Uganda's Army Reels in the Graduates

Law, arts and science majors are among those wanting to sign up as Ugandan defence force undertakes its latest recruitment drive. Tough training aside, the army is seen as a reliable employer when jobs are scarce.

It's a beehive of activity at the training grounds of Wakiso District where soldiers, recruits and onlookers have converged during the army recruitment exercise. Florence Nalubanja is among the candidates who have undergone a five kilometer (3.1 miles) marathon, physical drills and medical tests. The 26-year-old lawyer says joining the army has always been her dream.

"I have been wanting to join the legal team, so it is a lifetime opportunity and I am really appreciative that I have come this far," she told DW. "The screening process has not been easy but I have been able to go through successfully."

Ivan Nyakony was not as lucky as Nalubanja. He has been disqualified because he did not have a national identity card. He is visibly disappointed, "When I finished school you know you just can't stay home idle," he said. "I tried to look for some work, I tried to look for jobs but still I couldn't make it so I took this as a chance to work under the government." Many other applicants, he said, also failed to make it. Several Ugandan newspapers jumped on the news that 40 Kenyan applicants were also turned away. Nyakony doesn't know what he'll do next.

Demand for a stable job

Besides the 4,000 candidates gathered at the army training facility, many more young aspirants are hoping to join the defence forces. On an "Ask your government" online platform army officials diligently respond to several queries per day on the application process and requirements. "Dear Ministry of Defense, I [graduated] in 2015. Can I be enrolled?" "Dear Ministry, I'm an IT professional. Will I be considered?" "Dear Ministry, I would like to join the intelligence."

In many cases, the candidates are too old, have the wrong training, the wrong expectations, or simply need to read up on the recruitment process. In Uganda, the young applicants need to at least be high school graduates and if they wish to advance quickly, they need a university degree.

Nevertheless, the demand for a steady government job is high amongst Uganda's overwhelmingly young population. Over one fifth of Uganda's population is between the ages of 18 to 30, the age group which can qualify for army recruitment. According to Uganda's latest population report, 14% of the young people (aged 15-29) are classed as "idle youth," who are neither employed nor receiving education or training.

Science and skills

With the high demand for an army job, the requirements have also risen. "In the previous armies they would look at heights and strength, they used to measure the chest, then you had to run," said Henry Baguma, a journalist and social commentator. "In the current recruitment they are not looking at those things, they are looking at papers, academic qualifications, not only that, they want specific subject."

Recruits who will in future be able operate computers, machines or fly planes are on top of this year's list. "We have journalists, we have lawyers, we have engineers, we have doctors we have industrial workers," explained Lieutenant Colonel Henry Obbo, the Land Forces spokesperson.

Science degrees were therefore given an advantage over arts degsrees, which left a number of arts graduates disappointed. "Very many youths are here and they are learned," said 22-year-old Moses Opolot.

Things have changed, Baguma told DW, since Uganda is no longer fighting in any major wars. Its army is currently involved in African Union and United Nations missions in Somalia and South Sudan.

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