Pandemic or not, immigrants’ work has always been essential.
By Yasin Kakande May 18, 2020
Mr. Kakande is a journalist and author from Uganda currently working as a home health aide. His most recent book is “Why We Are Coming.”
BOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Recently, as I drove home from a long day of work as a home health aide, a police cruiser appeared behind me with lights flashing. It was 10 p.m. and the roads were nearly empty. As I pulled to the side of the road, my heart was pounding.
As a black man from Uganda, I was nervous. Charlie Baker, the governor of Massachusetts, had just issued a 9 p.m. curfew across the state. In the three excruciatingly long minutes it took for the officer to approach my car, I tried to sort out why I was being stopped and what would happen next.
When the officer appeared at my window, he asked just one question: “Essential worker?” I quickly replied that I was. He waved me off without asking for my driver’s license — my skin color told him everything he needed to know.
When I arrived at the home of Rosemary Larking in March, a 71-year-old quadriplegic, I noticed she was struggling to breathe. As her regular personal care aide, I saw that the adaptor connecting her ventilator to the oxygen tank was broken. I immediately called her doctor for support.
But this was not business-as-usual, as the coronavirus pandemic had already disrupted normal workflow patterns, especially in health care facilities, and I wanted to avoid her being sent to one.
I activated her lifeline alarm for emergency assistance, but as soon as a paramedic arrived, her doctor called. He told us not to go the hospital’s emergency care department, noting that she is in a high-risk category for contracting COVID-19. He told me to contact the suppliers of her oxygen tank or her ventilator and get them to her home as soon as possible.
A mad dash of phone calls erupted as I tried to reach her suppliers and others in Massachusetts who could fix the problem. In the meantime, I carried Rosemary from her bed to her wheelchair, which seemed to ease her distress.
Four hours later, the ventilator supplier arrived with the replacement parts. As we settled in after the crisis, some of Rosemary’s neighbors stopped by to see how she was doing. They had seen the fire department paramedics wheeling a gurney into her apartment and then leaving with it empty, which confused them. I assured them that everything was fine, taking the precaution not to let them into the apartment, given her risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
It was an exhausting day, and when I went home that evening, it was not easy to decompress after the worry and panic. Whenever a chronically ill patient experiences a life-threatening crisis, every moment is critical.
This scenario is a familiar one, not just for me but for tens of thousands of immigrants who are working on the front lines as personal-care attendants and nursing assistants for patients just like Rosemary Larking. And it’s not only the elderly, but also for patients of all ages who live with disabilities and physical limitations of all types.
My colleagues and I are taking precautions to ensure we are not exposed to the virus so we can continue to provide critical services to our patients and clients. And demand for caregivers is skyrocketing. Elderly patients and those with limiting disabilities who have no family members nearby rely primarily on aides like me. We do everything from bathing them and helping them maintain good hygiene to preparing their meals and feeding them. They are vulnerable and rely on us to keep them safe and secure.
It’s a rigorous job, and the caregiving field has struggled to recruit young people. Many aides in nursing homes, assisted living centers, group homes, and hospital-affiliated centers are immigrants like me. I started working with RosemaryLarking three years ago, shortly after arriving in the United States from Uganda.
For many migrants, the field of caregiving offers immediate opportunities with minimal skill requirements. My background is as a journalist who has covered beats in numerous countries around the world. I never imagined myself in this position, but here I am. My patients, especially Rosemary Larking, have become my de facto family, and I’m grateful for the job.
The pandemic amplifies a point that policy makers should heed. Essential home care-based and nursing home services for patients, who are among the most vulnerable to the virus, are made possible largely through the cumulative efforts of immigrants and refugees who have come to the United States.
This crisis has brought much to light. One point that has received little recognition is the critical role immigrants play in the US health care system. Political leaders should acknowledge this and allow them to come here and work without fears of punitive actions or deportation.
Caregivers still have to fight to stay in the United States. As an occupational category, they are not among those professions or skills that are eligible for employment-related green cards. These visas go primarily to researchers, professors, engineers, or multinational managers, but not to caregivers. And this continues, despite the fact that there are more job openings for caregivers than there are for professors and researchers, especially during this time of crisis.
