By Mulengera Reporters
For demonizing one of their own, Mukono Municipality Betty Nambooze has come under intense fire from labor exporting agencies with full backing of Ministry of Labor Gender & Social Development.
Nambooze over the weekend released a social media message accusing one of them (Marphie Recruitment Agency) of involvement in human trafficking and selling girls into slave labor. Referencing on the fate of Doreen Gandhi Magezi, Nambooze accused the company of enslaving more than 20 girls who she said badly needed help to be rescued from captivity.
Nambooze, who had earlier on raised the matter on the floor of Parliament painting Marphie Director Ruth Karungi as a human trafficker, claimed it’s her whistle blowing on the floor that shamed the company and caused them to hastily arrange her return to Uganda.
The 36-year-old Magezi, who is also a voter in Mukono Municipality, had furnished her MP with a couple of things including a video she recorded of herself using her phone while crying out for help in the toilet of her employer in Jordan where she claimed she was being tortured. Nambooze’s claims aren’t something Karungi couldn’t take lightly. The business lady, who hasn’t ruled out suing for defamation, has since referred the matter to the authorities seeking to clear her name. She says she has reported to police and the Minister of Internal Affairs elaborating why she isn’t the human trafficker Nambooze painted.
DON’T POLITICIZE OUR BIZ
At a hastily convened Monday news conference at Hotel Africana, the members of Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies (UAERA) spat fire and bashed Nambooze like there was no tomorrow. In their midst was Ruth Karungi to whose rescue they are obliged to come because the practice is that an attack on one is an attack on all.
Much of the talking was done by UAERA Chairman Andrew Kameraho who dismissed Nambooze’s utterances as “ungrateful, fictional, propaganda and uninformed.” Ungrateful because (Kameraho said) as a leader she ought to be aware that out of the $1.2bn Uganda annually gets from remittances by Ugandan migrant workers on kyeyo abroad, more than $600m comes from Middle Eastern countries where UAERA members operate.
He said they have contributed a lot towards the fight against unemployment as a way of complimenting the President’s efforts to boost household incomes. He bragged their association as UAERA monthly externalizes 4,500 Ugandans who go and get gainful employment in countries where they are permitted by GoU to connect people to job opportunities. He repeatedly referred to Saudi Arabia and Jordan which are some of the Middle Eastern countries with which the GoU has bilateral agreements.
As Ruth Karungi (who had earlier challenged Nambooze at the NBS TV show to disclose how much she pays her maid before erroneously rushing to defend Magezi) nodded in approval, Kameraho challenged Nambooze to list one sector that creates so many jobs every month. Kameraho explained that on average, the lowest a Ugandan externalized (it’s the word they use as opposed to exported) by any of UAERA member firms earns per month is Shs900,000. These are mostly people working as maids in people’s homes. UAERA members present challenged journalist to compare with maids working in Ugandan households who don’t earn more than Shs100,000 per month.
Kameraho caused laughter when he cynically asked how much journalists earn per month and the conditions under which they operate. He caused more laughter when he disclosed a poorly-remunerated New Vision journalist who, in the process of doing a story on UAERA activities in 2016, was shocked to learn that in Abu Dhabi a man of his skills and experience would earn $850m (almost Shs4m) per month. “I won’t reveal his name because he has since become my very good friend but he is now a well-earning personality because he has built many things back home which he keeps telling me he would never have accomplished if he continued earning Shs750,000 the New Vision was paying him per month,” Kameraho said adding there are many such success stories among those externalized by the different firms.
Saying Nambooze being a leader ought to know better, Kameraho insisted her utterances were “mere fiction and propaganda” because many of the things she referred to in her social media rant used to happen before 2016 prompting government to come in to harness regulation of the labor externalization trade. That in January 2016, GoU imposed a ban on externalization which lasted up to July 2017. That government used that period to streamline and set standards. That there are now rigorous procedures that have to be satisfied before any of the UAERA members is allowed to externalize Ugandan migrant workers to any of the Middle Eastern countries with which GoU has bilateral agreements imposing obligations to ensure Ugandans are safe while working there.
It was explained that it’s no longer possible to treat anyone in ways Nambooze described because there are lots of controls in place obliging all the Labor ministry-licensed firms to comply or else one face severe sanctions. Kameraho said even within UAERA, there is a lot of self-regulation meaning there is no way a firm can commit transgressions Nambooze highlighted and continue being a UAERA member without facing severe sanctions. It was explained each of the externalized migrant worker has access to internet and smart phone which is meant to keep in touch with UAERA, the Embassy in Riyad, family and the Ugandan firm that externalized him or her.
DOREEN MAGEZI’ CASE
Indeed, that is what happened in Magezi’s case. Early June she communicated to UAERA and Karungi that her health was frail and she wasn’t interested in working in Jordan anymore. This was three months into her 6-month contract she signed at departure time. All this signing is done under full scrutiny by the Labor Ministry which even has accredited pre-departure trainers and medical facilities to examine and determine the suitability of the potential recruit before being transported to Oman.
Karungi explained that on getting the communication from Magezi expressing her wish to return, Marphie Recruitment Agency made the necessary arrangements including procuring her air ticket notwithstanding clear breach of contract. Declining to work only after 3 months amounts to breach of contract for which Marphie has to pay damages to atone the fresh additional expense Jordan-based Al-Basha company (through which Magezi was linked to her Jordan employers) will have to incur to get her replacement.
Karungi explained it’s not true that they panicked and acted because Nambooze raised issues in Parliament on receiving a video Magezi recorded and sent out speaking from the toilet alleging torture. She said the air ticket had been purchased two days prior to the Nambooze outburst on the floor.
