Refugees and Businesses in Nakivale and Kiryandongo settlements

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Uganda Refugee Policy has been acknowledged as the most progressive one in the world. It allows refugees to have freedom of movement, the right to work and the freedom to establish business. This intends for refugees to attain some level of self-reliance and perhaps create employment opportunities for other refugees and host communities. This article aims at looking closely at businesses by refugees in Nakivale and Kiryandongo settlements in Uganda.

On behalf of Opportunity International, L-IFT has been interviewing about 165 refugees on a biweekly basis. So far, 26 biweekly interviews have been conducted which means that we have been tracking their income, expenses, number of employees of their business and the origin of their employees for about a year. This gives us a general overview of the refugees’ business condition. 

According to the baseline, 52 percent had some form of income generation (small business). The most common business type is retail business (meaning selling directly to consumers). As indicated earlier, every biweekly, the respondents are asked the amount of income they earned in their business in the previous two weeks. On average the earned business income is 13$ per respondent per two weeks. It is much higher comparing it to average employment income which is 1.87$ per respondent per two weeks. It is also four times higher to the cash transfer refugees receive to survive which is currently about 6$ per month.  The following graph shows business income earned on average over the biweeklies. It can be seen; the income level is steady even through the pandemic and the difficult lock-down.

Figure 1 Total average biweekly business income

With regards to creating employment opportunities, the following graph shows whether they have employed any staff in the previous two weeks for their business.  About 15 percent of the businesses have at least one employee.

Figure 2: Whether the businesses have employees

Out of those who have employees, retail business and service business accounts for larger number of employees.

Figure 3 Number of staff you employed for your business

Regarding the origin of staff they employed, it is mostly either from family members or non-family members from their own country which is expected. It is worth to note that a significant number of them have employed refugees from other country which goes with the argument about creating employment opportunities for other refugees. However, the data hardly shows any case of a refugee employing staff from host country (just four employees in total, two in retail businesses and two in ‘other’).

Figure 4 Origin of staff you employed for your business

Overall, it is demonstrated that refugee led businesses are generating income and employment. They are able to do this despite a number of challenges. In biweekly 6 special[1] interview, we asked them about the challenges they have in building their life as a refugee. For this article purpose, we zoomed in responses only from those who own business. The most common challenge mentioned was “I don’t have access to capital/finance”.  This is followed by “I don’t have contact to those who offer jobs” and “I don’t have access to land”. On the bright side, conflicts with people from other clans or conflict with host community is not deemed as a challenge.

[1] Every biweekly, they are asked one-time survey questions about different subjects which is called ‘special interview’ or ‘special questions’.

Figure 5 Challenges faced by refugees (responses from business owners)

To conclude, resources concentrating on increasing support for businesses has the potential to create employment and wealth for refugees and the local community. Even if the businesses of Nakivale and Kiryandongo refugees are mostly concentrated on retail business and lack diversity, they have the potential to generate greater capacity with the right support.


By Mahlet Alemayehu