Rosemary Larking is not alone in her home. Her husband, Donald, 73, is frail after five strokes that have paralyzed his body’s right side. The Larkings are in the highest risk category for complications that could arise should either of them contract the virus. My colleagues and I are even more cautious now to keep them safe. It is a challenge, since they rely on several aides for their care. And many aides care for other patients just like the Larkings. It is a precarious situation. One broken link in the chain of front-line health care could cause a cascading health crisis for the most vulnerable groups during this pandemic. That is why even the smallest precautions matter every day.
African jobseekers are “whitening” their CVs by Photoshopping their skin and changing their names to overcome “racist” recruiters, an author has claimed in a new book.
Yasin Kakande, a Ugandan born migration expert and Reuters journalist, said some black applicants are digitally modifying their profile images to give the appearance of lighter skin to avoid a “colour cull” from discriminatory employers in the UK.
Mr Kakande, 39, also revealed that traditional African names are being replaced with anglicised versions, including Dafari for David and Salama for Sarah, as jobseekers suggest they are of dual-heritage to try and improve their recruitment prospects.
For his latest book ‘Why We Are Coming’, he interviewed 1006 academically qualified African job applicants aged between 21 and 50 over three years and found that 90 percent changed their resumes to conceal ethnic features….
Last Friday night, my younger brother Wahab insisted we should lock the doors to our single bedroom apartment we share in Acton, Massachusetts. For almost two years we have stayed in the same apartment; we always closed the doors but only locked them once in a while. But, after the mosque terrorist attack that killed 50 migrant Muslim worshipers in Christchurch, New Zealand by Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, a self-proclaimed white nationalist, closing and locking our doors before going to sleep will be our new routine.
“You never know who might attack. White nationalists are taking their hatred to another level,” he said. “Whoever would want to attack, let’s not give them an easy entrance.”
The Christchurch terrorist act, albeit thousands of miles away, has reinforced legitimate fears among migrants and non-white citizens. The rising volume of white nationalist ideology and rhetoric from politicians and media platforms around the world always have concerned migrants and non-white citizens of the growing risks of discrimination in all sectors of life. Compounding them is the reality-based fear of recurring violence and murder, where even the sanctity of a place for prayer and meditation can no longer be guaranteed.
Many will have to eye and observe carefully, whomever approaches them. Some will avoid altogether the opportunities for congregation at prayer calls or parties, where the majority are people of color and migrants. Parents also must worry about yet another dimension of the children’s safety at schools.
Violent groups that espouse ideology of white nationalists are rising not just in Europe but also the U.S. and virtually everywhere in the world. These concerns and fears do not discriminate, as victims are both migrants and citizens and are Muslims, Jews, Christians, Blacks, Latinos, Arabs, Africans, women and school children. Others are targeted for enlightened political views that confound the advancement of the white nationalist movement.
These angry white men draw their strength from elected politicians, academics and media executives and personalities who join in condemning violent attacks but do so in general platitudes that avoid calling out the ideology that has propelled these attacks. The restraint and silence are telling and, inevitably, these same politicians return as predicted to espousing their anger about immigration, reassuring their base they need not worry about them straying from the movement. It is similar to an individual saying Hitler had a point but was wrong to use systematic mass genocide. Or, one would claims to agree with the ideology of Osama bin Laden’s followers but not the way he sought to achieve it.
They describe immigration as an ‘invasion’, couched in hateful words that resonated with white nationalists who rewarded like-minded politicians by electing them to office. While elected officials have attempted strenuously to use legal means of travel and migrant bans as well as deportations, others have resorted to their own actions – mass murder.
As an African, black, Muslim and immigrant in the U.S., I am disturbed but the worst part is how the whole narrative of immigration is shaped and owned by people who believe it to be an immense problem. The white far-right conservatives seek a complete ban on immigration through building of walls, incarcerations and deportation of immigrants versus the white left and moderate liberals who believe border patrols and stricter immigration rules can suffice in restricting immigrants. However, there virtually is no voice for immigrants in this global debate.
