East, West, Home is Best: Nankya finds her feet after Sudan false start

Ms Vivian Nankya attends to her chicken at the poultry farm in Wagaba Village, Kakiri Sub-county in Wakiso District in July 2023. PHOTO/JOSEPH KIGGUNDU. 

What you need to know:

  • In the fourth instalment of the East, West, Home is Best series, Vivian Nankya discloses to Isaac Mufumba how she’s moved on from waiting tables in a Sudanese restaurant to operating a promising poultry business in her native country.

Vivian Nankya was one of the hundreds of graduates that Makerere University Business School sent out into the job market in 2019. Back then, as now, the economy was not generating enough jobs to go around. Youth unemployment stood at 5.45 percent, rising to 5.57 percent in 2019.

That partially contributed to the rise to 25,363 in 2019—up from 21,004 in 2018 and 5,117 in 2017—the number of Ugandans who left in search of greener pastures in the Persian Gulf.

A labour externalisation report from the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development indicates that 25,363 people got jobs in the Persian Gulf in 2019. Of these, 13,537 went to Saudi Arabia; 10,182 to the United Arab Emirates; 485 to Iraq; and 256 to Qatar.

Those four were the biggest stock of employment opportunities and sources of the bulk of foreign exchange remittances. One would, therefore, have expected that Nankya would be headed there. She didn’t. Instead, the Sudan was the destination of choice for the business administration graduate.

Ms Nakya’s story is akin to that of many Uganda youth, who have fallen victim to conmen, smugglers and traffickers.

“I did not go through an employment agency. I paid an individual Shs500,000 in order for that person to get me a job. He took my passport and processed the visa. We then left for the Sudan,” Nankya says.
Hers is, however, another tale of one paying for one service or opportunity, only to end up with something entirely different.

“The person told me that I was going to work in a hotel as a receptionist or cashier, but it was only after we reached there that I was told that it would not be possible. The guy then told me that it would be best if I started out as a maid in some home as they probably looked out for something better,” she recalls.

Working as a maid did not quite cut it for Nankya. Eventually, she got a job as a waitress in a restaurant. The new job earned her the equivalent of Shs500,000 a month. While this was by some distance much more than the ordinary waitress in Uganda earns, the living costs in the Sudan surpass those in Uganda.

“Whereas they were paying me much more than a waitress earns here, I was not saving anything. Everything was very expensive. I decided to end my six months stay and return to Uganda,” she says.

The challenge, though, was how to raise $199 (approximately Shs730,000) for a one-way air ticket from Khartoum to Entebbe.

“The only available means of communication to me was on WhatsApp. So I engaged one of my sisters, who in turn talked to my mother. My mother was not on WhatsApp at the time. So they found ways of getting money for an air ticket and I returned,” she says.

Nankya returned to Uganda early in March 2020 before President Museveni made the March 16 Cabinet decision to place the country under a partial lockdown for 32 days. 

This was one of the first pandemic curbs that Uganda brought in to stall the spread of Covid-19. More than 40 restrictions, including the closure of education institutions; suspension of mass gatherings, including weddings and political parties; a freeze on public transport; closure of airports and borders to passenger and pedestrian traffic and suspension of operations of, among others, churches, open markets; closure of shopping malls and arcades; and a nationwide curfew, were put in force.

In July 2021, when Mr Museveni allowed arcades and shopping malls within Kampala’s central business district (CBD) to reopen, albeit with some conditions, Nankya moved to cash in on the vacant spaces left by those whose businesses had been hit by the pandemic.

“In August, my sister got me some little money. I was selling children’s wear at Mini Price,” she recalls.

Enter Microfinance
One of the groups of vulnerable people that the Micro Finance Support Centre (MSC) had identified for participation and involvement in activities funded under the Emyooga programme were young women who had returned to Uganda with broken dreams and dashed hopes. MSC was particularly interested in women who had either been deported from wherever they had gone or those who had returned without a penny to their name.

Nankya, however, did not know what MSC was doing. She was only brought into the loop by Phiona Nakayenga, another returnee. It didn’t take Nankya long to start attending meetings organised by MSC. In due course, she underwent training in, among other things, financial management. Nankya’s cohort was then helped to form a Savings and Credit Cooperative Society (Sacco) through which it received funding.

Switching trades
Nankya injected the Shs5 million that she received from MSC into the shop, but soon realised that the steep rent for shops in downtown Kampala was never going to allow her grow in that line of trade.

Back at home, her mother, Ms Margaret Nabakooza, had for years been running a poultry farm in Wagaba Village, Kakiri Sub-county in Wakiso District. The business had been working well for her. Nankya felt it was time to take a plunge into the poultry business.

“By that time, there were only two buildings on the farm. She told me we could put up another building and ‘you come and we start working together’,” Nankya says.

She quickly sold out most of the items in the shop and gave out some on credit to other businesspeople before moving into the farm at Kakiri. She has never regretted the decision. Within six months, she had started reaping the benefits.

“I started with 300 birds. I started with broilers because I could not handle the other kinds. Within four months I had raised the number to 500. That is growth,” she says.

The profits are also looking good.
“One invests at least Shs10,000 into every bird they rear. When you sell you, get a profit of between Shs2,000 and Shs2,500 off every bird,” she says.

Nankya says the biggest challenge is to raise more capital to inject into the farm.

“I have noticed that the more birds you have, the more profits you make. So, I need to get more money to expand the farm. Besides, sometimes there are things that you need to put in place, but cannot because of the limited capital,” she says.

Ms Lohta Arimureeba from MSC says the entity is aware of the desire and need for more funding and is “planning something for Nankya.”