Human trafficking and electioneering in Kenya addressed at the Mombasa Symposium

Report by Sammy Mwangi

Several Civil Society Organizations were represented at the  Third Mombasa Counter Human Trafficking Symposium

“To address the continuing problem of human trafficking in Kenya, authorities recently announced the banning of domestic workers moving to Saudi Arabia.” (Saturday Nation, June 23rd 2012). On 13th July 2012 NTV carried a story indicating that 80 Kenyans are stuck in the Middle East and living under deplorable conditions. A particular case on this day was that of a 21 years old  girl who was seemingly drowned in a swimming pool. Follow the story here 

The Third Mombasa Counter Human Trafficking symposium took place on 21st to 23rd June 2012 in Westeley Methodist Hall, in Tononoka. It was organized by Consolation East Africa (CEA) a Nairobi based NGO that works to build the capacity of the grassroots and faith based organizations to address the challenge of human trafficking through the support of Koinonia Advisory Research Service (KARDS), a community based consultancy, Trace-Kenya a Mombasa based organization working to prevent and protect children and young persons from trafficking for labor and sexual exploitation. Other partners for the symposium were Solidarity With Women in Distress (SOLWODI) an organization that provides support to women and children driven into the commercial sex industry in Mombasa; Arise and Shine youth group (A&SYG), an organization working to build linkages between the isolated anti trafficking groups across the coastal region; the Cradle Foundation of Kenya, non-governmental organization committed to the protection, promotion and enhancement of the rights of the child through court representation, advocacy and law reform, and the Kenya Blue Heart Grassroots Initiative (KBHGI) which is a network of performing and visual art groups whose mission is to educate the society on human rights and civic responsibilities through art and performance.

The symposium focused on ‘engendering the Kenyan electioneering process through grassroots mainstreaming’. Organizations present explored various challenges brought about by election violence both at national and grassroots levels. Strategies aimed at minimizing electoral violence have to be seen to involve all the societal micro-cosms.  A crucial level to start propagating the messages of peace is the family. Messages on meaningful civic participation should be designed to target families during the community mobilizations and trainings. Grassroots organizations have a responsibility to reach out to families within their vicinity as important agents in promoting a harmonious electioneering process. Families to have power over the youth and can ensure that they are not used for purposes of meting violence. Electioneering violence has a negative effect on families as they risk loosing their members, loosing properties and hence be condemned to poverty and ultimate exploitation, and also separations when families are on the run looking for solace.

The symposium attracted thirty four participants whom most of them were actors in the field of countering human trafficking. Organizations represented were RECI, Phoenix, Kuimiriria Child Rights, COPDEC-Taveta, CWSK-Mombasa, MTG, Mahali Pa Usalama, Kenya Methodist University and Arise And Shine. Other attendees were from Tanzania’s University of Dar es Salaam who came to also share and learn from the symposium.  Facilitators included Millicent Agutu a development consultant with KARDS, Nairobi; Ruth Lewa the Director of Solwodi, Mombasa; Constantine Deus and MA in the University of Dar es Salaam and an organizational consultant working with Youth Initiative Tanzania (YITA) in Dar es Salaam; Paul Adhoch the executive director of Trace-Kenya, Mombasa; Amos Nalianya the secretary of Arise and Shine Youth Group, Kwale and Sammy Mwangi of Consolation East Africa.

Millicent Agutu, facilitated the first session on engendering the Kenyan electioneering process 2012/2013. She said that violence during and after election pushes many people to poverty and as a result many become vulnerable to exploitation. She added that the greatest sufferers of electioneering process were women and children.To solve this problem there is a great need to engender the electioneering process and introduce the concept of gender responsive campaigning and ultimately leadership. Millicent added, that there is a great need to empower women on their rights so as they may defend themselves and speak loudly against any acts of violence meted against them during the electioneering time. In reality, politicians hire young people to unleash violence to the supporters of their opponents. This has been a common practice and seems to have been accepted across the board. Civil societies have to ensure that the youth are educated against accepting to be used to propagate negative outcomes on their fellow citizens. On the other hand mechanisms have to be sought to ensure good behavior during the electioneering process and that mechanisms instituted to ensure that all politicians campaign in a civil manner and desist from acts of violence against their opponents’ supporters.

