By Richard Mbayo
The hashtag “I can’t breathe” has gained popularity since the killing of George Floyd on 25th May,2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota US. However, this historic event should not be lost but rather act as a turning point in fighting against injustice across the globe. Activism should inform policies, laws and their implementation for the betterment of mankind.
Today, many people experience racial discrimination of all sorts in all spheres of life. This is not only happening in the US, Europe or Asia but even in Africa particularly in Uganda. Therefore, Black Lives Matter Movement shouldn’t only advocate for equality and justice but equal opportunities for all, regardless of color in all aspects of life including the corporate companies.
How do you expect corporate companies to thrive where the Director to the Cleaner speak a common language? Sometimes, board meetings are conducted in their local language yet the company’s goods and services target all the population regardless of the race, gender, color or tribe.
In May 2020, Ugandan Parliament passed Local Content Bill 2019 which imposes obligations on government contracts to prioritize Ugandan companies, Ugandan goods and citizens. If signed by the President, the law would require firms to employ 100% Ugandans for unskilled labour, 60% for skilled labour. “The COVID-19 Pandemic has shown that we have the capacity to grow the Import Substitution by local innovation and adaptation. I urge our entrepreneurs to up their game and ensure we produce goods and services of the highest quality” Speaker Rebecca Kadaga said upon the passing the bill. However, a lot is left to be desired, especially welfare of the employees.
According to the UNCTAD report, Uganda is one of the countries that attract the most FDI in East Africa. FDI flows to Uganda accounted for USD 1.3 billion in 2018, an increase from USD 803 million in 2017. FDI stock also grew to USD 13.333 billion in 2018 (estimated at 47.4% of the GDP) (UNCTAD’S 2019 World Investment Report). Due to the discovery of oil reserves, new investors might be interested in the country in the future. Therefore, there is need to strategize policies to ensure that these FDI benefits the locals.
The Pearl of Africa has attracted both foreign and local investors by providing investment incentives like Tax holidays, free land and so forth with the objective that those foreign companies will create employment opportunities to locals but surprisingly most of these companies ship their own people to work in their firms at the expense of trained jobless Ugandan youth.
It is undeniable that these corporate companies employ Ugandans but what if these foreign companies operating in Uganda are only employing foreigners at the apex of the company’s decision-making body. Therefore, to ensure that Ugandans benefit from Foreign Direct Investment Skills Transfer, there is need for action from the government, Worker’s Unions and Civil Society to ensure that locals are given opportunity to utilize their talents by serving in top managerial posts and this can be achieved by implementing laws that ensure that majority of top management are locals, encourage joint ventures as it the case for Asian emerging economies.
Pronounced use of their local languages think about Arabic, Hindi and so forth in meetings and other formal settings leaves nationals not in position to participate at all! These corporations have no regard for nationals in their operations at all. For instance, in some foreign owned corporates, you will find no single national is among the senior (heads of department positions). All heads of sections and other supervisory positions are taken up by experts from the home countries yet experienced Ugandan nationals abound, many lower non-supervisory positions are filled by fresh graduates or even those with no formal qualifications at all and they must supervise qualified Ugandans.
These companies have exploited weak supervision at immigration and end up dumping labour in the country that otherwise has the same or even better skills. In some corporations especially in ICT and telecoms FMCGs you find “experts” deployed in every region of the country up to the district level as sales manager and supervisors yet most of them cannot even speak English let alone the local languages which would be key to succeeding in such positions. This is suffocating the local youth who would otherwise take up such positions and excel at them.
Unfortunately the trend is no better in many locally owned public and private companies. They employ family, relatives and friends who are either incompetent or feel no compulsion to achieve the set targets. In Uganda therefore, there is no moral authority to condemn racism and advocate for Black Lives Matter Movement when companies employ their own relatives, a sign of discrimination and all these are part of racism.
Current working conditions do not reflect that we are in the 21st Century. Some companies operating in Namanve Industrial Park pay less than $2 per day to unskilled labour, women are mostly the victims of such circumstance, and on top of that employees are required to work from 8am to 6pm. In some cases, they are not given lunch. You find university graduates being paid Ugx 300,000 per month yet they have transport and lunch demands.
The mere passing Local Content Bill 2019 without Minimum Wage means Ugandan employees will continue to suffer and work in poor conditions while top managers are living luxurious life at the expense of their subjects.