Uganda’s Unemployment Conundrum

 

Photo Credit: Post Harvest Handling of Hibiscus Sabdariffa Fruit at the CPAR Uganda Ltd Loro Base Camp located in Loro Sub-County in Oyam District; photo taken by Norah Owaraga.

The theme for the Joint Agricultural Sector Annual Review (JASAR) 2016 workshop was: “Enhancing Agricultural Production for Job Creation.” I was baffled, thus, by the presentation at the JASAR by Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), particularly so the section on “Capacity Building”. 

From the MAAIF presentation at the JASAR we got to learn that a whopping 258 human resources positions in MAAIF at central government level are vacant and will not be filled during the current financial year 2016/2017 because of insufficient funding. 

Similarly, only 50 percent of human resources positions that are related to agriculture at the level of district local governments (DLGs) are filled; meaning that 50 percent of agricultural positions of DLGs are vacant.

Factor in, a significant number of agricultural related human resources positions, particularly those in connection with agricultural extension, are now occupied by soldiers under Operation Wealth Creation (OWC). 

I cannot help but wonder, why and how MAAIF decided to focus the theme of the JASAR 2016 on job creation. How can one be with jobs not filled and at the same time be focused on creating new jobs? For me it does not add up.

Considering, according to MAAIF, even the jobs that they have filled, those who are occupying the filled positions have low morale and low productivity on grounds of low pay and selective pay awards. Yes, MAAIF, through its JASAR presentation, informed us that it is lobbying for allowances to be paid to its staff such as the allowances that are being paid to their counterparts that are employed in the Energy Sector, for example. 

Not only are there plenty of jobs within the agriculture sector currently unoccupied, but even the ones occupied are not being done well. Despite the increasing number of dilapidated and in some cases defunct agricultural research institutions, there is a sufficient flow of Ugandans completing their training in agriculture related fields, moreover. According to MAAIF JASAR presentation, for example, students graduating from its Fisheries Training Institute have increased by over 18 percent; and from its Bukalasa Agricultural College by over 35 percent.

Poor work environment is one of the reasons that working in the agriculture sector is not attractive, particularly within MAAIF and the DLGs, according to MAAIF. We learnt from the MAAIF presentation that in addition sector personnel are currently not given adequate tools, such as fuel, vehicles – cars and motorcycles - examples as enumerated by MAAIF in its presentation. How then is MAAIF well placed to be a job creator? 

But then again, what is its operational definition of ‘job’? It would appear that MAAIF, as is the case with most in Uganda, is operating under the assumption that ‘job’ is that which is considered work in the ‘formal’ sector and not work in the ‘informal’ sector. Sadly, in the case of Uganda, whereas agriculture is the biggest employer of Ugandans, most of the work that is done in agriculture is categorised as ‘informal’ and is therefore not considered as ‘jobs’. 

My aunt who is food and nutrition self-reliant for she produces food for own consumption and surplus for sale is considered jobless; while a food and nutrition insecure government employee, such as the low paid personnel of MAAIF, is considered employed.

In this context, is Uganda’s problem ‘unemployment’ or rather ‘underemployment’? Perhaps time is now for us to interrogate the concepts of ‘formal sector’, ‘informal sector’, ‘unemployment’ and ‘underemployment’. This whole ‘unemployment’ discourse which does not recognise the bulk of work done in agriculture as ‘jobs’ is seemingly a smokescreen that is blinding us from seeing the real reason why such terminology or concepts were coined in the first place. 

The discourse on ‘unemployment’ as championed within the neo-liberal economic paradigm, seemingly is but a tool for diverting us from the real root causes of our problems; while focussing us on purposeless and toothless lamentations of how we have a big ‘unemployment’ problem; and when actually the real issue is that those ‘unemployed’ are poor souls whose minds need de-colonising for them to become consciously aware of the plenty of jobs that are there in the agriculture sector already. 

This article is written by Norah Owaraga, CPAR Uganda Ltd Managing Director (April 2012 to date). Read more about her here. Please note that Norah’s views are not necessarily those of CPAR Uganda Ltd.