Young Africans, enticed by promises of good earnings abroad by ruthless agents, very often find themselves virtually enslaved, mistreated or even murdered once with their masters – especially in Arab countries. It is time for Africa to put an end to this new form of slavery, argues Baffour Ankomah.
In early June, the video of a Ugandan female domestic worker being butchered to death somewhere in Iraqi Kurdistan was circulated on the social media by a Ghanaian domestic worker who is also based in the same locality. The video was so gory that I couldn’t watch it beyond the first few seconds, where blood was shooting up from the young woman’s body as if from a fountain.
The young Ugandan had been pinned face down by her assailants, who proceeded to cut her up – alive – with axes and knives, later beheading her. Her ‘crime’, according to the Ghanaian young woman who circulated the video, was allegedly not paying attention to a child of her Iraqi master and ‘allowing’ the child to run out of the house to be run over by a passing car.
According to the Ghanaian, the work of African domestic workers in the Arab countries is so onerous that they just cannot keep abreast of everything at the same time. Their masters’ wives, she said, just sit and play with their phones and leave all the housework to the domestic workers, including the care of their children.
On this particular occasion, the Ugandan woman was said to have been engrossed with housework when the child ran from the house and was ran over by a car. Blamed for causing the child’s death, the Arab masters gruesomely killed the domestic worker in revenge, filmed and shared the gory killing to other domestic workers as warning.
According to the Ghanaian, the assailants asked the Ugandan to give them the contacts of three of her friends before she was killed, so that they could send them the video to serve as a warning to other domestic workers. That is how the video came to be circulated worldwide. My heart fell when I watched the first few seconds.
No worse fate
No worse fate could befall an African – in this day and age – than being butchered to death. The Ghanaian domestic worker sent the video to her brother in Ghana, asking him to circulate it to warn other unsuspecting Ghanaian young women and men who might be enticed by agents who feed on the ignorance and desperation of jobless youths.
These agents, send them to Arab countries, promising them heaven, that invariably turns into hell on earth when they arrive.
The Ghanaian said she herself is a victim of the agents, who promised her a job in a supermarket in Turkey although she ended up in Iraqi Kurdistan instead. The agents charged her master $4,000 for her services, and so, according to her, she is virtually a slave in her master’s house.
The work is so wearying that, according to her, two other Ghanaian domestic workers in Kurdistan died a few weeks before the Ugandan was killed. Exhausted by work, one of the Ghanaians, she said, collapsed and died in her master’s kitchen. “We don’t know what they have done to her body,” the young woman said in the video, as she begged the Ghanaian and other African governments, to stop the agents from sending more young Africans to these dangerous jobs..
Despite the bad treatment they receive, Africans have for years continued to go to the Middle East as domestic workers.
In fact, the brutality meted out by these Arab masters on African they employ, is not a new story. It has been going on for decades. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, New African ran many such stories from Lebanon, Syria, UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, where African domestic workers were brutally treated. However, despite the bad treatment they receive, Africans have for years continued to go to the Middle East as domestic workers.
On my travels in Africa, I happen to meet many of these domestic workers on Ethiopian Airlines flights. On one such journey between Accra and Addis Ababa in 2016, there were over 100 of them – all Ghanaians – filling up the seats of the Ethiopian Boeing 787 Dreamliner, giggling as they mocked the then Ghanaian President John Mahama, whom they blamed for not providing jobs for the youths of the country.
As I eavesdropped on their chat, I told my wife, who was travelling with me, that those young people would not be laughing and mocking Mahama if they knew the fate awaiting them in the Arab lands.
When it comes to domestic work, the Arabs have simply been bad to Africans. This might sound like a sweeping statement but there is no better way to put it. Our stupidity, as Africans, is to continue to subject ourselves to such brutality. If we stop going there as domestic workers, they would have no opportunity to brutalise us.
The Arabs have simply been bad to Africans…Our stupidity, as Africans, is to continue to subject ourselves to such brutality. If we stop going there as domestic workers, they would have no opportunity to brutalise us.
Some may argue that our jobless youths are desperate to earn a living. But, as Jesus pointed out in the Bible, if you win the whole world and lose your soul in the end, where is the profit in that? Must we sacrifice our lives for jobs that will lead to our being butchered to death in foreign lands?
I want to make this appeal to African leaders, both at the national and continental levels. Our Presidents, at the national level, must do all they can – as a matter of urgency – to stop these so-called agents who are sending our youths to suffer in the Arab lands. I know it is not easy to stop young people who are bent on travelling abroad, but our countries must do more than they are currently doing to stop the middlemen and women who are sending our youths into slavery.
At the continental level, I wish to appeal to the African Union to do more to look after the citizens of its Sixth Region – the Diaspora – by embarking on political agitation and diplomacy that will ensure that host countries accord civil and human rights to the Africans in their midst.
History records that the Arabs were extra brutal to Africans during the slavery era that decimated much of Eastern and Southern Africa, long before the Europeans joined in with the despicable act in West Africa.
Remarkably, while we see large concentrations of African-descended people in the Americas today (one even became a President in the USA), there are no such large concentrations in the Arab lands or in India, Pakistan and beyond, let alone in visible public administration in those countries.
The slavery of Africans by Arabs and Europeans ended through political agitation and diplomacy. Since then, African-descended people have been at the bottom of the pile everywhere in the world.
From time to time, we see some Black people playing football for the Saudi national team, but in the Saudi government, we see almost no one. There was a BBC documentary many years ago about the discrimination suffered by the African-descended people of Pakistan, one of whom complained that even on the football pitch, Black Pakistanis face discrimination as pale-skinned Pakistanis don’t want to pass the ball to them, even if the Blacks are in a better position to score.
The slavery of Africans by Arabs and Europeans ended through political agitation and diplomacy. Since then, African-descended people have been at the bottom of the pile everywhere in the world, suffering indignities that shame us all. Now is the time for the African continent to rise and fight for people of African descent across the world.
The Wilberforces and Granville Sharpes of the slavery era are no more. Africans must take up the fight themselves.
There must be political agitation and diplomacy at the global and national level on behalf of the African diaspora. And the AU must lead in this task. It should have a special department to take up this intercession.
The African diaspora needs the political and diplomatic support, otherwise black people will forever suffer such indignities, even death in host countries.
The time has come for African governments and continental institutions to do something radical to help the African diaspora communities around the world.