Amos Nalianya facilitated on the reintegration challenges faced by the trafficked victims. He looked at various dimensions of these challenges such as economic, psychosocial, spiritual and legal. Through shared experiences it was revealed that sometimes the families of the victims of human trafficking tend to accept the situation they were in. This happens mostly incase the family is benefitting from the current situation of the victim financially and materially. Reintegration is also made hard on one hand by the surviving victim who finds it hard to explain the ordeal she has passed through. On the other hand, reintegration becomes difficult because of the community and family stigma; where the surviving victim may be seen as a loser. Hence organizations working to help in reintegrating the surviving victims of human trafficking are usually placed in complex dynamics. At times they may not have adequate resources to ensure that the pains of the surviving victim are addressed adequately. Legal perspectives proves a big challenge to the people who are willing to assist the victims( especially children) since one is required to get a letter from District Officer before reporting to the police station. Incase that is lacking one is taken as a suspect; this poses a threat to those who would like to assist and rescue children who are trafficked. In addition involving legal procedures were said to be the stumbling block for many people in coming out to report besides being harassed by the authority. Churches and Mosques were seen to the first places the victims of human trafficking seek for refuge and therefore despite being given spiritual accompaniment the institutions should come up with more ways of assisting the victims.

Ruth Lewa facilitated the third session on trauma counseling for the trafficking survivors.She indicated that the greatest challenge is that many a times the victims of human trafficking do not realize that they are being exploited. Sheadded that, all trafficked people be they working as domestic workers or asprostitutes, believe they are working off to pay a debt. In some instances the survivors facing the prospects of freedom from exploitation may desire to negotiate with their former captors, for fear of the fact there may not be better opportunities where they have come from. By choosing this they accept to continue being degraded, exploited and always to be in the situation they have always been. Situations like these may occur in cases where the former victims believe that the family and community are not able to providing a good integration environment which enables the individual survivor deal with experiences such as loss, grief, trauma, self-conflict and anxiety.Full reintegration back to the family and society requires a heavy investment of time, energy and resources. Hence rescuing a victim is simply not enough but understands her needs after the rescue process is quite important. It is therefore important that counseling is also to be extended to the family to be able to understand the survivor well. Counseling should also take cognizance of the main factors that may have pushed the survivor to a human trafficking situation such as better life syndrome, lack of employment, ignorance, lack of information and culture. It must also be notedthat not many people are willing to talk about the ‘promised opportunities’ for fear of being ‘discouraged’ by their relatives and friends resulting them to being trafficked.

Citing the enactment of the KenyaAnti Trafficking in Persons Law-2010, Paul Adhoch, indicated that the implementation has not been very successful. This can be clearly seen by the fact that the USA report of 2012 degraded Kenya from Tier 2 to Tier 2 Watch List – due to a lack of evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking.The International Organization for Migration (IOM) in 2011 estimates up to 20,000 Somali and Ethiopian immigrants are smuggled into the country  evading the Kenyan security machinery heading to South Africa every year. A 2011 report by International Peace Institute holds that the girls mainly from Somalia are trafficked from North Eastern Kenya to Nairobi or Mombasa for prostitution and forced labor. According to the two organizations, vehicles that transport miraa (khat) from Kenya to Somalia return with young girls and women who end up in brothels and some are shipped to other parts of the world. Locally there are many cases of young girls and children being taken from their rural homes in the promise of being taken to school and then ending up in slavery. The situation is not made any better due to the fact that there are a number of orphan children is also quite high and these children have no advocates to follow up their treatment. Also there have been serious problems mainly facing the Kenyan domestic workers abroad which have included sexual violence, severe brutalities and in some cases deaths. This violent trend against Kenyan and workers from other parts of Africa in the Middle East has been on the rising scale with the civil society in Kenya asking questions such as; how could this happen? Are there no human rights organizations in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and other Middle East Countries concerned with the treatment of migrant workers in their countries? What about the laws in those countries-are they so insensitive to the plight of migrant workers?  Are there no foreign embassies that can raise a voice for the poor migrant workers from Kenya and other poor countries of the world in these host countries? Locally in Kenya organizations need to raise awareness so as many people may get correct information and not fall prey to human trafficking. In May 2012, the government of Kenya coincidentally banned the movement of domestic workers to Saudi Arabia as a way of addressing these brutalities.