Karungi explained her company Marphie bought the first ticket for Magezi to travel with Emirates which became a loss as she didn’t immediately travel. They had to incur fresh expense buying another ticket for her to return with Fly Dubai. She said despite all these expenses, she didn’t develop any complications in her relationship with Magezi. Indeed, on Saturday as she landed at Entebbe, UAERA officials and others from Marphie were at hand to receive her. Her family represented by a one Sarah was at hand to take her home. Karungi denied claims of being very connected saying “I’m only a Mukiga woman who is hassling like any other person in Kampala even when my husband has a government job.”
DETAINED AT AIRPORT
Kameraho explained that the encounter Magezi had with police at the Airport before being released to her family is a normal procedure and it’s a requirement imposed by the government of Uganda. It doesn’t amount to being arrested or detained as Nambooze stated in her social media rant, Kameraho explained. “It’s about recording a statement with police to enable government document whatever concerns the returning worker might be having. This is important for government to follow up if there are any breaches by the company that externalized him or her. It happens for every worker that returns home.”
Unfortunately, in her case Magezi declined recording the statement saying she was uncomfortable doing that in absence of her lawyer. Karungi explained they rang her family members who were unable and instead sent Sarah to represent them. Magezi also declined being medically examined by medics from Victoria Hospital, a procedure Kameraho said was necessary in case government needs to ensure Marphie meets its obligation paying all medical expenses subsequent to her return.
Supported by Frank Mugabi, a Communications Manager for the Labor Ministry, Kameraho said even if it were true that anything had gone wrong (assuming Nambooze’s utterances were factual), it wouldn’t be something to be alarmed about if out of the more than 150,000 Ugandans working in Middle East through UAERA, only one had a problem in a period of 6 months.
The UAERA chairman argued that Ugandans should be excited by the fact that more than 27,000 Ugandans have for years been happily working in Jordan and another over 28,000 in Dubai. “If we take 4,500 per month and one or two complained in a period of 8 months, that wouldn’t be a scandal by all standards. But gratefully in this case even the complaint is not there. Its mere propaganda for someone to score political points against government. It’s really bad to politicize the contribution we are making to resolve the unemployment problem,” Kameraho said.
He was supported by Ruth Karungi who appealed to Nambooze thus: “My sister if you have your political problems with government as an opposition leader, kindly carry on with that but leave us alone to do our part to compliment the President’s efforts to fight unemployment.” Karungi also said Magezi was under pressure from her boyfriend to return home because he was missing her.
She shared contents of private phone conversations the two were having with the boyfriend advising her to hide in the toilet and record a video alleging torture and inappropriate treatment and eventually leak it to outspoken political leaders like Nambooze. “Many of these girls grow up in very good homes and yet they find themselves unemployed on completing University. At home they have maids and have never cooked or done any serious domestic work. When they reach Jordan, they realize the work is more than what they are used to at home. They take it up knowing but the pain of finishing campus and remaining unemployed pushes them to accept and after getting the money they were targeting, they want to return home,” Karungi explained insisting the problem was wide spread. Kameraho corroborated this claim by Karungi saying its indeed wide spread.
The scribes challenged Karungi to explain how she obtained this private conversation with some claiming that proves Nambooze’s point that she uses her husband’s police position to access such information. Some called it abuse of the girls’ rights since the Constitution guarantees right to privacy. This prompted senior journalist Simon Muyanga to stand up and say court has previously defended aggrieved parties’ right to obtain such information adding that clandestine as it seems, court these days admits such information even in evidence. He gave the example of his own court case against Bulamogi MP Kenneth Lubogo.
52,000 TRAFFICKED TO OMAN
Flanked by other officials including UAERA ED Enid, Kameraho said leaders like Nambooze should use their leverage to join the fight against human traffickers who take girls and abandon them in Middle Eastern countries from where they are mistreated and abused like convicted criminals. He said more than 52,000 undocumented Ugandan migrant workers operate in Oman alone and all of them were taken there through human trafficking.
“This is a problem to us as well because they are giving us the bad image and many of our people can’t distinguish between us the well-regulated operators and the human traffickers. We expect leaders like Honorable Nambooze to join us to defeat that vice as opposed to demonizing innocent business operators,” Kameraho said adding as well-regulated UAERA members, they don’t yet externalize anyone to go to such destinations like Oman because ensuring safety of the migrant workers is extremely hard because the GoU is yet to have any bilateral agreements with such countries.
“Otherwise we have done a good job and deserve commendation and not unfair condemnation. Yes, there are challenges. We can’t say one or two things won’t go wrong but on a scale of over 150,000 migrant workers out there, you can’t call it scandalous if such issues were raised once or twice a year. Let’s look at the larger picture in terms of how much those Ugandans have transformed their lives because of the opportunities we have availed.” Kameraho offered to sponsor some journalists to travel to Saudi Arabia and Jordan to see for themselves how Ugandans are visible everywhere gainfully employed. “You go to Riyad or even Doha airport and you will be amazed finding people working and speaking Luganda,” he said as Karungi vowed to organize a public ceremony at which girls gainfully employed through her Marphie Agency will share their good experiences with the public. She also offered to sponsor media teams to go and see the conditions under which these Ugandans operate once abroad.
Kameraho explained why Middle Eastern countries are a very good opportunity Uganda must continue harnessing. “In most cases you find 70% of the people in a country are migrant workers. They are gainfully employed because those nations are wealthy and have taken a deliberate decision to let in many foreign workers because they have very small populations. The foreigners are welcomed to work and get paid to share out the economic opportunities and they have open policy unlike some Western countries where getting a visa is like going to heaven,” he said adding at 4,500 jobs per month, UAERA is doing something the rest of the country should be proud of. (For comments, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org).