through various marathons set up a cancer centre at Nsambya Hospital aimed at providing diagnosis and treatment at subsidized rates.

A number of people have largely benefited from the generosity of Ugandan hearts but sadly, a larger number has not. On a given day, people from all walks of life sit in the waiting shed at the Uganda Cancer Institute at Mulago Hospital languishing in pain as they wait. For a miracle, for a consultation, for a pronouncement of death, a free dosage of medication or for most, they wait for help from a kind stranger. One of these people is Patrick, a 40-year-old man from Mbale district who was diagnosed with skin cancer in September 2012 and has been through the throes of this deadly disease without a victory in sight. Five years and one limb later, Patrick sits in this shed, which has now become his home as he waits upon a means of affording his next dose of medication that he hopes will bring some relief.

Patrick recounts the experience of what started out as a small wound on his index finger and eventually led to the amputation of his hand.

“This wound kept bleeding. It became swollen and itchy. I failed to find medicine to make it better. Soon it started releasing pus and it became smelly. This was in 2011. I was staying in the village and my friends advised me to consult a witch doctor since the wound was only getting worse. I was hesitant at first because I had never stolen anything, I wondered who would bewitch me. I am a good person. Eventually, I went to the shrine but it only got worse. My right hand got swollen too. This was in July 2011. My wife then left me because she didn’t know what to do with me. I had no one to take care of me. When maggots started coming out of my hand, I made a decision to seek more help. I was hesitant all along because I didn’t want to leave my four children without a father. A friend advised me to go to Mulago in Kampala and through group effort, money was raised for me to come here”.

Eventually, I went to the shrine but it only got worse. My right hand got swollen too. This was in July 2011. My wife then left me because she didn’t know what to do with me. I had no one to take care of me. When maggots started coming out of my hand, I made a decision to seek more help. I was hesitant all along because I didn’t want to leave my four children without a father. A friend advised me to go to Mulago in Kampala and through group effort, money was raised for me to come here”.

“In December 2011, I woke up very early one morning and went to the bus park. The conductors refused me to enter the bus due to the state of my hand but since I had collected some money from my neighbors, I was able to get a special hire to Kampala. I stayed in Mulago for 2 months without any attention but one day a lady who had come to visit a patient asked me what was wrong. By now, I had tried buveera on my hand. I used to sleep on verandas and anywhere else I could find in New Mulago.

On removing the kaveera, maggots and flesh fell out with it. The lady took me to a doctor. I was examined and then admitted for two weeks before any diagnosis was made. By this time, both my hands were swollen that I couldn’t do anything on my own. I had to beg someone to feed me. I soon met a saved woman who helped me, she would bring me food, clothes and offer me support.”

“I spent 2012 in Mulago. Through this year, tests were being run and the doctors were seeking to find was wrong. My legs too got swollen and the doctors advised me to rest. I was later told that I had cancer of the skin. By now, all the flesh had eroded on my hand and I was left with only bone. I begged the nurses to cut the hand off because it couldn’t stop painting. In April 2014, the arm was amputated at the elbow. I was bed ridden for three months after which I was dismissed. At the start of 2015, my hand started swelling again. I came back to Mulago and the hand was further amputated.”

“Sometimes we spend 4 months without getting medication because it is not available. The wound had healed but it became fresh again because I missed a dosage of medication. I came back to Mulago on 8//2/2017 and I haven’t received any medication since.”

“For now as I wait for medication, I sleep in the waiting shed, because I cannot afford to keep coming and going. The doctors give us days on which they can see us and then prescribe medication for you. I have had these prescriptions since February but I cannot afford two hundred thousand shillings for the medication. This medication is not free. There are some medicines that are provided by the government but they often run out so fast because we are many who need them and sometimes the medicine prescribed to me is not available.”

Women being educated about cancer in Kampala. Photo: Chimpreports
Women being educated about cancer in Kampala. Photo: Chimpreports

According to the auditor general’s report, the government of Uganda spent UGX 72 million for each of the 140 senior officials who were sponsored for treatment abroad, of which 22 of these were treated for cancer within the last three years. This sum excludes air ticket, accommodation and other related expenses (Daily Monitor). This is the same government whose country’s main referral hospitals are at 40- 45% staffing, lacking critical equipment and dedicated staff. What hope is there for the 19.7% of Ugandans who are living in abject poverty and cannot afford to be flown out to other better-prepared countries for medical help?

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in Uganda with the common cancers being Cervical Cancer, Prostate cancer, Breast cancer, Kaposi’s sarcoma, Burkitt’s lymphoma, lung cancer and skin cancer. Although it can be treated if detected and treated early, many people seek treatment in later stages reducing their possibility of full recovery.

The only radiotherapy machine that had served Uganda’s population of 39 million, steadily rising at 3% per annum, eventually broke down in March last year after serving for over 20 years, leaving well over 2000 cancer patients without proper treatment in Uganda. A number which has since increased, due to the increasing prevalence of cancer. Talk of procuring a new cobalt 60 radiation machine has not been productive as the machine has not been shipped in yet, 13 months later.

