Tuesday, May 5, 2015

What it means to travel abroad for work

My name is Godfrey Akampurira and this is how my dream changed course. Just like any other youth in Senior Six vacation, I my dream was to make quick money to ease my stay at university.
In 2002, shortly after completing high school, I started working at Busia border. We were involved in magendo (smuggling business). It was risky but that was the only way to make some money. I saved every penny and in 2003 I opened a salon and a bar. I also enrolled at the Uganda College of Commerce (UCC) for a diploma in business administration. However, I fell sick and both businesses collapsed. I could also not continue with studies.
The road to Iraq
When I finally got better, I got a job at Lloyds Insurance Company, still in Busia, as a sales representative. Another opening presented itself in Malaba with Care Agencies, a clearing and forwarding firm. It was here that someone interested me in working in Iraq.
It was a lucrative offer and I could not turn it down. I underwent training at Connect Finance for two months. This company was recruiting people on behalf of Triple Canopy, an American security company in Iraq. During the induction course, a friend told me about Askar Security Company that was also recruiting security personnel for Explosive Ordinance Detonation Technology Company in America, a company that sought people to work as security personnel abroad. At Askar, I was asked for a passport and passport photos. I was registered and enrolled for two weeks and paid Shs100,000 for medical facilitation and Shs50,000 for training.
Testing the waters
With all aspects covered, we were finally given the green light to leave the country. In November 2007, we set off from Entebbe Airport for Iraq via Ethiopia and Dubai. 
The first test came when we landed in Dubai where we had to spend four days as we waited for another group to join us.
We slept in the waiting room. Most of us did not have money to even afford a simple meal since the recruitment firm had not factored in delays in transit. 
I had $20 (Shs60,000), which I used to buy bottled water, canned soda which I shared with colleagues. Of course, this was not enough so others had to take water from the airport washrooms. I thank God that we did not fall sick. 
When the group we had waited for finally reached, we sighed with relief because then we could proceed. Being in transit, the airport security authorities didn’t question us a lot but that did not spare us the insults from Arabs who taunted us for travelling to Iraq to steal oil.
After arriving in Baghdad, the capital city of Iraq, we underwent military training for two months to learn how to use sophisticated weapons before being deployed in different areas. 
I worked in Iraq for seven months, then came back home for a one month vacation and bought land. I went back and worked for 15 more months.
The bad and the ugly
It was during this time that I tested the bitter fruits of being in a foreign country. An unknown person entered the armoury that I was in charge of and stole a pistol. 
I suspect one of my colleagues because many envied my position of being in charge of the armoury. We were arrested and detained for 28 days as investigations went on because there were suspicions that the guns had been sold to rebel forces. 
After the American team of experts that had been contacted from the headquarters in Tennessee concluded their investigations, their then Ugandan commander terminated the contract, something that was contrary to the American policy. 
The Americans wanted me and my colleague, who was in charge of logistics, to compensate the firm for the stolen pistol and continue with work. But this was never to be because we had to travel back.
Living the Ugandan dream
The thought of going back did not occur to me because the salary had also reduced from $1,000 (Shs3m) to $600 (about Shs1.8m).
It did not seem like a worthwhile venture. I used the money I had saved to import synthetic hair from Kenya. I also opened a guesthouse in Namuwongo, a Kampala suburb. I opened a boutique as well. 
With three different sources of income in place, I enrolled at Kampala International University for a diploma in law. 
Right now, I am pursuing a law degree at the same university. I use the profits from the guesthouse to pay for tuition and also get by.
Why ugandans eagerly serve in iraq
The war in Iraq is the most privatised conflict in history. Since the invasion in 2003, the US Department of Defence has doled out contracts worth an estimated $100b to private firms. 
Covering a vast range of services from catering to dry cleaning to security, one in every five dollars the US spends in Iraq ends up in the pockets of the contractors, according to a report by the Congressional Budget Office. Increasingly these jobs have been outsourced to developing countries.
It is clear why the US contractors came to Uganda. As an impoverished former British colony, the country is awash with unemployed and English-speaking potential recruits.
Its pliant government was an early member of President Bush’s “coalition of the willing,” and with a lingering 20-year insurgency, it also has a glut of experienced army veterans, who made up the initial contingent of Ugandans in Iraq.
More important, hiring Ugandans is cheap. Since the first Ugandans were sent to Iraq in late 2005, competition from other developing countries in Africa and the Indian subcontinent has seen the government cut the minimum wage from $1,300 (Shs3.9) to $600 (Shs1.8m) a month. 
That compares with the $15,000 that one industry insider estimated an American guard could make each month. Nevertheless, competition is fierce, and for those Ugandans who land a job, Iraq can prove a bonanza.

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