For long, Ugandans have been hearing stories of a human trafficking racket in the country; a dirty business controlled by very powerful people. What many may not have been fully familiar with are the sordid details behind this criminal business that exploits the most vulnerable. The most lucrative aspect of it is the sex trafficking, which our correspondent in Uganda recently went undercover to investigate.
We bring you the details in a series of articles beginning this week.
The problem of human trafficking has become endemic in Uganda, with the sex trafficking of young Ugandan girls to destinations in the Middle East – and further afield to countries like Malaysia – said to be the most lucrative aspect of the racket. According to sources the girls are trafficked, some as young as 15, being most in demand by rich old men in some Arab states. They are facilitated to get travel documents with false dates of birth so as not to raise suspicion. They are lured from the poorest families, most times through false advertisement in some state media, and sometimes by unscrupulous “agents” of the so-called “recruitment companies.”
Human rights defenders in Uganda remark that those running the racket are so powerful they monopolize the recruitment firms. These firms are the ones with the ability to provide passports, and connections to “markets.” “Of course only groups with strong links to state power have the means, the influence, and the clout to engage in human trafficking,” said a human rights activist that we cannot name to preserve their safety.
It is no secret who the big fish of the business are, being the biggest, bold face names in Uganda. There is first son Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba. There is his uncle Gen. Salim Saleh. There is Saleh’s wife Jovia, and Kellen Kayonga, sister to Jovia. There is Odrek Rwabwogo, partnered by his wife Patience; to mention only a few. “They are the kingpins of human trafficking for which they enjoy full impunity,” many remark. Furthermore, anyone that gets into human trafficking can only do so in partnership with people like them. Any individual that dares otherwise will find himself very quickly in a CMI dungeon, our source added.
Dirty sex trafficking business
Muhoozi owns the Normandy Company and his partner in this group is Maj. Gen. Leo Kyanda, the joint chief of staff of the Ugandan military. Gen. Saleh owns Premier Recruitment, in partnership with city tycoon Sudhir Ruparelia. Saleh also owns Saracen, which in addition to the sex slave trade specializes in sending sons of poor Ugandans to face the bullets of anti-American armed groups in places like Iraq, as the first line of defense for American security firms there. Jovia Saleh and her sister Kellen Kayonga are partners in a company called Middle East Consultants, which operates from behind a commercial building in Bukoto and which is behind shocking scandals.
These women are said to be so greedy for money that some of their “sub-contractors” have been found training girl children to sleep with dogs. “No doubt police has pretended to arrest Ndagire the woman in Muyenga that was training the girls in bestiality during lockdown; but that is just for PR purposes to show that ‘the law is cracking down,’” the rights activist said. “But nothing will happen to her; they will release her after the scandal has been forgotten and she will go back to the same business.”
Our correspondent seeks out the sources of trafficked girls
Our correspondent in Uganda says that the girls are sourced not only from Kampala and environs, but also from all over the country. To get more details he travelled as far away as Mbale, Malaba and Busia in eastern Uganda. That’s because, it is said, the Samia and Bagisu women are the most easily tricked by agents of the trafficking companies.
Our correspondent was informed that with biting household poverty in Uganda hitting regions like eastern hard, it is easier to get girls from there. The Virunga correspondent also learnt that Basamya and Bagisu girls “are the easiest and cheapest to lure away.” How true is this? Our man first scouted the Namatala area of Mbale, one of the many slum areas of the town. He won the trust of a local moneychanger that plies his trade at the Malaba border by pretending he worked with one of the recruitment firms in Kampala. Buying the moneychanger, known only as “John”, a beer, he turned out to be quite knowledgeable about the trafficking business.
“Even for 30,000 shillings you can entice a Mugisu girl to leave her parents’ home,” John said. It is the same with the Samia girls, many who already are “expert in bedroom matters” when as young as 14, because of ‘friendships’ with cross-border truck drivers, John said sadly. He added: “this is what Uganda has become; people’s children getting sold so cheaply, some never to be seen again.”
Trafficking victims speak
To talk to a trafficking victim is to listen to harrowing tales. Their journey begins after they get deceived that they are “going for good jobs in the Middle East” (so good supposedly that in some cases their parents will sell their last goat to raise the “commission fee” for the agents). The deception works very easily with the sky-high youth unemployment in Uganda. In Kampala, a graduate of Makerere University will very gladly work as a boda boda. Very many such desperate young men and women can be fooled into anything. A recruitment firm will promise a young girl that they’ve found her a job in the hospitality sector. But upon reaching the final destination, say Jordan, the girl instead finds herself in some tough Arab’s house, “doing personal services to him and his friends!”
A victim that one time was in the state of Jordan doing such forced prostitution for three years before getting rescued talked to this writer, tears flowing down her cheeks. She says they did unspeakable things to her. Her boss took away her passport and locked her in a basement. Then she would be forced to sleep with any of his “visitors”, probably for a fee to him. If she became sick, he beat her. If she became tired, he kicked her. One time he broke two of her teeth. Another time the man almost broke her leg.
In the second installment of this series we bring you more details of victims like her.