Refugees living in Rwamwanja, a village in southwestern Uganda are exploring their entrepreneurial potentials thanks to a local initiative.
A savings and loans scheme in the village is helping both the refugees and their hosts to set up their own businesses.
Uganda has progressive refugee and asylum policies which permits refugees (officially accorded that status) to have small parcels of land in a village where they live together with residents of the host community.
I had nothing. I just used to walk around but today I am doing much better. I have livestock, a home and other assets.
The refugees have access to the same services as Ugandan nationals including the right to work and establish their own businesses.
Based on this provision, some 32 refugees formed a microlending cooperative two years ago to help grow their businesses. The group has now grown to include 139 community members who have formed five additional savings groups in other parts of Rwamwanja.
Members are allowed to borrow and save under the scheme to enable them manage their own farms or small businesses.
Rebecca, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the beneficiaries of the scheme.
She now runs a drinks store, selling beers and sodas to people in her community.
“I started with 30 dollars and I got another 30 dollars from the group and I started to trade in sodas and beer” Rebecca said. “I went on to back the loan, then I decided to put up my own store” she added.
Rebecca came to Uganda in 2012 when fighting brought out in her home country.
“I feel liberated” she told Reuters having seen her business thrive over the period.
“I had nothing. I just used to walk around but today I am doing much better. I have livestock, a home and other assets,” she said explaining that previously she “used to eat the same meal, but now I can afford good food”.
Rwamwanja is home to some 52,000 refugees from Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, most of who are fleeing the unrest in central African nation.
As at early December last year, Uganda had become home to almost 511,000 refugees and asylum-seekers.
Uganda is the third-largest refugee-hosting country in Africa, after Ethiopia (736,000) and Kenya (594,000).