The symposium called for network reinforcement amongst the actors working to combat human trafficking. Constantine Deus encouraged Counter Human tracking organizations to go for strategic social networking and not aimless social networking. Strategic social networking focuses on mutual interests on one hand and on the other finding collective ways in which organizations assist each other work towards achieving their individual organizational objectives. Constatine Deus from the University of Dar es Salaam emphasized that counter trafficking  actors in Kenya ought also to mainstream a civic awareness agenda during 2012/2013 electioneering period based on promotion of peaceful elections. Civic participation amongst the counter human trafficking actors will disseminate the message of peace far and wide and ensure that the negative results arising from electioneering violence are reduced and that people of all genders are happy and at peace through-out the electioneering process. Electioneering violence will not only create internally displaced persons, refugees, many deaths and property destruction but it will also generate vulnerability to exploitation and human trafficking in Kenya. According to Constantine, grassroots organizations ought to transcend their normal mission in providing rehabilitation and reintegration to promoting a peaceful 2012/2013. This task cannot be achieved only by one organization but by a unity of all actors. In promoting this networking actors need to ask themselves questions, such as who to form network with? Why networking with some organizations and not others? What goals are going to be realized through such networks?  How does the social networking take place among the actors in the field? Does it need a task force or a clear strategy?” These questions enable the building of social networks that are stronger and helpful among organization to succeed in strengthening efforts for reintegration and peaceful elections in Kenya.

According to Sammy Mwangi the Coordinator of CEA, facilitating on knowledge management, media is the best mode of transferring knowledge, information and experiences from the actors, survivors of trafficking to reach people of different languages. An effective media can raise the awareness level and can also bring reduced vulnerability to human trafficking and other crimes. Media enables marginalized communities to speak about issues that concern them at the local level, creating linkages between development, democracy and media. This was realized as a snap-shot of community needs and aspirations and allows a community to map its future using the bottom-up approach. An ideal philosophy of media is to use this medium as the voice of the voiceless, and the mouthpiece of oppressed people, or by communities that have not been served by conventional communication structures. More so, media offers space for creativity and is also a tool for empowerment. Besides this, media is able to integrate different mediums of communication e.g. drama, song and dance, storytelling, puppetry, radio listenership groups and community radio stations.

The symposium proposed to form a cluster system which will enhance the exchange of knowhow and experiences and also promote collaboration and peer reviews for better results. The symposium brought together actors and survivors of human trafficking. The survivors shared of their experiences as victims in foreign countries and also domestically. The real life experiences cases shared created an impact to the participants who had little or no knowledge about human trafficking. Fear of coming out as survivor was demystified as many cases came up from the participants relating their situations they went through or observed from other. The symposium called on other people who may have been rescued from the slavery/trafficking to be able to come out and condemn the inhuman acts of violation of their rights. For the proper healing of the survivors, the families, communities were also urged to accept, love and encourage them to take life positively despite what they went through. In most cases it proves to be hard to change one’s view when he/she is a victim and did it in his/her own desires and it takes lots of persuasion and patience to make one accept to change.

After the symposium, the Kenya Blue Hearts Grassroots Initiative (KBHGI) through the assistance of SOLWODI performed in various schools and institutions  in Malindi, Kilifi and Mombasa for a period of one week. Their message apart from educating the communities about human trafficking was also helping to demonstrate the value of peace during the electioneering process to the residents of the coast of Kenya. The impact of their work was so strong and was appreciated in every place they went with local residents indicating the fact that civic participation is quite important and the fact that a peaceful Mombasa is good especially for women who suffer much during moments of terror and violence.

Lastly the government was put into task by coming up with policies to guide the operations of the employment agencies as many agencies were said to be uncaring which has led to many people suffer in the hands of their employers. It was noted that it was right for the agents to find employment for the people anywhere as far as they were not exploited, abused or dehumanized in any way. A call was made for the Kenyan embassies abroad to always be approachable and be of assistance to the Kenyans who are in need and be alerted incase one get into those countries.

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