Magazine article New African

Human Trafficking by Another Name

Magazine article New African

Human Trafficking by Another Name

Article excerpt

In Uganda, the government-legalised exportation of labour raises disturbing questions. By John Njoroge in Kampala

Between 2009 and 2010 a Ugandan security contractor in Iraq, Samuel Tumwesigve, risked his life and the terms of his contract in an attempt to rescue several Ugandan women who had been tricked into domestic slavery.

Tumwesigve had initially been contacted by a Ugandan woman who herself had been sold to an Iraqi family as a domestic worker, while initially she had thought she was going to Iraq to work in a supermarket at a US military facility.

Over the next few weeks, Tumwesigve received numerous calls from desperate women enslaved in different parts of Iraq, particularly Baghdad. These women had created a network in an attempt to share their locations and experiences and find a way out of slavery.

Shocked at the revelations, and armed with enough evidence, Tumwesigve consulted with Lt. Col. Theodore Lockwood of the LTS army. In an interview with Uganda's Daily Monitor, Tumwesigve recounted how his hopes were nearly dashed when Lockwood told him there was very little the army could do to rescue these women. However, to Tumwesigve's surprise, Lockwood pledged to do anything in his power to help the women if they made their way to the airbase.

Months later, nearly 50 women miraculously escaped their captors, making their way to Tumwesigve, who took then to the Baghdad-based US military facility. The US army provided medical and psychological help before the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) flew the women back to Uganda.

At an official level, the Ugandan government did not respond to the ordeal of these women, and the many more who to date remain unaccounted for in various parts of the Middle East.

Investigations have revealed that these women are tricked into domestic slavery through legitimately registered labour export companies, many of which have strong affiliations with the Ugandan military and government.

Even with all these revelations of the suffering of Ugandans, these labour companies continue to receive hundreds of thousands of applications. Shockingly, the majority of the applicants are university graduates and professionals in various fields who cannot find employment within their professions or any other sector. Despite knowing well that there are no guarantees of there being labour protection laws in the countries they are going to, these Ugandans continue to register at the labour export companies to try their luck outside Uganda.

The companies earn huge sums in foreign exchange for transporting labourers.

The Ugandan government's failure to protect its citizens overseas is nothing new. Many Ugandans have been left to "fend for themselves" if they fall on hard times while outside the country.

In numerous addresses, the country's president has referred to Ugandans who work outside the country as "greedy" people who have refused to contribute to growing the economy at home.

The employment situation in Uganda is critical. Every year, over three million youths graduate with the hope of joining the labour market. Yet there is no set retirement age limit, and there remains a problem of professional progression. It is not unusual to find a director at a parastatal in Uganda who has held the same position for 20 years. …

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