Par­lia­ment to fight for the pro­tec­tion of the eco­nomic rights of the Ugan­dan cit­i­zens against “aliens”

By: REA­GAN WA­MA­JJI

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.