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One full year after campus, I still cannot afford food

By NULIAT NABBOSA

“If security after death was guaranteed,” Says Muhsin Odong, “I would have departed this world. With all the competence embedded with me, accumulated in almost two decades of intensive schooling and sacrifice, I remain too short to touch even the most basic of the basic necessities – food.”


Such is the kind of hopelessness engulfing young graduates in Uganda and all over the developing world. Odong, 24, attained his Bachelor of Mass Communication degree from Makerere University mid 2007. He volunteered with a television station hoping to eventually be retained as an employee.

Throughout his voluntary service, Odong received no any facilitation from the TV management. He shared a bed with his nephew, walked to work and asked for handouts from upcountry relatives to afford a meal of Shillings 500, locally known as ekikomando.

“I always felt I was inconveniencing my nephew by sharing a small room with him but I could not leave – I did not have the money to rent a room,” Mr. Odong narrates. “I always felt I was reporting excellently for the television and indeed everyone praised me. But I was let down whenever I asked for just 2000 shillings for transport.”

Yet Odong was not alone in facing exploitation. Massive unemployment has compelled graduates to compete for being exploited. They strive hard to win a voluntary post even when they are certain that the company will never cater for even their transport and meals. Their only payment is the hope they develop – I will soon be retained as an employee – which often never comes.

“After two months of painful news writing and reporting, I got a job that paid me Shillings 200,000 in an NGO,” Odong continues. “So I left the TV and embarked on the new career.

“I managed to rent a house in the first month, and bought a stove, stocked food and paid debts when I received my salary for the second month. So I thought my boss was a good guy who paid immediately.

“I was wrong.”

Odong worked for the next two months without being paid. His boss gave him no explanation for non payment. On September 30, 2007, Odong received a letter from his boss stating that the project for which he was employed was no longer being funded. He was sent away without payment for the previous two months.

As a fresh graduate who had just started working, Odong had not saved any money to get him through such an abrupt tragedy. As expected, he failed to pay rent and packed his small luggage to seek asylum. His destination was a closet-sized room without electricity that sheltered his two long-time friends. He became the third.

“I forgot all about my degree and embarked on hunting for any job that could give me what to eat,” he says. “I walked on foot from Kampala to Kajjansi to look for a job in clay factories until I got one at Lweza Clays. I was instructed to carry 500 very large bricks per day for a payment of 2,500 Shillings. I thought I was strong enough to do the job.

“But I was wrong, once again. I did not have the muscle to walk 14 kilometres to Kajjansi and carry 500 bricks before 5:00pm. I miserably failed on the first day. I carried half the bricks and walked away, leaving the money behind.”

After six months of moving up and down, Odong found a job that was supposed to pay him Shillings 100,000 monthly. He still works there.

“I thought I would be able to spend sparingly that little money in order to feed myself and pay rent as I seek for bigger opportunities. But the money does not come in time, if it comes anyway. Recently I fell sick and failed to get medicine and food as the landlord asked for rent. Yet my boss had taken months without paying me.

“I had always spent days without food but I was not as saddened as when I failed to get food in a state of severe illness. Moreover it happens to me twelve months after I stormed the field with all the education one would deem necessary to get a good job and embark on the journey to prosperity.

“It has cost me indescribable patience to avoid regretting why I went to school.”

This story was first published in the print version of The Campus Journal in 2009