Kampala and many burgeoning towns across the country are buzzing with “investors of color”: Indian and Chinese engaging in petty trade, commanding factory and construction sites. Some can also be seen hawking flimsy Chinese merchandise; operating slotting machines in slums. They are everywhere. That is a worrying development given that many of them are engaged in the nature of work that Ugandans are and should be doing and pushing local businesses out of work.
The parliamentary committee on equal opportunities has taken the first step in addressing this issue. The committee observes that the while it is in the interest of the country to safeguard the economic interests and livelihoods of citizens, the Uganda Citizens and Immigration Control Act is silent on this.
The committee on 4th August 2016 summoned the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control, the state minister for labour and the state minister for internal affairs to explain the steps taken in addressing this anomaly.
The committee chairperson Hon Mohamad Nsereko lamented on the surging numbers of foreigners involved in petty trade and investors who add no value to the economy other than running the local businessmen and workers out of jobs. “It is disheartening to see foreigners driving trucks at construction sites. That should be work for Ugandans.” He said.
So where is the challenge?
Is the Government policy pro- welfare and economic rights of the citizens?
The state minister of Internal Affairs Hon. Obiga Kania observed that part of the 23 objectives set out for the current cabinet by the H.E the President is to ensure that the welfare of Ugandan is safeguarded in regards to income generation. This includes safeguarding local labour force from the unfair competition from the foreigners.
However the current policies are not in favour of Ugandans since they are non-discriminatory. This therefore calls for a specific government policy to ring fence certain sectors exclusively for the Ugandan labour force and businesses. Sadly though, huge infrastructure developments are handled by foreign companies that hire their own at the detriment of local labour force.
Outsiders or foreign nationals seem to get preferential treatment, from indefensible tax holidays to free land: all kinds of incentives including cheap exploitative labour that works for slave wages. The President has in the past opposed the establishment of the minimum wage as a deterrent to investment. I think government policy should be more hinged on protecting the economic and social rights of the natives above all else.
In his article on Africa’s massive loss to tax exemptions, Mr. Curtis argues that the key factors in attracting investment are quality infrastructure, political stability and predictable macro-economic policy. He adds that some investments displace domestic companies that could better serve local populations; others can impoverish local communities by grabbing land or polluting the environment.
Also, corruption is rife at the immigration offices and this means many people get visas to stay longer than they should and under false promise to create jobs and investment. The same “investors” are busy hawking artificial hair in several arcades across town.
In their interaction with the committee, the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control that is responsible for monitoring pre and post entry situation said that it has for the last decade or so been understaffed with less than 300 staff. The post entry monitoring unit had only 20 members. Given how porous our boarders are combined with the inefficient and understaffed directorate it is inevitable to have so many undocumented illegal workers and “investors”
In his recent remarks on the matter of foreign investors, H.E Yoweri Museveni said, “It is not correct for the regulators not to take action against the Chinese and Indian retailers who unfairly compete against our retailers. Those foreigners should not operate at that terminal level. They should be re-directed to manufacturing in particular and other areas like construction. Retailing should be preserved for the Ugandans or, possibly, the other African immigrants as well.”
Where do we go from here?
There is need for concerted and coordinated efforts from the all agencies involved, including the Ministry of labour, Uganda Investment Authority, the Directorate of citizenship and Immigration control to realign our investment, labour and immigration policies, to ensure that the investors we permit to operate are productive, issuance of work permits and monitoring the activities of aliens and foreign investors are dealt with squarely.
The Ministry of Internal affairs is currently drafting new migration policy to be submitted to cabinet for approval. In that policy various reforms concerning the issuance of entry/work permits have been tackled and once adopted by Cabinet, it will inform further amendments to the Uganda Citizenship and Immigration Law on the protection of economic rights and the livelihood of natives and citizens of Uganda. Amendments have also been proposed to the Uganda Citizenship and Immigration Control Act which are aimed at setting stringent penalties for immigration offenders.
While these developments are welcome and a step in the right direction, a more robust and well funded and equipped post entry monitoring unit will be crucial in enforcing these policies and regulations.
The Parliamentary committee on equal opportunities has set the ball rolling and should be commended for its initiative to safe guard the interests and rights of natives against the ever growing alien influence on the socio-economic fabric of this country.