Slave trade is still an undeniable reality in Africa

By Daniel Nzohabonimana

Human trafficking continues to be a social ill that plagues societies in the 21st century and victims of this modern day form of slavery are often children and women from poor communities in search of a better life. Investigative journalists shared harrowing accounts of this practice in their countries on the second day of the virtual African Investigative Journalism Conference 2020 (AIJC2020) on Wednesday, 06 October 2020.

In East Africa, victims are trafficked by illegal labour agents who promise them good jobs in the Middle East. On arrival at their destinations their passports are confiscated and only then do they realise that the jobs they were promised do not exist.

A Ugandan journalist working for the New Vision Group went undercover as a jobseeker and her experience resulted in an expose of this practice that was detailed in a series of stories that were published over three months. Recounting her experience during the conference, the journalist who went by Anonymous of Uganda to protect her identity, revealed that there was a web of connected people who abetted traffickers, including government officials from Uganda. She said the people who perpetuate this horrific practice were highly organised, connected and operated from various countries.

She revealed that her investigation began when she stumbled upon a Facebook post by a lady who called Monica and claimed to have a good and comfortable job as a domestic servant in Oman. Anonymous of Uganda recounted how Monica piqued her interest when she blamed social media and the media for attributing gruesome experiences to cross-border domestic jobs, especially those in the Middle East, and even claimed there were only a few, isolated incidents of women who were mistreated.

Despite her early investigations, Anonymous of Uganda said she was shocked to confront the slave trade in the modern world when Monica finally connected her to her Ugandan agents who eventually smuggled the undercover journalist to Dubai.

“Its very easy for someone to traffic a girl to either to Saudi Arabia, Dubai or Jordan. I remember I was sold from Uganda for only US$ 137, that is very cheap to exchange for someone’s life,” said Anonymous of Uganda.

Upon her arrival in Dubai her passport and visa were confiscated and she realised that most women who had been lured by these agents ended up as slaves or as sex workers until they were able to buy their freedom or even escape.

Award-winning crime and investigations editor at KTN News in Kenya, Hussein Mohammed, reiterated that women and children were sold into slavery – some by their own families as a result of poverty.

Mohammed revealed that his investigative team went undercover to explore child trafficking of the Karamajong girls from North-Eastern Uganda into Kenya. He shared that they found young girls, some as young as eight years old, for sale in a market that also sold goats, which fetched a much higher price than human beings.

While covering their story, the KTN News investigative team ‘bought’ a child from her mother for US$14 and took her to the nearest police station to report the crime, he revealed.

“Once these girls reach Kenya, some as young as eight or 14 years old, they are sexually exploited. Some girls are also taken to Somalia, where they end up with the Al-Shabaab,” he explained.

The work of investigative journalists in exposing the ills of human trafficking resulted in some of the trafficked children being reunited with their families after the stories were reported.

“Once we did the report, 114 girls who had been trafficked by a Ugandan trafficker were rescued and taken back to their homes and the trafficker was arrested,” said Mohammed.

Ivory Coast based investigative journalist and editor of Le Media, Nesmon De Laure, said in her country – where most young men dream of a successful career as professional football players in Europe like Didier Drogba – trafficking of young boys was rife. She said slave traders poses as football agents working for European based professional football teams. Once recruited, these young boys leave their home country and travel to North Africa, mostly via Tunisia, with the help of human traffickers.

In most cases, dreams of a soccer career quickly turn into a nightmare for these boys as soon as they arrive in North Africa. Once they reach Tunis, in Tunisia, they are put into hard labour.

While investigative journalists recounted stories of human trafficking taking place in different parts of the continent, governments don’t seem to have serious measures in place to curb this trade. The journalists who took part in this panel discussion on human trafficking called on African governments to put in place preventive measures that curb this practice from happening in the modern world.


About the author:

Daniel Nzohabonimana is a freelance journalist and a co-founder of Gisabo Media, a media production company based in Kigali, Rwanda. He is an AIJC2020 Fellow.