Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why 10,000 Ugandans Are Eagerly Serving in Iraq

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why 10,000 Ugandans Are Eagerly Serving in Iraq

Article excerpt

Under a relentless equatorial sun and the gaze of her Zimbabwean instructor, Juliet Kituye quickly reassembles her AK-47. Next to her, a young man in a ripped red T-shirt discharges imaginary rounds at an invisible target.

On a disused soccer pitch in the suburbs of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, 300 hopefuls are being put through rudimentary firearms training. Many of the recruits are raw and their drills occasionally lurch towards slapstick. One trainee lets the magazine slip out of his automatic rifle and onto the red earth, someone else about turns right instead of left. All of them share the same dream, however: going to Iraq.

As President Barack Obama announces plans to withdraw US troops from Iraq, thousands of young Ugandans are increasingly desperate to be sent to the war-torn country. Already, the Ugandan government says there are more than 10,000 men and women from this poverty- stricken East African nation working as private security guards in Iraq. Hired out to multibillion-dollar companies for hundreds of dollars a month, they risk their lives seeking fortunes protecting US Army bases, airports, and oil firms.

The war in Iraq is the most privatized conflict in history. Since the invasion in 2003, the US Department of Defense has doled out contracts worth an estimated $100 billion 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 to $600 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.

Paul Mugabe is back in Uganda for a month. For the past year, the sinewy, nervous young man has been guarding the American Camp Diamondback at the airport in the northern Iraqi town of Mosul, and soon he will be heading to Baghdad.

"It's not like Uganda. You sweat and sweat and sweat," says Mr. Mugabe, a former soldier in the Ugandan Army. …

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