If you had the chance to leave Uganda, would you take it?

Author, Benjamin Rukwengye. PHOTO/FILE. 

What you need to know:

Apparently, it is not just the low-skilled labor that wants to bolt. Even graduates and professionals are looking for the next flight out.

I received an interesting email this week Tuesday, from the Canada Provincial Nominee Programme. It was congratulating me on having been selected for the provincial resettlement programme and informed me that my family and I will be granted permits to live and work in Canada.

I took a screenshot and shared it on social media, joking that it was time to leave Uganda. Of course, the email is a hoax – the handiwork of impish scammers commonly known as Yahoo-Yahoo. They are more famous as originating in Nigeria but can be from anywhere really.

The Yahoo Boys! The ones who send emails pretending to be widows of West African billionaires and needing your help to move the dimes. The amounts raked in by the criminal enterprise itself are hard to find. However, an example of the magnitude of the trade can be deduced from the 20-year sentence handed out by a court in Texas, to Yahoo Boy, Ifeanyichukwu Festus Obi, in February 2023. During the trial, it was revealed that Obi, 43, had sent $1.32 million in stolen money to Nigeria during just two months in 2019 as part of the scheme.

It manifests in internet fraud such as stealing passwords and pins, impersonation and identity thefts, credit card fraud, prank calls and scams, and everything between that. Also, don’t get fooled by the “boys” moniker because as in Obi’s case, the fraudsters’ ages range from teenage to well into the 50s.

It also involves sophisticated scams run through the internet – usually masterminded by graduates and university students – and some rudimentary cons orchestrated by not-so-educated youth. Ergo, as with many things, the same crime manifests in different ways depending on who is committing it and against whom.

Studies have put the success of the industry down to the pressures of unemployment and a bad economy, the proliferation of the internet, and the mass digital illiteracy which means that a large percentage of its users aren’t schooled on safety protocols, Nigeria and West Africa’s large diaspora, and the West’s fascination to young Africa for investment opportunities, sex, and exploration.

Those are factors that are near-identical for Uganda. Our youth unemployment – both graduates and not now stands at 12 percent, up from the 9 percent reported about three years ago. Along with it, is the desperation from an economy that is growing but for some reason not working for the majority. Short of self-sabotage, our internet penetration – currently said to be at 29 percent which is pretty low – will only keep growing. We don’t have as big a diaspora as Nigeria – for multiple reasons – but our over 200,000 migrant workers currently eking out a living in the Middle East, are a telltale sign. There is an important link to my Yahoo Boys email and the relationship that young Ugandans have with their country. Within a few hours of sharing the screenshot, I got 15 private messages from friends and strangers congratulating me and asking how I had managed the feat – and if I could be of help to whoever wanted to go the same route.

It is easy to see why. It is easy to get frustrated by and with Uganda if you have any sort of interaction with our political economy. Many young people without privilege and the right connections look at the opportunities available and how those supposed to expand the table for them are instead grabbing whatever else is left, and they come to a stark realization.

Some decide to tussle it out with the hope that things will get better even if hope isn’t any sort of strategy. Others find ways to deal with the frustration of seeing their peers who aren’t as gifted but with the relevant genetic connections pulling ahead of them. Others decide to engage in crime only to discover that the price is too high if they are caught and your father’s name isn’t the right one. The majority end up in low-level jobs just to make ends meet. All of them, however, realize that things aren’t just working now but that they will probably not work for them at all, forever.

So, they leave and try their luck wherever they can because home isn’t where their dreams and abilities will be fulfilled. It is this desperation that the Yahoo boys tap into. Apparently, it is not just the low-skilled labor that wants to bolt. Even graduates and professionals are looking for the next flight out.

Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds.