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Members of the Africa Diaspora Forum (ADF), civil society organisations, churches, trade unions and other coalitions wear chains and shout slogans during a demonstration against the slave trade and human trafficking in Libya on December 12, 2017 at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. The UN Security Council on December 7 said reports that migrants detained in Libyan camps were being sold into slavery could amount to "crimes against humanity" in a joint statement of condemnation.
Members of the Africa Diaspora Forum and civil society organizations protest against human trafficking and slavery in Libya in December 2017 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo via AFP)

Ninety-six Ugandan women, mostly children and youth, were stopped at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi in January en route to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for work opportunities. The girls, who lacked proper employment papers, were victims of a well-established human trafficking ring in East Africa, headquartered in Kenya and operating under the guise of employment agencies.

This wasn’t the first such interception. Almost every month, Kenya’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations reports at least one interception involving victims not only from Uganda but also from Burundi, Rwanda, and to a lesser extent Tanzania. Most of East Africa’s trafficking takes place in and through Kenya.


Human trafficking routes from East Africa to the Middle East

Human trafficking routes from East Africa to the Middle East


The Trafficking Value Chain

Traditionally, the value chain of this criminal network has comprised three links. First are regionally based recruitment brokers who ferry people from their respective countries to Kenya. Second are the Kenyan-based links who “receive” the people and act as the country’s employment agencies. They move victims from Kenya to the host country. Third are the counterparts who often pose as foreign employment agencies. They are stationed in the host country and “receive” people sent from Kenya.

Recent cases and new research by the ENACT organized crime project suggest a shift in the workings of the trafficking value chain as far as the third “link” is concerned. There is evidence that the trafficking of women and girls from East Africa to the Middle East is now being carried out entirely by East Africans.

Interviews with victims revealed that they were received in the foreign country by “familiar faces”. In February 2020, fifty Kenyans, each of whom paid about US$2,000 to supposed employment agencies, were trafficked to the UAE and enslaved in a house by a “Mombasa agent” who has operations in Mombasa and Dubai. The victims said there were many such trafficking houses run by Kenyans in Dubai, housing other East African nationals such as Ugandans and Tanzanians. Most of East Africa’s trafficking takes place in and through Kenya.

A specific case revealed to Lucia Bird, senior analyst at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, highlights the multinational and regional interconnections. A Ugandan girl was trafficked to Kenya by a Ugandan family friend. A Kenyan national then flew with her to Oman, where she was collected at the airport by an Ethiopian national before being driven to her Omani employers.

Similarly, Angelo Izama, a human trafficking consultant who volunteers on a project for trafficked victims at a church in the UAE, told ENACT of a Ugandan girl recruited to be a receptionist. She was received by a Ugandan in Dubai and forced into sex work.


Regional trafficking networks appear to want to control the entire value chain


While the links in a criminal value chain work together, there is also competition, with operators vying for a greater share of the more profitable elements in the chain. Regional trafficking networks appear to want to control the entire value chain, from sourcing to recruiting victims, trafficking them out of East Africa and receiving them in the foreign country. This well-coordinated and continually shifting transnational crime process is difficult to police and prosecute.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a police officer specializing in human trafficking in East Africa told ENACT that the problem has engulfed the region. This affirms a 2018 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) assessment report that shows an increase in human trafficking in East African countries.

The officer also notes that policing the crime is becoming more difficult. As an example, the officer referred to a joint initiative in 2017 between the Kenyan and Ugandan governments that appeared promising in its anti-trafficking measures. It failed, however, due to a lack of proper intelligence on the criminal value chain and inconsistent engagement between the two countries.


Better Migration Management

Regulating the labor exporting sector is also complicated. As with Kenya, Uganda imposed a ban on labor emigration to the Middle East in 2016, and then lifted it a year later. Ugandan civil society organizations working to counter human trafficking said the ban and its lifting had little impact on trafficking dynamics. They questioned the benefits of exporting labor and highlighted the failure to safeguard those undertaking labor migration.

Regional bodies such as the International Organization for Migration, UNODC, and the European Union have often called for a stronger regional approach to trafficking. The latest is the Better Migration Management program, which advocates for the prevention, protection, and prosecution of human trafficking in East Africa and the Horn of Africa.

East African countries appear to lack power in negotiations with Middle Eastern countries on trafficking issues. This is because of gaps in their domestic legislation and regional trafficking strategies. Yet other regions that export labor to the Middle East have shown that this can be done.

The Philippines, for example, has twenty-three bilateral agreements with seven countries, most of which are in the Middle East. This allows authorities to oversee the protection and safety of workers and prevent them being exploited by trafficking networks and employers in destination countries. The labor export sector makes up a significant portion of the Philippines’ gross domestic product, yet it also comes with challenges and is not an economic cure-all.

East Africa needs to learn from approaches elsewhere that prevent trafficking and protect workers. Until more robust responses are in place, trafficking and exploitation are likely to grow in the region. This perpetuates the vulnerability of poor women and girls, and undermines the prospects of labor exportation as a livelihoods option.