If immigrants were given a chance to speak, they could explain in humane, convincing, reasonable language about their value and roles in their host countries, which inevitably touch many, many lives – ironically, including those of white nationalists. These include the value of their jobs in developing their economies and the social bonds they build with families as they always are on hand as nannies for infants and children or their presence as caregivers for the elderly and terminally ill.
Immigrants should not have to wait on sympathizers to respond on their behalf against this bigotry. It would be a small yet significant step if editors and gatekeepers of media platforms gave immigrants the opportunity to amplify their voices and stories.
YasinKakande is a 2018 TED Fellow and author of an upcoming book ‘Why Are We Coming,’ exploring the long history and current developments of global migration patterns as they apply to Africans.
On January 15, a deadly accident in Kampala received no coverage in the local media. An ambulance from Gombe Hospital was transporting Mwalimu Mustafa Kanonya, a religious leader in Gombe, to Kibuli Hospital, and was accompanied by six family members. However, the trip was cut short tragically by an accident with a truck at Katwe in Kampala.
At the accident scene, three people were pronounced dead, including Kanonya’s two sons. The remaining survivors, unfortunately, did not survive their injuries. In the ensuing days, the grieving family had to bury yet another member in its graveyard. Kanonya died two days after the accident and during his funeral, reports arrived that his young brother Hajji Asuman Kitaka also had succumbed. As a result, they delayed Kanonya’s funeral as they waited for Kitaka’s body to arrive so there could be a double burial.
One might wonder why this traffic accident deserves media attention. Accidents are routine everywhere as are traffic fatalities. In many countries, governments have done a good deal to minimise the occurrence of such accidents and when they do occur, of assuring the risk of fatalities is lessened. These strategies include public awareness campaigns, safer roads with sufficiently widened lanes, consistent prosecution of reckless traffic violations and a rapid-response functioning ambulance service with well-trained paramedics. All of these measures are lacking in Uganda.
It is still common to find rescuers of accident victims, mostly citizens with no training at all in first aid, pulling out the injured from the wreckage and keeping them at the roadside, as they plead with passers-by to stop and help carry the injured to hospitals. Many people still die on the roads waiting for a Good Samaritan to heed their calls. The government could save many lives if it prioritised access to emergency healthcare services on the roads, a common observation in so many other countries. Emergency responders often should arrive on the scene within 90 seconds or maximum of two to three minutes. Individuals trained in CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation), a game-changing measure, have been able to keep a critically injured person alive in the direst life-threatening circumstances.
A 2017 journal article in the Journal of Injury and Violence Research indicated that deaths in road accidents in Uganda occur at a rate of 28.9 per 100,000 population, the sixth highest in the world.The researchers pinpointed various reasons. One focused on transportation conveniences because of their affordability and accessibility, the boda-bodas, in particular. The researchers characterized these motorbikes as a “silent killer.” But, more importantly was the value of quick, close access to trauma care centers.The researchers concluded that “it’s irrefutable that timely pre-hospital care can reduce injury severity reducing the trend of [road] deaths by saving lives, treating injuries efficiently and effectively, preventing infections and injury-related diseases as well as preventing disabilities.”
This particular accident is an emotional event for me personally. Kanonya deputised and later replaced my grandfather Sheikh Hood Kabamba as the imam of the Gombe Mosque in Butamballa.
My last meeting with Kanonya happened about two years ago when I made a stopover at the mosque for the Friday congregational prayers. He surprised me, after noticing me entering the mosque a few minutes before the sermons had begun. He told me I was supposed to go straight to the pulpit to deliver a sermon and lead the prayers. I tried to explain that I was not prepared but he did not take my refusal as a final answer.
After the prayers he stood and explained to the congregation that, at first, I was hesitant to deliver the sermon but he insisted because he knew I needed no preparation, as he had watched how Sheikh Hood prepared me when I was young. He said that as I grow older, my voice reminded him of my grandfather and that it was his honour to let me speak again from the pulpit.
