Page last updated at 00:35 GMT, Friday, 6 November 2009

Why Ugandans want to work in Iraq

Ugandans practicing with AK47s at Watertight training ground

By Joshua Mmali
BBC News, Kampala

At the Watertight security training ground in Uganda, a group of men and women are doing target practice with their AK47s.

Nearby, another group are listening to a lecture under the shelter of a tree.

Watertight Security Services has been sending Ugandan security guards to Iraq since 2007.

So far, more than 10,000 Ugandans have gone to work in the country.

Seth Katerema Mwesigye
When I came back, I bought land and cows. All that money came from Iraq.
Seth Katerema Mwesigye

Moses Matsiko worked in Iraq for more than three years before returning to Uganda to set up the company.

"Since we do security, we start by screening the criminal background of people, hand in hand with Interpol," he told the BBC World Service.

"Then we do a medical screening to make sure that the people we are sending are medically fit.

From there we start a training programme which entails weapon handling, shooting range drills and first aid."

Applicants outnumber available places by more than 1,000.

Land of opportunity

Seth Katerema Mwesigye, an instructor at Watertight, says the money has made him wealthy by Ugandan standards.

"I was a student at Makerere university, but when I left, I did not have land. When I came back, I bought land and cows. All that money came from Iraq."

Mr Masiko says that Iraq has proved to be a lucrative opportunity for security firms and their Ugandan recruits.

But he says the company now needs to stay ahead of the increasing competition in the security sector and look for opportunities in new places.

"More companies are coming in and they are ready to recruit for much less than we are offering which is $700 or $1,000 (£600) per month," he says.

"Also you realise that other countries are coming into the market on the other side.


"Originally Kenyans were not doing security work but today, there are more than 500 of them in Iraq and they work for as little as $400 per month.

"So we are facing competition.

"But all eyes are now on Afghanistan. We hope that as it opens we are going to get more business there," he says.

But the picture is not all rosy.

As well as the obvious danger of going to Iraq, there have been numerous stories recently in the Ugandan media about disaffected workers with complaints about conditions and pay.

Some of them want to return home.

Labour, Gender and Social Affairs Minister Gabriel Opiyo admits that not all of these companies have been treating their workers fairly.

"They must conform to the regulations which they signed up to when they got their licence, otherwise we will withdraw their licence," he says.

"We are in the process of developing employment policies which will include a minimum wage."

It is obvious that the recruits at Watertight Security Services are desperate to escape from the poverty and unemployment that define their lives in Uganda.

With hope, soon they will be marching into a future that will bring them rich rewards.

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