Dream of finding an oasis in Riyadh turns out to be a nightmare

Monday August 30 2021
Labour Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui

Kenya's Labour Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui. PHOTO | NMG


Statistics from Kenya’s Ministry of Labour reveal that 97 Kenyans working in Saudi Arabia have been killed in the past two years.

This works out to four Kenyans killed a month or one Kenyan every week. Those lucky to escape with their lives tell harrowing tales of rape, torture, and degrading abuse.

A few years ago, a girl who escaped from Saudi Arabia tearfully narrated, via television, how her dreams of finding an oasis in the desert kingdom turned out to be a mirage, and then into a nightmare.

Like many other girls who come back in body bags, she had searched in vain for a job in Kenya. Then she got wind of opportunities in the kingdom. She paid a sizeable fee to a local recruiting agency which facilitated her travel to her new job as a domestic worker in a middle-class family.

Upon arrival, her employers confiscated her passport. She was worked with a little pause from early morning to way past midnight. She was fed the dog’s food. She was not allowed to go anywhere or speak to anyone.

At every opportune moment, the husband and his sons would rape her. When she asked for her salary, she was told it was being paid to the recruiting agency. She managed to escape and somehow find her way back to Kenya. As the statistics noted above show, she was among the lucky ones. So many others like her come back in body bags.


In the face of such treatment, a government should use all its diplomatic power to ensure that its citizens are treated humanely and in accordance with international labour laws while working in foreign countries.

But the Labour minister, while commenting on the statistics above, seemed to blame the girls for putting themselves in those situations. Then he announced that he would take a fact-finding mission to Saudi Arabia accompanied by several officials.

So let’s deconstruct his pronouncements and intended action. First, shirk responsibility and blame the victims. Second, announce a joy-ride as policy.

Leadership is about creating policies that enlighten, empower and protect citizens. That is why he is paid a fat salary. Fact-finding mission? To find what exactly? These deaths have been known to his ministry for years. And in case the minister does not know, we have embassies in those countries that could have done the “fact-finding”.

Maybe the fat cats in those embassies would have had some real work to do, instead of raking in huge salaries while waiting to come back and run in the next elections so that they, too, could be in positions to send their cohorts to embassies abroad.

Lastly, we must ask this question. If the murders and dehumanisation, which are motivated by racism and religious bigotry, had happened in Europe or America, would African governments, the African Union, and Pan-African ideologues have led a worldwide protest movement for justice?

If so, why the discrepancy? Because of “ideological correctness”.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.