The beauty of traveling to an explorer is new discoveries, to the tourist the collection of souvenirs. Not until recently did Ugandans like many Africans adopted travel as a hobby or way of learning and research.
Need always pushed them to look for food, new land, jobs, escaping from conflict, and all things that brought discomfort in their lives.
A story is told about the people living around the foot of Rwenzori mountain in the western part of Uganda who always believed that snow that appeared on the mountain top was salt not until the white explorers with the help of a local Porter reached those peaks did the locals learn that not everything that looked “white from a distance was salt”. Since then foreigners have started a mountain trekking business employing locals.
The choice to remain ignorant is like a generation curse haunting us like a bad spirit we have failed to cast out.
Sitting by the fireplace, men would narrate their travel experiences that normally comprised of war stories, inventing sayings like ” a traveler has stories to tell”(okutambula kulaba kuda kunyumya).
Unfortunately little was learned from these travels or applied in their daily lives. Our experience was limited to admiration and exaggerated tales of conquest and beauty of the visited places.
The 19th century saw the introduction of Islam in Uganda. In fulfillment of one of the pillars of Islam, the converts and the faithful started making hijjah to Mecca.
The successful pilgrims came with the account of the journey they shared with relatives after holding prayers for their successful return. A few collections of perfumes, and clothes. Very few picked the Arabs’ business acumen up today.
While the Asians that traveled to the Middle East, Europe, and America copied and learned ideas from technology to architecture that they applied in their countries, we Africans did not.
In the late 1990s, job opportunities came from the Middle East starting from clerical positions to the recent need for maids, guards, and casual laborers. With a lot of excitement, many are seen living for the “Arab world” with expectations of changing their lives and their families in just a few years.
Like a haunted generation, the Ugandans “abroad” working in the Middle East, only come back with tales of beautiful buildings and lights not far from our ancestors’ travel experiences.
Very few can genuinely collect enough money to start up businesses back here or copy and learn something from the Middle East to implement.
The serious and lucky ones have however been able to buy a plot of land and construct a small house but failed at business. Like soldiers on the battlefield, they put in long work hours that leave them tired without enough time to think beyond survival at their jobs.
They however have access to the cheap internet. This is an opportunity they would use to learn new skills to apply after the days of “kyeyo” instead the available time is spent on “TikTok” making comedy mimes, sharing WhatsApp audio messages, giving sex lectures, and playing opposition political activists.
After the 3years contract, they come home to the expectant relatives who use it as an opportunity to give business ideas that later on yield nothing or little from their little savings.
The Middle East “worker” has only one option to go back and work his “back off” pay for his or her children’s school fees, post pictures of the beautiful city, bash marriage on social media, attack the government with the hope of getting political asylum so as to escape “the terrible country”.
With labor exporting companies numbers in hundreds, the government has limited its role to supervision. There is a need to educate the “exported laborers” that there will be no gratuity and the end of the contracts, so they should go there as target workers.
They need to learn skills with the limited available time that may be applied here at the end of their contracts or after retiring. Unlike Europe and America where one has a chance of becoming a citizen, in the Middle East you are only as good as your ability to offer your labor services after that, they don’t have the resources to carry your “useless self or body back to your country”.
A training program similar to the directorate of industrial training (DIT) of equipping skills to be introduced online for those willing to learn.
In areas like housekeeping, cookery, weaving. Small enterprise management e.t.c. because beyond 45 years, your chances of retaining a casual job are minimal. You will be seen off to early retirement back to Uganda.
The learned skill will then come in handy rather than the tales of the beautiful cities by a traveler.
Thousands are in the Middle East and more still joining, amidst reports of mistreatments, kidney and other organ thefts from organ harvesters.
The competition with other laborers from the Philippines, India, Pakistan is on yet these have higher chances (for reasons I won’t mention here).
If what happened in South Sudan about bodaboda riders from Uganda, ever happens to the Ugandan laborers in the Middle East, it will be terrible.
The haunting spirit is showing its ugly teeth, ready to do a repeat of what it did to the Iraq & Afghanistan returnees.