Opinion: How Labor Externalization Has Boosted Uganda’s Economic Growth

By Brian K Katabazi

As the country is struggling with economy rebound, it has come to my attention that labor export has greatly contributed towards the recovery process and holds a great potential of leading Uganda to the middle-income status if smartly and prudently managed.  I have continued to read and watch mixed reactions towards Uganda’s labor export from the media and public opinion analysts. The reactions have tainted the sector to be one of the slave trades that have hit Africa in this decade. They have exonerated the government over negligence and failure to protect her migrant workers and put all the blame on the recruiting agencies. To me this is not only laughable but it depicts how detached these analysts and media are from how agencies exist and operate under Ugandan laws.

Much as enforcers of the law have been negligent and lazy to do their part, some members of Ugandan population have used these loopholes to travel abroad as migrant workers under unclear/illegal ways hence facing hardships in foreign countries. The recent incident is where some Ugandans were found hiding in boxes as a short- cut to travel to abroad for jobs instead of using the licensed companies that are mandated to recruit and deploy migrant workers.

The recent boom in talent identification and development in Uganda also brings hope to us as a country in creating opportunities for our highly unemployed and growing population hence growth of the economy in the long run. Much as this is good news, we must realize that we are still in the developing stage that calls for need for other alternatives to boost our economy.

According to the financial year 2019/20-budget reading, Uganda continues to earn some decent amount of dollars making it one of the best revenue generating sectors in Uganda’s economy. In 2018, the sector attracted $1.4 billion (5.1 Trillion).

However, the burgeoning labor export in Uganda has also contributed to the growing economy amidst challenges surrounding it.  The export boom started at the peak of America’s invasions on Arab countries. Africans were required and hired to beef up America’s security in the countries invaded (One should remember the Iraqi labor export boom) where most Ugandans were taken to work as security guards.

Based on excellent services that our Ugandan boys and girls rendered to the Americans, other countries especially Middle East picked interest in Ugandans. This how our Ugandan civilians came into the picture of being hired to work both as casual and professional workers in the Middle East.  It is no longer a debate that Ugandan professionals and qualified personnel are hired to offer services in the Middle East where they earn much more decently than they would earn while at home.

I recently came across an advert from Middle East Consultants Limited seeking to recruit and deploy Ugandans who have expertise in Oil and Gas in the Middle East. This creates excellent opportunities for our graduates who had lost hope of finding employment opportunities back home. This automatically tells us that the labor export is no longer about recruiting and deploying only casual laborers (House maids) but also professionals.


To be precise and straight to the point, According to Uganda Association of External Recruiting Agencies, the number of licensed companies that are legally allowed to recruit and deploy migrant workers abroad stood at ninety four as per the list published by ministry of internal affairs on 4th, April, 2018. These companies recruit, deploy and monitor only Ugandans at the stations of work.

World Bank data indicates that economic migrants figures currently stands at 250 million attracting $613 billion of remittances world over. This has contributed to the GDP growth of economies like India, China, Mexico and Philippines as top recipients.  In 2017, Uganda received 5 trillion ($1.37billion) inform of remittances standing between 2-3% of the national GDP compared to tourism, which contributed 5.1 trillion in 2018 yet being one of the best sectors that heavily contribute to the economy.  This is a contribution through remittances but there are other ways these migrant workers are also indirectly contributing to the economy for stance, I have watched videos of how Ugandans working in Middle East have established businesses back home.

These established business are taxed hence contributing to national collection basket .I have also encountered a good number of Ugandans working in Middle East putting up buildings, a good example is my cousin brother a one Mr. Bruce Tugume. These buildings require building materials like cement, iron bars name them. Through buying these materials, the very immigrant workers are indirectly contributing to the growing of the economy.

Despite such great strides the labor export sector does to our country, it still faces a number of challenges that I personally believe originate from the government side.  One of them being human trafficking; which is greatly attributed to the failure by government to develop a well streamlined and vibrant labor export policy.

It is unfortunate that the blame comes back to companies licensed by the ministry of labor yet they are doing what they are supposed to do. If indeed it were true that these companies are not doing their work, why wouldn’t the very ministry/government that issues licenses revoke them?

The mushrooming labor export business if well managed and executed indicate/pose a clear economic potential but further requires government to strengthen and strongly rise up against irregularities that threaten the business.

The writer is a Researcher and an Analyst


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