For the people who do not have the social muscle to launch fundraising campaigns, the financial muscle to seek proper medical attention overseas, waiting for this machine is all they can do. An intervention from the government or any other well-wishers is their only hope. Just like Patrick, they sit in this shed day in and day out, waiting for the health system to eventually remember them too.

This blog was first Published on Shanine Ahimbisibwe’s Blog #MyVoiceOurPower


Youth should grab the spaces that they demand to occupy

Everywhere you go today, there is a group of people lining up the streets, beating drums, giving drinks to the police and clamoring for some form of freedom or liberty.  The LGBT community asking that they be given the same respect that other human beings,  feminist campaigners, protesting Catholics, peaceful Muslims, unemployed people, former prisoners,people with medical conditions, guys in the friend-zone, former child soldiers, the disabled,underpaid teachers, single men and just about anyone and everyone.

Basically there are many groups of people asking that they be recognized as a force to reckon with and that they too are human beings with as much right to freedom and liberty as anyone else. It goes without saying that the Young People have themselves gotten together every once in a while to complain about the marginalization that they go through in various spheres of life.

Not so long ago, there seemed to be overwhelming agreement not just in Uganda but across the whole world that the Young People were/are the future of this world. Whether or not this ‘future’ will ever come in our lifetime is something of debate but everyone seems/seemed to  agree that the young people are/were ripe for a take over.

Photo: Erik (HASH) Hersman / Flickr Creative Commons
Photo: Erik (HASH) Hersman / Flickr Creative Commons

Quite naturally, a number of young people positioned themselves to take over from the older generation while others simply stayed on the streets and continued clamoring for empowerment. So many years down the road, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of young people taking over.

In Uganda for example, the young people have benefits that remain safely tucked away in text-books and in pages of the constitution while in real life the old guard holds onto economic,social, political and religious power. Of course it is easy to point a finger at the old guard and even throw stones at them because they seem to be immovable. However, as a young person, one needs to ask a question – ‘Am I ready for this responsibility?’

There is a crop of young people who have insisted on making noise about their time having arrived but still act, think and behave like infants. Quite naturally, there is no way the old guard will hang around forever. Their time to depart will come, with or without their approval. The question for the young people is therefore simple – are we ready for when the old guard departs?

Many of us spend our lives being young people and we forget that the world demands a lot from everyone no matter how young or old one may be. We forget that we can not be young forever. And we also seem to forget that the Youth Empowerment we clamor so much for begins in our minds. If a young person steps up to the plate and becomes a force to reckon with say in the business world, they will definitely be invited to the table of men for a discussion–that is how things work. And once their opinions are of worthy note, there is a great chance they will be offered audience. The old guard will not invite you until you have something substantial to put on the table. That is just the bitter truth.

A group of Youth take part in a computer training.  Photo Source: Youth For Technology
A group of Youth take part in a computer training. Photo Source: Youth For Technology

It is true that world over, the young people face a myriad of challenges when it comes to access to opportunities and being part of decision making processes. However, it is also true that there are many young people world over who have broken boundaries and have succeeded without waiting for the old guard to let them. They have simply risen up and taken charge of their lives and now they are regarded some of the richest young people.

Youth Empowerment as a movement rightly focuses on creating spaces and platforms for the young people to engage in decision making and be able to access opportunities. It should also focus on unlocking the minds of the young people so that they go out into the world and grab it by its horns as opposed to waiting for things to be handed to them. This world is much harsher than we think and young people need to get out of their comfort zones of complaint and get their hands dirty with activity. That is the only way we will push aside the unwilling old guard.

Youth Empowerment programs and strategies should focus on teaching the Young people how to occupy the spaces that they demand to occupy. They should help the young people unlock their potential and also encourage them to be self reliant individuals. If the world is not willing to give you what you want, there is no harm in going out and grabbing it by yourself.

Are the Women’s day conversations still relevant?

March is the Women’s Month and I feel that we have exhausted almost the conversations that we needed to have in regards to where we are as a society. We have sung, and celebrated women for who they are, highlighted their triumphs and victories – but we have also had that introspective look. That has allowed stopping and examining ourselves as a people and asking rather uncomfortable questions. I have loved to see some of these conversations evolve and it has been amazing.  

However, what has been very evident is the fact that we are a people that not gender conscious.We have become so used to the exclusion of women in certain aspects of society and it is okay. It is okay not because it is a rule written somewhere or as an allowed principal but rather an unconscious decision we make – an invisible line that we cross. And every time that we do – it further alienates the cause of women.  

Women in a Rural Community. Internet Photo
Women in a Rural Community. Internet Photo

In Teso region, Amuria district, Acowa sub county, Agnes wakes up every morning and prepares for her day. She will take her child to the school where she works as a teacher. Because of UPE,her son Walter, the last born is able to go to primary school. She otherwise wouldn’t afford to take him to school because she doesn’t earn much. But being a teacher in the same school at the Parish gives her that advantage. He follows in the footsteps of his two older siblings who also managed to complete Primary School. Florence the first born is in the city working as a house maid, George is the one who remains at home and occasionally tends to the gardens. Agnes and her son Walter make the journey every morning on a bicycle. In this part of the society – women do all the work. The men are almost invisible because all they do is drink Ajon – the local brew. They start at it every morning by 9:00am. Her main aim in life is to make sure that her children are fed and clothed. She would love for Walter and his siblings to have better education, better ambition in life.