Mohamed Daghar is a researcher with the ENACT project in Nairobi.

This article was first published by the ENACT project. ENACT is funded by the European Union (EU). The content of this article is the sole responsibility of the author and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the EU.


Children play in the sea at Nungwi Beach on the island of Zanzibar. (Gulshan Khan/via AFP)
Children play in the sea while a woman looks on at Nungwi Beach on the island of Zanzibar. (Gulshan Khan/via AFP)

In Zanzibar, the semi-autonomous islands off the coast of Tanzania, very few women know how to swim. Some of this is cultural: Zanzibar remains a deeply conservative religious society where the mainly Muslim population expects women to dress modestly, precluding them from wearing revealing swimwear. This also reinforces cultural biases that insist women only occupy themselves with domestic tasks and child-rearing.



To push back against this stigma, Siti Haji started her own swim classes for young Muslim women. Gathering in the clear waters of the Indian Ocean, Haji teaches the girls how to float, swim against the current, and manage their breathing. She and her team have taught about 5,000 women how to keep afloat in the water, and she hopes to teach more, both for their own empowerment and to dispel some of the patriarchal attitudes that keep them out of the sea.

Haji’s work builds on the efforts of the Panje Project, an organization formed in 2011, initially to assist the youth of the northern Zanzibari village of Nungwi with educational development. It soon began to teach young women how to swim and providing them with burkinis—full-length swimsuits—to make it easy for them to get into the water without compromising their religious and cultural beliefs.


Tundu Lissu, former Tanzanian member of parliament with the Chadema main opposition party, reacts to supporters as he returns after three years in exile to challenge President John Magufuli in elections later this year. (Photo by STR/AFP)
Tundu Lissu, former Tanzanian member of parliament with the Chadema main opposition party, reacts to supporters as he returns after three years in exile to challenge President John Magufuli in elections later this year. (Photo by STR/AFP)

Tundu Lissu, a principal political rival to Tanzanian president John Magufuli, flew home after spending nearly three years in Belgium receiving medical treatment for gunshot wounds he had sustained in September 2017. Lissu, who was an opposition member of parliament at the time, was hit by five bullets out of about thirty-two shots aimed at his car as he was returning home from a parliamentary session.

Welcomed by a few hundred of his supporters as he alighted from the aircraft, Lissu intimated he would be challenging Magufuli in the presidential election set to be held on October 28.


Observers are worried the country is backsliding into authoritarianism


The attack against Lissu was one of the most egregious examples of political intimidation and harassment against opposition figures under President Magufuli’s administration, a trend that has observers worried the country is backsliding into authoritarianism.

The top opposition parties are considering joining forces behind one candidate to stand against Magufuli, who will be seeking a second five-year term.


Professor Ernest Wamba dia Wamba
Professor Ernest Wamba dia Wamba

Professor Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, one of Africa’s foremost philosophers, civil rights activists, and pro-democracy scholars, passed away at the University Clinic of Kinshasa on Wednesday, July 15.

Wamba dia Wamba obtained his education in the United States after earning a scholarship through the African-American Institute, studying at Western Michigan University before earning his MBA at Claremont University. He taught at Brandeis and Harvard universities while in the United States, where he met his wife and got involved in the civil rights movement through the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.


He became a history professor at the University of Dar es Salaam


He moved Tanzania and became a history professor at the University of Dar es Salaam, which had become an intellectual nexus of Pan-African thought. He founded the university’s philosophy club, and from 1992 to 1995 he served as the president of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA).

In 1998, Wamba dia Wamba founded the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) with the support of Uganda and Rwanda, and began a campaign against newly installed DRC president Laurent-Désiré Kabila. In August, the RCD launched an attack on Goma, starting the Second Congo War. The RCD later split into two factions, supported by the two rival neighboring countries, after which Wamba dia Wamba faced revolt in his own faction.

After the war, Wamba dia Wamba became a senator in the DRC government and helped to draft a new constitution. He continued to write and was a noted political theorist. More recently, in May 2017, he was appointed president of the political-religious movement Bundu dia Mayala.



Local residents buy and sell fish at the Malindi Fish Market in Stone Town, on the island of Zanzibar, on December 28, 2017.  GULSHAN KHAN / AFP
Local residents sell and buy fish at Malindi Fish Market in Stone Town on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar. (Gulshan Khan/AFP)

NovFeed, a Tanzanian company, has begun developing a low-cost, sustainable fish feed by raising black soldier fly maggots, then drying and grinding them up into a high-protein powder.

NovFeed co-founder Elisha Otaigo explains that these maggots have a higher protein, fat and micronutrient content than housefly maggots. Unlike houseflies, black soldier flies do not transmit diseases and reach maturity quite quickly. Just two to three weeks of feeding them organic waste gets the larvae to its highest nutrient state, and then they can be processed, to be used as an ingredient in fish feed.


Fish contributes to almost a quarter of the population’s animal protein diet


Animal products make up about 3.4 percent of Tanzania’s total exports, of which fish products make up the vast majority. The Tanzanian fishing industry also provides up to 4 million jobs—about 35 percent of all rural employment—and fish contributes to almost a quarter of the population’s animal protein diet.

