Sustainable livelihoods in Ugandan refugee settings


What are the factors that help or inhibit sustainable livelihoods in refugee settings? – with a focus on Uganda


Uganda has hosted refugees from neighbouring conflict-affect countries for several decades. Some research suggests that self-employed refugees are somewhat more successful than employed refugees, but there is little concrete evidence from Uganda that current refugee livelihood strategies are successfully fostering self-reliance and sustainable solutions. Most of the available literature uncovered in this review is grey literature.

Factors supporting or inhibiting sustainable livelihoods in Ugandan refugee settings include:

  • The policy environment, particularly the right to work, freedom of movement, and access to services. Uganda’s refugee assistance has development-orientated components aimed at supporting the self-reliance and resilience of entire communities. However, livelihood strategies need to be diverse: a focus on agricultural self-reliance alone is not enough.
  • Social capital and networks. Ethnic ties seem to play a particular role in Uganda, as does refugees’ ability to integrate into local communities.
  • Training and skills development can provide a foundation for self-reliance, but alone are insufficient. Access to capital, markets and credit are also important.
  • Refugee profiles, as refugees of different ethnicities, ages, gender, ability, education, duration of stay, have varying levels of access to social networks, land and credit. For example, negative gender stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes towards refugees with disabilities can prevent women refugees and those with disabilities from finding work, or push them towards negative coping strategies.

Refugee livelihood programming needs to involve local contextual awareness, refugee and local input, partnerships with host institutions, and long-term predictable funding.


Suggested citation

Rohwerder, B. (2016). Sustainable livelihoods in Ugandan refugee settings (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1401). Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.