Here in the U.S., I called off from work to mourn with the family and colleagues kept calling asking me about which relative had died. I told them that he was like an uncle and that his grandfather was a brother to my great-grandfather. Some of them couldn’t comprehend my need to step away and mourn for a removed relative who was thousands of miles away. In the U.S., many would only take a leave of bereavement when an immediate family member dies.
However, even now in the U.S., I realize that every bond is important for how it shaped me and strengthened my voice. The accident and those who died have left me in a state of deep grief. As I could not be there, the only respectful way that I could imagine to honor their memory and their legacy was to remove myself temporarily from my daily work routine.
16 November, 2018 I will be speaking at Q Berlin QUESTIQNS 2018. As part of the opening session, I will discuss how to strengthen a society within current power structures. Learn more about the conference on the Q Berlin website.
On August 13, Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was attacked by an angry mob of Ugandan citizens who back the political opposition. Protesters surrounded President Museveni’s motorcade, pelting the vehicles with stones. One of the vehicles had its rear window broken.
Numerous political rallies by Museveni’s party and the opposition had been scheduled that day ahead of a parliamentary election in which the independent candidate Kassiano Wadri, while in detention, would win in Arua, Uganda — the third consecutive parliamentary election loss for Museveni’s party.
Museveni has responded brutally, as he has repeatedly during his 32-year tenure as president. That day, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu — the popular singer known as “Bobi Wine,” who also serves in the parliament — was arrested. After a music career of more than 15 years, Ssentamu has emerged as the most formidable political opposition against Museveni. Numerous disturbances have broken out around the country. Yasin Kawuma, Ssentamu’s driver, was killed.
On August 23, after not being seen or heard from for 10 days, Ssentamu was arraigned on charges of treason in a military court for allegedly possessing fire arms in his hotel room despite the fact that he is a civilian. Many were alarmed at his appearance, bearing physical signs of torture while he has been detained.
However, Ssentamu’s treatment is not an anomaly. Museveni has repressed his opposition on many occasions, all with the financial assistance of the US.
The US Ignores Human Rights Abuses of Its Allies
President Museveni has benefited extensively from US military support, most notably $444 million last year. Museveni’s record on human rights is clear in its abusive extent, including documented cases of torture and arbitrary detention of opposition leaders and their supporters. The Museveni government has repeatedly denied due process, imposed severe restrictions on press freedom and has been connected to numerous corruption scandals. But none of these circumstances has affected its relationship with the US.
Museveni is among the US’s most reliable allies in Africa, never hesitating to send Ugandan troops on behalf of US interests to influence the outcomes of regional conflicts in Somalia, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Kenya, where election-related violence broke out in 2007. In Sub-Saharan Africa, Museveni plays a role akin to the head of a brokerage firm for rebels, rebellions and peace missions.
His role has extended to the Middle East, where he sent Ugandans to work as security guards for US forces in Iraq. He also recently announced he will be sending 8,000 troops to fight alongside troops of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in Yemen.
As part of this relationship, many troops in Uganda have been trained by the US military, including using sophisticated communications equipment, night-vision goggles and small surveillance drones — all from US defense contractors. Ugandan troops deployed to Somalia travel in mine-resistant vehicles that once ferried US soldiers around Afghanistan. Ugandan choppers engaged in operations against warlord Joseph Kony are powered by fuel paid for by the US.
As disturbances have multiplied and become more volatile in the aftermath of Ssentamu’s arrest, the US embassy in Uganda recently issued travel warnings to any US citizens planning trips to Uganda, cautioning them to not get caught in the crossfire. Meanwhile, sanctions or cuts in military aid would seem unlikely, given the record of Museveni’s abuses and violations of human rights and how long they have not been acknowledged by the US.
The US consistently ignores the human rights violations and excesses of dictators whose militaries are backed with US funds. In 2014, a Human Rights Watch report documented incidents of sexual abuse by Ugandan peacekeepers in Somalia, and this information did not bring any disciplinary action from Washington.
