By Our Reporter
Illegal organ trade in Uganda has become the norm and an annual business worth millions of dollars.
Armed with a seemingly bottomless supply of cash and empty job offers, traders and middlemen are scouring the streets and hospitals in the country for the vulnerable, desperate unemployed Ugandans to cash in on the malaise afflicting them.
The most vulnerable are the unemployed youth dying to get domestic work in the Middle East. Other organ donors an investigation has found are picked from mental health facilities. According to a source at Mulago Hospital, illegal organ trade is on the climb and the facilitators are very rich people connected to various security agencies.
“We receive several people who come here for check-ups and on examination; some of them are victims of organ trade. Many times, they are very sad and hopeless after donating their organs but they fear to mention the people who coerced them,” said the source, who estimates the number of victims to be between 20 and 30 annually.
The source added that what baffles doctors is that some victims are mentally unstable.
“We have a big problem that needs to be addressed quickly. I have seen many young unstable people whose organs were harvested after being taken abroad for medical treatment. It is sad they are preyed on because of their unstable mental state and even the victims don’t understand what happened,” the source said.
The Observer also spoke to a victim who was coerced into surrendering his kidney by his adopted parents in the USA. He said he was a street child adopted at 15 years old in 2017 but his adoptive family later cajoled him to donate his kidney to the family patriarch.
“I was happy to escape crime and poverty in Uganda…I was living a dream life in the USA. However, I noticed that my granddad’s health was deteriorating fast due to kidney disease. That’s when I was counseled by the family physician to consider helping him live longer and in return, I was promised some inheritance on top of other attractive offers,” he said.
“I signed the papers without any consultation and donated my kidney to him but things started to change when he got better. The promises were not fulfilled. They took advantage of my vulnerability since they saved me from the streets but I feel cheated and I don’t know how I will live for the rest of my life. I later got to know there are many adopted people here who are in the same predicament but cannot speak out. I’m writing to you to help expose this.”
A parents complaint sits at the center of the Friday, February 25, 2022 arraignment of five Nile Treasure Gate directors before Nakawa Chief Magistrate Elizabeth Akullo Ogwal on charges of aggravated trafficking in persons contrary to sections 3(1)(a) & 4(i) of the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act, 2009.
Abubakar Sulaiman, Mariam Muhammad, Ali Hassan, Jennifer Nalunga Milly, and others still at large are accused of organizing, facilitating, or making preparations for sending to, receiving, or confining Judith Nakintu by means of fraud or deceit or abuse of power or positions of vulnerability for purposes of removal of a body part or organ.
Victims of trafficking
In a story broadcast by NTV, Judith Nakintu’s relatives were gushed by the frail state in which their daughter returned to Uganda from Saudi Arabia where she worked as a domestic worker. Nakintu was taken to Saudi Arabia to work by Nile Treasure Gate Recruitment Agency; a Kiwatule based labour exporting company on December 12, 2019.
Interviewed, Nakintu’s brother Robert Kadichi said, “When my sister left Uganda, we kept in contact for two months until we could no longer reach her. I recalled that she had shared with us her employer’s number and I decided to reach out to him. When I asked about my sister, he said my sister was involved in an accident. We then demanded pictures of the said accident or accident victims but they did not share anything. They just blocked us on WhatsApp. When we visited Nile Treasure Gate, the agency that took her to Saudi Arabia, they told us it was true Nakintu had been involved in an accident. They said she would be returned on October 30, 2021.”
Interviewed, Nakintu spoke with difficulty. “I was taken to the hospital by my employer for Covid-19 vaccination. I then became unconscious on the hospital bed. When I woke up the next morning, I had a wound under my abdomen; I tried asking how I got it and no one was willing to tell me. They all ignored my cries to know what happened.”
When Nakintu returned to Uganda, a CT scan done at Mulago National Referral Hospital allegedly confirmed that her internal organs were intact.
Dissatisfied with the results from Mulago, the family did another CT scan at a private medical facility (The Observer has however established that the second scan was also done at Mulago National Referral Hospital). The second CT scan results showed that Nakintu’s right kidney had been removed. Nakintu is visibly frail. Her right side of the body is paralyzed. She has difficulty talking. She needs someone to look after her. Nakintu’s mother Angella Nakangu is dissatisfied with the state of her daughter’s medical condition.
“A child that left normal was returned paralyzed. When she swallows a tablet, it is released through urine intact as she swallowed it.”
Milly Namazzi, another victim of labour externalization gone bad, died in Egypt under unclear circumstances. Namazzi traveled to Saudi Arabia on a two-year contract. After her contract expired, the host family allegedly denied her the opportunity to return to Uganda.
Joseph Walugembe, the father, and his family, are still coming to terms with the demise of their daughter.
Margaret Nalwadda, Namazzi’s sister said, “After Namazzi’s contract expired, she wanted to return home. She told us her employers refused to allow her to return home. The next we heard was that she had been flown to Egypt. Oliver Najjuko who was in contact with the deceased during her last hours in Egypt told me that she was in trouble and some people were trying to kill her.
