By Brenda Kirabo
Annette Nakimera [not real name], a single mother of three was fired from her first job after working 7-8 hours days on top of a daily commute of 3 hours every day.
“In fact, I got fired five days before Christmas and when it happened, it happened it seemed like the worst possible thing could have happened to me. As a single mother, I couldn’t stand it. My blood pressure went up. My stress levels were at an all time high and my mental and physical health at an all time low,” narrated Nakimera.
Out of a need to maintain an income, one day Nakimera decided to start selling vegetables on her veranda.
She says that start was not easy because she sometimes made losses as her children destroyed the vegetables while playing.
But she kept on, made friends with her suppliers, prioritized customer care to her customers and today, she is happy that out of her meager small savings, she has been able to get her current grocery , bought land, constructed the current residential house she’s staying in.
“To this day, I think that getting fired from that job saved my life. It was the worst job I have ever had and it makes me appreciate everything I have now. It was really a blessing in disguise to me,” she concluded.
Donald Trump, a United States business Mogul and a billionaire filed for bankruptcy three times. He has said on many occasions that no man can make it without ever failing. His story resonates with many Ugandan entrepreneurs who start, fail, start again, fail and start all over again.
It is hard to see a silver lining when you are out of work, broke and totally helpless. Yet Sarah Alibo, a young graduate and sole breadwinner for her orphaned household, talks about her experience of being unemployed with candor.
“From the day I finished university; I looked for jobs and would gladly take on the first job offer that came my way. This was because I had a duty to put food on the table. I worked in bars, was touched by drunkards, cleaned shops, washed people’s clothes and attended to shops. But whatever I did, money was never enough,” explained Alibo.
It was at this point that she decided enough was enough. She resigned from the shop where she earned Ushs150,000 per month and started making chips on the roadside for boda boda riders at night. Today Alibo, has built a house and pays for all her siblings’ education.
For many, becoming unemployed is a serious professional crisis that depletes energy, confidence, self esteem, health and of course money but unemployment can be a gift. It opens the gates of imagination, hunger, desire and passion.
The stories of the greatest innovators from Henry Ford, Jon D. Rockefeller, Isaac Newton, and Cornelius Vanderbilt among others have one thing in common: they were stimulated by a desire to own something that society couldn’t give them.
Ugandans, have been forced by this historical unemployment to seek jobs abroad. They have waited tables, dug graves, worked in mortuaries and some engage in prostitution.
Yet today, Ugandans in the diaspora remit over $1bn or shs2.61trillion back home per year.
It has been written that necessity is the mother of invention. Graduates who fail to get jobs face a hard life of no more freebies from parents and relatives. As a result, many have struck out on their own by founding small businesses some of which, have eventually grown into large businesses.
Musisi Fred, a car tyre importer from Kyengera says, “I graduated in 2009. For three long years I walked the streets of Kampala looking for a job in vain; until one day I felt exhausted. I decided I had to do something on my own.”
Musisi managed to get used tyres from petrol stations and sold them to garages. It’s because he was honest that he managed to get the tyres on credit. Having transitioned from sourcing tyres from petrol stations to selling new ones, today Musisi imports his tyres from as far as Kenya.
Youth unemployment in Uganda is said to be among the highest in Africa. A recent study by a group, Lost Opportunity indicated that one in two youths at university is likely to end up unemployed?
Gaps in youth policy and programming in Uganda published by Action Aid at the end of 2013 puts youth unemployment at 62% although the African Development Bank says it could be as high as 83%.
Uganda has the world’s largest percentage of young people under 30-70%. According to the 2012 state of Uganda population report by the UN population fund, worldwide, there are about 1.2 billion 15 to 24 years olds but that about 200 million are in Africa.
George Batte, the head of the Entrepreneurship department at Makerere University Business School says it depends on one’s attitude. Some he said feel crushed when they fail to find a job while others start thinking hard about what they can do to be able to make ends meet.
He says there are those who become more creative while others throw blame around; the Government, where they went to school, the environment around them etc.
Batte encourages youth to practice agriculture. He concluded saying that youth need to change their mindset as being unemployed could be a blessing disguise.
Nyambura is a senior journalist based in Kampala