Regrettably, Museveni is not the exception in Africa. Many African despots appear to prefer heeding their Washington providers over their citizens, and whenever Washington has taken any action against their misdeeds, they have responded positively. For example, in 2014, when the US cut a small portion of its annual aid package and canceled military exercises with Uganda after it enacted a homophobic law, Museveni responded swiftly and revoked the legislation.
While the US seldom imposes consequences on the Museveni government for its human rights abuses, Ugandan citizens could campaign for more accountability.
Ugandans Pressuring Governments at Home and Abroad
The recent plight of Ssentamu has received commendable support not only from Ugandans at home who continue to protest in the streets and demand his release, but also from Ugandan migrants in the US and Europe. Demonstrations have been organized in Boston, Washington, Toronto, London and other cities where Ugandan immigrants are centered. Recently, scores of music celebrities — including Chris Martin, Brian Eno, Chrissie Hynde, Damon Albarn, Peter Gabriel, Adam Clayton, and Femi Kuti — signed an open letter demanding Ssentamu’s immediate release.
At a recent Boston demonstration, Ugandan migrants expressed criticism not just for President Museveni, but also the US in the context of conscience and concerns about hypocrisy. Many demonstrators are quick to point out that they are not “anti-American,” however. But they are still deeply unsettled about why governments in the US and Europe are consistently willing to support dictators in their home countries, especially when human rights abuses and crimes are plainly evident.
In Boston, one demonstrator voiced his support for fellow Ugandans at home to resist and reject Museveni not just on the streets, but also in their homes and places of work. He suggested creative forms of protest, such as hampering and preventing the military aides from emptying the mobile commode the president uses when he travels. He said that they should ship his waste along with the country’s oil to the US and Europe in exchange for more military hardware. US readers might see this as an absurd gesture, but many Ugandans, at home and abroad, are past the point of even the smallest bit of patience after more than 30 years of a heartless dictatorship.
Ugandan migrants are caught in a dilemma they find increasingly difficult to resolve with ease or peace of mind. Many, including those with extensive education and professional training, reluctantly left their homeland to find economic opportunity in a nation they respect and admire. Now, they worry about being rejected by their host country, as US President Donald Trump has said he prefers to end migrants coming from “shithole countries” like Uganda.
In 2018, the US asylum process has become even more difficult for refugees coming from Uganda and other countries deemed “friendly” to US interests. Well before Trump assumed office, most Ugandan migrants have had to wait on average of four to five months just for interviews, and many cases can take two years or longer. It doesn’t take a leap of comprehension to see why Ugandan migrants are frustrated to the point of anger, trying to understand why the US continues military funding for countries that subvert the basic foundations of human rights and dignity.
But Ugandan demonstrations, even in Washington, capture barely any attention from policymakers or the media. The audience for these protests is primarily African. It seems the only way to attract meaningful attention is to secure paid lobbyists. That option is off the table because migrants are working the “3-D” jobs (dirty, demanding and dangerous) at wages that might pay $12 an hour, if they are lucky. Further, many US taxpayers are unaware of just how much money goes to sustain dictators who barely care one whit about justice for their own people, politically or economically.
What could the frustrated people of Africa do to convince taxpayers and voters in the US to halt military funding that has become the lifeline for African dictators?
As they define strategies and tactics, African opposition parties must understand that independent sovereignty, especially in the economy, is extremely difficult to attain. Even if all of their country’s citizens supported their cause, it could never go anywhere without the blessings and goodwill of the US or Europe.
Political opposition movements must understand they must not only confront their country’s dictators, but also the full might of a long-running tradition of US military support and funding. Opposition political leaders would do well to counter the dictator’s representatives in Washington and London with their lobbyists, who can demonstrate that besides standing for human rights and democracy, they, too, are capable of representing US and European interests reasonably and responsibly. This should remove uncertainties about replacing long-serving dictators such as Museveni without upsetting the political and diplomatic balance.
To some, these suggestions may sound outlandish, but in the absence of evidence of improvements, the current realities demand more creative responses for overcoming the policy effects that have done little more than enable self-aggrandized dictators who have done nothing to stabilize the economic or political climates in their countries.