The creation of good jobs and decent work in conflict-affected places is widely seen to generate not just wealthier economies, but also safer societies and more legitimate states. However, a lot of policy thinking about job creation is dominated by technical approaches more concerned with balancing out supply and demand than with serious analysis of the role of institutions, identity and power in mediating access to opportunities.
Drawing on qualitative data from 43 interviews and four focus group discussions, this study seeks to generate evidence on how urban labour markets actually work through an investigation of young people’s participation in the catering sector of Lira – a large and expanding town in post-conflict northern Uganda. It finds that, in general, Lira’s urban labour market is a long way off meeting the needs of the town’s youth: work tends to be poorly paid, stressful and insecure, characterised by high levels of horizontal mobility (workers move on quickly from one place to the next, and are often unable to build a career in a constant and identifiable profession) and low levels of upward mobility (opportunities for progression and accumulation are limited). What’s more, participation in the lower tiers of the catering sector exposes young women to different yet overlapping forms of gender-based vulnerability and violence.
Among the study’s main findings are issues of trade-offs (taking up one opportunity in the present may undermine someone’s ability to secure better opportunities in the future), social obligations vis-à-vis supporting family members in the village, and the links between participation in the labour market on bad terms and aspirations for self-employment.