When going over her story – I keep wondering if there are any policies in favor of her. What would she able to accomplish if she was empowered? Her tale is not new at all. She represents a big part of Uganda’s rural women. As I think about her – I wonder what women’s day could do to help her situation. Because while we get to laud Women Politicians, Women who have made it big and women who have accomplished much –Agnes does not make the list. Because she is not known and yet she is the real hero. Every day –she wakes up to being a mother, wife to a man that doesn’t respect her and a teacher while being the breadwinner of the home. She is not recognized because, she is doing her job, or performing her roles and responsibilities as expected.

We are not a gender conscious people, if we were A gender conscious society is not brought about how many women there are in politics. Uganda is one of the countries with the most women in political fields. We must note that there is a there is a difference between a numerical increase in women representatives, and the representation of women’s interests in government decision‐making. We are yet to see the latter, particularly to see our representatives making a case for women like Agnes.

And while she may never receive any accolade for being resilient, strong and for providing for her family – she deserves a better shot at life. The law should be able to fight for her – but that too is not in her favor. And it is women like these that should keep us awake at night because they matter. As a society we need to be conscious of the role that they play, their existence and their needs. That’s what balanced societies do.


Men should get out of stone-age thinking that they can buy a woman

At the weekend, relaxing at my kafunda in Kamwokya, I pick a copy of Sunday Vision that I had bought the previous day on a street in Wandegeya. It was a beautifully laid newspaper and I like weekend papers for their relaxed style of writing. On opening, I read a mind-boggling story done by Titus Kakembo a New Vision Journalist. I am rattled by the “Wives for sale at Sh20,000 in Luwero” headline.

This story killed my joyous mood. After reading it, it was like a misfortune that had dawned on me. I couldn’t breathe. I loathed the writer on what he had written, I reviled more the editor who passed the story for it was a symbol of some sort of stereotype. I started to imagine how lovely and beautiful my mother is, I thought someone was really misrepresenting our women.A testimony is my now 63-year- old beautiful mother from Rakai District.

While men’s hard bodies tend to excite some women, there is something to the gentle curves and to that attenuated female slenderness and to faces that aren’t always threatening to erupt into beardedness sometimes which gets funny. The creature that a woman is so special that I cannot describe. A woman has no price, she is the world creator.

I image those men who have wandered villages without wives have been frustrated by the surroundings. Why write such about women? Was it a true representation of women? I started feeling with you a collective pain of “selling” and being “bought”. Who buys a woman? What is the cost of a woman; I must say that a woman is priceless. Such a valuable being that to attach price to her, you are making her look like an object. She is a human being for heaven sake.


In this Sunday Vision Story, the writer is tipped of the trade in Bamunanika in Luweero District. It is about the excitement of men who have gotten an opportunity to acquire wives at a cheap “price”. What is this price?

I feel it is another cause for worry with the way the writer says these women who are on sale are Basoga women and this is more dazzling. Why? Why on earth are people into this trade? Has the number of females exploded that men cannot absorb all of them at once?  May be it is true, maybe it is not. Now, referring to the national population census results of 2014 that were released in March 2016, a total population estimated at 34.6 million, and females constituted 51% of this Population.

While the report indicates that there were more males than females at young ages between 0-14 years, the Census results show that in the subsequent age groups, there is persistent dominance in the number of females explained by the argument that men tend to die faster as they grow old. Nevertheless, this doesn’t amount to selling women for marriage.

It is from this background that I now reflect on the several conversations I have heard with my peers on relationships and marriage issues. And almost majority seem not to be interested in marrying soon for fear of costs of an ideal marriage which involves, introductions, Weddings etc.

And why is it that many youths are not ready to settle down with someone’s daughter, is it an economic issue? We need to rethink our position and attitudes towards marriage. To juxtapose the issue of young men fearing marriage and its commitment rules, majority have resorted to the act of ‘hit and run’, an act of grabbing and puncturing maidens that one comes across either because of peer influence or someone is just trying to prove something. Many have complained that actually young ladies are never settled. That they move from man to man like dry season bees visiting esuununu (dry season flowers)-

But what is the reason behind such a story trading in women just days after celebrations of women’s day. The #BeBoldForChange slogan is still fresh in my mind but I am really disturbed by this story of women being traded. How did we reach there this level really? As the struggle for emancipation continues, I point to illiteracy levels, love, equality and parity. I will live to honor strong women. Those that have overcome trauma, the abuse from the male human.

The education of a girl child must be prioritized so the number of women who can stand up and their voices be heard can increase. We need to encourage our women to continue working hard to self sustainability. Let there be no woman who will only run to a man out of desperation. We must stand up against voices of men in rural. Patriarchal set ups that continue to think that because they paid a heavy bride price, they have control over you.

For men to get out of medieval thinking that they can actually buy a woman. I listen with pain to men from the Kigezi and Ankole regions of some men boasting; “Nkakujuga ente zangye” This attitude must Change.