The accounts of 52 Ugandan girls arrested at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport last week and later deported, painted a disconcerting and complete picture of how fast human trafficking is becoming an industrial-scale campaign in this country.
What’s more, some of the desperate victims are beginning to look and act like accomplices in the crime. It’s clear the well-motivated and organised criminal rings are going to ever greater lengths to exploit the many policing gaps and porous borders, and are making the country look like a recruiting haven of sorts.
Interviewed by authorities here upon deportation from Kenya, the young women described step-by-step how, with their consent, they were dubiously recruited locally by the conmen using non-existent and unlicensed offices and promised lucrative jobs in the Middle East.
They made it across the Uganda-Kenya border at Malaba on a market day at the urging of traffickers, who knew only too well that immigration controls are lax on such a day.
According to the women, when they crossed into Kenya, they willingly disguised themselves as market women and boarded a bus. In Kenya, they endured the squalor of their sleeping quarters and terrible food, all in the hope of getting their final paperwork to proceed to the Middle East.
This narrative demonstrates that trafficking rings are succeeding wildly in one thing: slipping through the many loopholes and finding desperate recruits in Uganda who they exploit to the fullest.
In Uganda, at least 837 people have been lured into conditions that border on modern-day slavery, a 2013 report found. Uganda is also a destination for victims from countries such as Madagascar, Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and Tanzania.
People-trafficking has become a lucrative multi-million dollar criminal enterprise. But when fighting the crime, the focus of the world and Uganda has remained firmly on rescuing the hundreds of people trafficked and less on the masterminds of this criminal enterprise who continue to walk scot-free and live luxurious life.
These people must be hunted, arrested and held to account. In a country where some citizens often escape accountability, a trial may actually send prominent criminals to jail.
We got back the 52 women, thanks to Kenya’s law enforcement but what happens to the people who shepherded them there in the first place?
We need to see some high-profile traffickers paraded before the media like we usually do with the victims.