Recent years have seen a decline in fisheries due to mismanagement and rising costs, making NovFeed’s innovation a boon to some of Tanzania’s poorest citizens.


Mining wall Tanzania
A banner featuring Tanzanian president John Magufuli adorns the wall at the only entrance in a newly built 24-kilometer wall around the country’s tanzanite mines in the north to prevent smuggling of the precious violet-blue stones.


Barrick Gold, which has its headquarters in Toronto, Canada, has paid Tanzania US$100 million out of a US$300 million settlement after the government lifted a ban on the export of mineral concentrates. The settlement is part of a dispute resolution that emerged after Tanzania accused Acacia Mining, which Barrick Gold acquired last year, of tax evasion in 2017. Included in the settlement is an agreement struck between Tanzania and Barrick whereby the government would take a 16 percent stake in the subsidiary Twiga Minerals to manage three gold mines leased to Barrick.


This is not the last of the company’s legal woes in Tanzania


Gold makes up close to a third of all of Tanzania’s exports, meaning this resumption of trade is highly beneficial to economic stability in the country, especially as mineral exports globally have shrunk due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Barrick Gold will settle the rest of the claim with five annual payments of US$40 million each. But this is not the last of the company’s legal woes in Tanzania. Only a few weeks after the signing of the Twiga Minerals deal in late January, a group of seven Tanzanian miners filed a legal claim at the British High Court over alleged human rights abuses committed by security forces at Barrick’s North Mara gold mine, making this the second lawsuit filed against a Barrick Gold subsidiary for human rights violations at the same mining site.



Undersea Cable


A multinational consortium of telecommunications companies—including Facebook, China Mobile International, MTN Global Connect, Telecom Egypt, and Vodafone—announced the construction of a new undersea fiber-optic cable that will connect sixteen African countries, Europe, and the Middle East. Named 2Africa, the 37,000 kilometer-long communications cable is scheduled to go live in 2023 or 2024.


Africans pay some of the highest data rates in the world.


In March, two undersea cables serving Africa experienced breakages that drastically reduced Internet connectivity for days as repairs were made. The addition of 2Africa will help improve Internet access for millions of Africans, and mitigate disruptions should other cables experience failures in the future. Such disruptions are not only frustrating for Africans, who pay some of the highest data rates in the world, but also have a negative impact on the African economy.

A 2017 report by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) concluded that intentional Internet shutdowns in twelve countries between 2015 and 2017 cost sub-Saharan Africa more than US$237 million. Unforeseen connectivity disruptions naturally can have far greater negative impact on national and regional economies.



life in Tanzania amid covid
Life in Tanzania goes on as normal despite a spike of cases of Covid-19. Tanzanian president John Magufuli has expressed skepticism about the seriousness of the pandemic


Zambia closed off its border with neighboring Tanzania on Monday, May 10, following the highest surge yet in COVID-19 cases in a single day. Zambian health minister Chitalu Chilufya was quoted in the Tanzanian daily The Citizen saying, “No traffic will be allowed in or out of the district,” referring to Nakonde District on the border. No timetable was set for reopening the border post.


A Contrary Approach Across the Border

Zambian health officials recorded 85 more cases on Saturday, 76 of which were from Nakonde. The Zambian response is in stark contrast to how the Tanzanian authorities are handling the pandemic; they relaxed restrictions on international flights on the same day as the border closure. To date, Tanzania has reported 509 cases and 21 deaths, and Zambia 267 cases and 7 deaths, according to Worldometers.

Tanzania president John Magufuli has also expressed skepticism over the severity of the virus, alleging earlier in May that diagnostic tests were flawed and recently importing Madagascar’s Covid-Organics herbal tea remedy as a viral treatment despite no clear evidence proving the drink’s efficacy, putting him and Tanzania at odds with World Health Organization scientists.



President Magufuli
President John Magufuli has been COVID-19 skeptic despite domestic criticism.


President John Magufuli has declared imported test kits as faulty.


Joining a chorus of leaders publicly expressing doubt about the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tanzanian president John Magufuli has declared imported test kits as faulty after alleged false positives for COVID-19 were detected in samples taken from animals and fruits that had secretly been submitted to the national health laboratory to test for the virus. The samples from a goat and a papaya apparently tested positive.

Magufuli’s administration has been generally apathetic about implementing measures to curb the spread of the virus, which has brought criticism from within Tanzania and from the international community. A day after Magufuli questioned the test results, the director and quality assurance manager of the laboratory were suspended, prompting the opposition and activists to accuse the government of failing to take the disease seriously and not being transparent about the number of COVID-19 cases.


Three members of parliament have died after a short illness.


The president did not elaborate on where the tests were imported from and has insisted on having business continue as usual, even after three members of parliament had died after a short illness, presumably COVID-19, including justice minister Augustine Mahiga. Freeman Mbowe, the leader of Tanzania’s principal opposition party Chadema, urged all party members to self-quarantine for two weeks, and called on the government to test and treat all MPs and their families.


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