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Politics

Museveni and the untold story of Uganda’s slave trade

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By Charles Kamya Ssentamu

One of the companies that export the most Ugandans into modern-day slavery in the Middle East is said to have links with the closest members of President Yoweri Museveni’s family, according to very confidential information.

Highly confidential sources say Museveni’s younger brother, Gen. Salim Saleh is behind an outfit known as the Normandy Company. It is run by a serving army officer at the rank of General, and Saleh has significant shares in it. Located on Bukoto Street in a nondescript building, this company alternates between exporting young men for guard services and women that are exported to work as domestic servants. Virtually everybody who matters in Uganda is cashing in on this grim value chain.

Owing to the high unemployment levels, even university-educated graduates will be lured by advertisements put out in newspapers and on TV, with lures of “great job opportunities” in the Middle East. The great joblessness – a product of 33 years of misrule – has made Uganda one of the most fertile places for slave labor export, and the First Family is behind some of the biggest companies cashing in.

Many young men and women will be seen getting themselves registered at Normandy Company. Afterwards, those that pass the “selection process” will impose on their families to raise the money for the air ticket. So they sell family plots of land or other property. Companies like Normandy do not even give these people money for the airfare, though they will reap millions of dollars on commissions from Arab business partners every year, according to our sources. The main destinations are Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, Oman, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Once in the Middle East, the young men and women sent there by companies like Normandy will discover that instead of “big money” they have become slaves. Video of testimonies of Ugandans that have been trafficked keep coming up on the Internet. Many tell horror stories of heinous abuses by their supposed employers in the Arab world, which has never looked at a black person as anything more than a slave. Hardly a month passes by without video of a desperate Ugandan popping up on social media appealing for help to be pulled out of near death situations.

In a video posted on the Facebook page of a website called Kakensa Media on 17 March, this year, some young women trapped in Jordan can be seen crying out for help. In Luganda they cry, “banange mutuyambe!” – please help us!

They describe inhuman conditions whereby their bosses working them from dawn to dusk but give them very little food. They describe some of their Ugandan colleagues as being as young as seventeen. “We use the filthiest toilets imaginable which do not even flush. Some of our colleagues have gone mad!” They say when they get sick they do not give them medicine. “They make us sleep like dogs; we do not have water to wash!,” they wail. “We are women; when we go in periods we do not wash. We do not have enough sleeping space, we sleep in shifts!”

A good number of these young people, who were lured to go for “great work” in the Arab world with promises of good money, come back feet first, stiff and cold in a coffin. Young men and women are lured with promises of all expenses paid employment opportunities.

Quite often things go awry when the poor families of the few that survive these ordeals have to sell off all they have – that is in order to pay the ransom their exporters demand before their loved ones can be repatriated. Tales of young healthy people succumbing to “sudden” inexplicable deaths have fuelled suspicion that their organs are harvested. In other instances, people who are recruited on the understanding that they are going to do clerical work or cab drivers end up working in slave conditions. Women are raped and sodomized.

But for some reason, the Ugandan state seems indifferent to the plight of these young Ugandans. They have fallen prey to a callous system whereby the Museveni regime and its top cliques are selling Uganda piecemeal, humans included.

Museveni’s Banyankore people believed that the giant earthworm is actually a two-headed snake because of its ability to move in either direction without having to make a U-turn, hence its name “Kirumirahabiri.” The Banyankore still maintain the phrase in contemporary usage, to mean a double talker or unreliable person.

Despite efforts to set himself apart from his predecessors – whom he has variously described as swine and other unflattering metaphors – Ugandans who have followed Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni’s statements and actions over time will remember him as the “Kirumirahabiri” president.

When he shot his way to power in 1986 he had few kind words for anyone; not just his immediate predecessors in State House but also Africa’s pre-colonial leaders. These he chided for selling Africa’s valuable natural resources, including human beings, “in exchange for trinkets.” He particularly expressed disgust for the slave trade under which the chiefs and kings of yore often preyed on their own people, capturing youths for sale to Arab and European slave traders.

Fast forward 33 years later and, irony of ironies, Museveni and his family are the main benefactors of the highly unscrupulous and callous trafficking of humans that end up in slave bondage.

A keen observer will notice the frequency with which Ugandan government officials proudly quote the “huge contribution” that “Labour externalization” is making to Uganda’s foreign exchange coffers. Uganda’s own gender and Labour Ministry, which should ordinarily be the custodian of social welfare proudly states that as many as 70,000 Ugandans have left to the Middle East.

Yet the state is never interested in the testimonies of survivors. They are forced to simply melt into the background for their own good! Exporters of the slave labor are not ordinary folk. A scan of the 96 firms that are licensed to engage in this dubious trade reveals a close-knit racket of people with close relationships with the powerful – meaning Museveni, his brother and some of his daughters – and top politicians, cabinet ministers and army generals, from his ethnic group.

Such has been the loss of the sense of value of life under Museveni that government officials proudly preside over flagging off ceremonies for youths being herded to their possible demise.

Sadly this insensitivity, where life has no value and brother is willing to prey on brother, now pervades all aspects of national life in the Museveni era.

In hospitals poor pregnant women die in labor because they cannot afford the bribe that medical workers (fellow women in many instances) want before they can let the hapless victim get access to publicly funded medical goods. For a good slice of the cake regulators will give the nod to fake ineffective medicines that are sold to the unsuspecting public.

Agriculture, often touted as the backbone of the Ugandan economy, is now on its knees thanks to fake agricultural inputs.

An immoral system runs amok.