Opinion: Muturi wrong to feign ignorance over abuse of Kenyans in Saudia

Speaker Justin Muturi
Speaker Justin Muturi’s statement about the enslavement of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, has exposed his ignorance.

Speaker Muturi and Majority Leader Aden Duale were in Saudia for one of their usual taxpayer-funded “benchmarking” junkets.

He denounced reports of well-documented abuses of migrant workers, including Kenyans, in the kingdom. Without irony, his shocking remarks came after a meeting with Abdullah ibn Muhammad Al ash-Sheikh, Speaker of Majlis al-Shura, the possum Consultative Assembly, the advisory body to Saudi’s absolute monarch. The Majlis as-Shura is a pretend parliament.

Let’s first of all dispense with the terrible optics and substance of the frolic to Saudi Arabia by Mr Muturi, Mr Duale, and their cavorting fellow legislators. There’s no doubt that Saudi Arabia is an important and strategic power in the Middle East. It’s endowed with vast deposits of oil – the black gold – although I am told that’s dwindling.

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As dirty energy, oil has no future not only because it’s finite, it’s also being replaced by renewable and green energy. Saudi Arabia is also the birthplace and spiritual centre of Islam. But a democracy it isn’t.

Saudi Arabia – with American protection for its oil – is a repressive, misogynistic, racist, corrupt, and morally bankrupt society. It’s the epitome of kleptocracy.

One must wonder what the Kenyan legislature has to learn – and benchmark – from Saudi Arabia. The joke is on taxpayers who fund the junkets by Muturi and his troupe of lawmakers. I would be eager to know from Muturi – and his defenders like the Saudi-based Kenyan Mohamed Wehliye – learned in his meeting with the Speaker of the Majlis. You can take this to the bank – they didn’t talk about the Shura holding the Saudi King accountable.

Instead, Muturi was fed a bill of goods by the Speaker of the Shura. He was told to denounce reports of modern-day slavery by migrant workers – especially Kenyans – in Saudi Arabia. Like a good boy, Muturi complied.

So, what are the facts? There’s no doubt that rich countries attract migrant labour from less developed states. They also attract political refugees and those feeling economic privation. That’s true of North America and Europe. But political refugees don’t go to the Middle East. That’s because the Middle East isn’t a politically-free region. Those fleeing political persecution go to the West. Those running away from economic repression go both to the Middle East and the West. In both cases, refugees and migrants – no matter the reason for leaving their native countries – often face harsh conditions in the countries to which they settle, or flee to. But some of the most severe conditions for migrants are in the Middle East.

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Don’t take my word for it. There is a huge library and catalogue of irrefutable reports by human rights groups, labour organisations, multilateral entities like the International Labour Organisation, and the media on slave and slave-like conditions for migrant workers in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

The latter two are among the richest in the world. They’ve almost entirely been built by labour – most of it underpaid and slave-like – by migrants from black Africa, the Philippines and South Asia.

In many Gulf states – dubbed the Kingdom of Slaves – nearly 90 per cent of all the residents are migrant workers. Unlike elsewhere in the world, it’s virtually impossible for a foreigner to become a citizen of Saudia Arabia or the Gulf States.

In fact, the Gulf wouldn’t be where it is today without migrant labour, of which the aforementioned Mr Wehliye is one. But his situation is different. He isn’t a young foreign female domestic worker from Africa or South Asia.

He didn’t have his passport confiscated upon arrival to deprive him of liberty and the ability to leave an abusive employer. He isn’t subjected to physical abuse and rape by his employer.

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He doesn’t make the minimum wage which is often around Sh30,000. Nothing to write home about. There are documented cases of homicide where employers murder migrant workers, including Kenyans, without recourse or accountability. Muturi just needs to speak to the families of the victims.

Often, the wives of the male employers mercilessly beat the trafficked domestic workers once they discover their husbands have been raping, and coercing, them into sex.

Many workers have taken their own lives in despair from the abuse. Black Africa has a long and haunting history of slavery with the Arab world. Blacks are enslaved today in Libya, Sudan, and Mauritania. Muturi should educate himself before siding with Saudi abusers over Kenyans. He should publicly apologise for his ignorant remarks.

Speaker Justin MuturiSaudi Arabiamigrant workers