Why Ugandans choose to slave for Arabs

Sunday February 23 2020

Alan Tacca

Alan Tacca 

By Alan Tacca

Three weeks ago, while searching randomly for something interesting on radio, I stumbled into a voice talking critically about Ugandan society.

The programme was well under way. The guest, who was soon referred to as the former Finance minister Gerald Ssendawula, attributed the general depravity in the country to carefree, damaging parenting, some television content, and not enough religion.

We must be bold not to dodge or gloss over the centrality of the exceedingly corrupt political power, and exceedingly distorted religion, amid which millions of young Ugandans are growing up. On every side they see sharks.

Half of the stories in the media are about the abuse of public money and political meanness. It is Uganda where very low creatures jump onto the State cash wagon, grab what they can, then climb down just to show the citizens their loot. And the exhibitionists are not Bad Black.

On the religious front, I recently heard a supposedly level-headed ‘apostle’ satanically animated, preaching that after they planted their ‘seed’, his followers should pray relentlessly, indeed demand that God deliver their miracle. And he said he did not mind, and they should not mind, whether other people suffered or died in the process of God delivering the devotee’s miracle!

Was this theatrical hyperbole? If challenged, in his lucid moments the ‘apostle’ would probably dribble around himself and claim that the sermon was theatrical entertainment. But many semi-literate believers take such sermons literally, constructing a ‘divine’ ruthlessness.
We encounter exactly the same cynical principle in the witchdoctor’s nefarious handbook, which sometimes prescribes human sacrifice for clients appealing for favours from pagan spirits.


No, Mr Gerald Ssendawula; religion is a human enterprise. It is a conceptual mistake to imply that religion is inherently good; that when it is bad, it is something else.

Uganda has plenty of religion. We have more churches, more mosques and more traditional shrines per capita than at any time since independence. But some of it is evil religion.

Similarly, Uganda has plenty of politics, but mostly ugly politics. It has many institutions, but very corrupt institutions.

By contrast, there are many societies that have less religion, less overt political activity and fewer institutions, but which enjoy greater public and private morality and deliver more social justice than God-fearing Uganda.

I have cited Ssendawula’s radio conversation primarily because he referred to his truck driver, one Vincent Ssali, who apparently also occasionally chauffeurs him in any of his (Ssendawula’s) smaller vehicles.
They sometimes talk, and Ssendawula has come to appreciate Ssali’s humility and honesty; and clearly he greatly values him. In an interesting detail, Ssendawula divulged that Ssali is a university graduate.
Along the way, and with a touch of pride, satisfied that he was an exemplary employer, Ssendawula revealed that he paid the driver Shs350,000 per month.

Ssendawula is one of the few decent men who served as a minister in President Museveni’s government, where his docket had been to do with money. On his testimony, Ssendawula has sometimes been a beneficiary of State House largesse. And he has tasted the generosity of the honcho of the Mandela Group, where he is board chairman.

So he understands better than many people how little Shs350,000 (less than $100) is as the monthly reward for almost any kind of full-time job in Uganda. It is slavery by another name.

And yet, indeed, many young Ugandans working hard for long hours earn even less than what Ssendawula gives his trusted driver. Some get brazenly cheated, go unpaid, and without legal redress. Many cannot get a regular job.

That is where the Arab countries come in.
Trapped between the wall of humiliation at home and the harsh cultural environment of the Middle East, the young Ugandan sometimes makes a leap and chooses to be a slave among the Arabs.

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.