The deceased allegedly urged her friend Oliver to pray for her. The friend also shared Namazi’s desperate WhatsApp voice notes. In the voice notes, Namazzi is heard saying; “Oliver let me tell you I got in trouble but if you never hear from me again, it means I will be dead. I am telling you this because even right now I am in hiding and I am about to switch off the phone but if I never switch it on just know I have died.”
Namazzi allegedly died in an accident that same night she sent the voice notes to Oliver.
“In my last conversation with Namazzi, it is evident she was murdered,” Oliver said.
John Crispus Wamanyi, the director of Dream Connect Limited, the company that took Namazzi to Saudi Arabia, said her contract expired in April 2021.
“She traveled to Saudi Arabia to work in April 2019 and she concluded her contract in April 2021. Once she finished her contract formally her employer was supposed to give her a return air ticket home, which the employer did. Instead of returning to Uganda, Namazzi entered into a new agreement with her employer to extend her working period because she probably needed to make more money or maybe she wasn’t ready to return home yet.”
Namazzi’s remains were returned home with the help of Migrant Workers Voice. The body was taken to Mulago for postmortem. Results showed that her internal organs; kidneys and female genitalia had been removed.
In an earlier interview with The Observer, Ronnie Mukundane, the spokesperson of the Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies confirmed that Nakintu had been involved in an accident with the host family on March 4, 2020.
“In this accident, two children of the host family died on the spot while Nakintu was rushed to King Fahad Hospital, Jeddah for medical attention where she was admitted until March 30, 2021. She was taken to the government accommodation facility until October 29, 2021 when she left Saudi Arabia for Uganda. Her medical report mentions multiple external bruises, bruises of the lungs with bloody air gathering inside, liver bruises, thrombosis of the right kidney artery, pelvic fractures and pelvic bone injuries.”
Mukundane said a case for accident compensation had been opened in Saudi Arabia and a ruling by the Supreme Court awarded damages of above Ushs 270 million to Nakintu.
Mukundane said that since a bilateral agreement was signed between Uganda and Saudi Arabia in 2017, 250,000 Ugandans have traveled to work there. He said to date no allegations of missing body parts had been reported. He said the Namazzi and Nakintu incidents are the first to be recorded by his office.
He added that they operate only in countries with bilateral agreements with Uganda. “Uganda previously had bilateral agreements with Jordan but operations were halted in 2019. We currently have one bilateral agreement with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We only cover domestic workers. The Gender and Labour minister (Betty Amongi) was recently in Saudi Arabia and a few considerations were made to be included in the agreement.”
After her recent working visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Betty Amongi, the minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development, made recommendations to ease the work-life of Ugandans there.
Some of the recommendations include; “a joint technical committee to be established to review the existing agreements before their expiry in 2022: through the joint technical committee, an elaborate joint reporting, complaints and case management system would be established. For effective monitoring and follow-up of deployed migrant workers, there will be a requirement for online submission of quarterly status reports on each worker in copy to the embassy by the Saudi recruitment agency and the ministry by the Ugandan recruitment companies. Each Saudi Arabian recruitment agency must be required to employ a Ugandan translator to handle the complaints and distress calls raised by Ugandan migrant workers. etc”
Police speaks out
Interviewed by The Observer, the Crime Intelligence Department spokesperson Charles Twiine confirmed the arrest of four suspects in conjunction with the alleged harvesting of Nakintu’s organs. Twiine said “we arrested Salimah Mohammed, one of the directors of Nile Treasure Gate recruitment agency, Mariam Mohammed, Kato Abubaker and Ali Hassan. The charges of aggravated trafficking under section 4 paragraph (j) and (i) of the Prevention in Trafficking in Persons Act have been preferred against the suspects.”
“We have enough evidence. Nakintu’s family allowed our police surgeon to examine her given her condition which helped us to get enough evidence,” he said.
NAKINTU’s attorney speaks out
Abdallah Kayonde, who spoke on Nakintu’s behalf, dismissed the alleged court ruling that ordered compensation of Shs 270 million to Nakintu.
“I highly doubt the authenticity of that court ruling. Nile Treasure Gate distanced itself from the matter right from the start. They said if the family wanted any form of assistance, they had to go to Saudi Arabia. When the pressure from the family intensified, Nile Treasure offered them Shs 30 million in assistance which the family flatly refused. Why didn’t they follow up on Nakintu’s salary that she worked for…? Before knowing it, we heard that a court in Saudi Arabia had ordered that Nakintu gets compensation of Shs 270 million. We were never informed of the accident, there was no lawyer given the rights to represent the family.”
Kayonde said, “If indeed Nakintu was involved in an accident, how come the court documents don’t mention the other alleged two family members involved in the accident? Why is it that before Nakintu returned to Uganda, her employer whispered to her that he had wired Shs 600 million shillings to Uganda to look after her? Why isn’t this court ruling backed with documents or photographic evidence or the report of the ambulance that picked Nakintu from the accident scene? The medical report from King Fahad Hospital, Jeddah said Nakintu underwent a surgical operation in which her spleen was removed. Upon her return to Uganda, the two reports from Nile Treasure Gate and the one from the family both confirm that the spleen was present. The report from Nile Treasure Gate alleged to have been done at Mulago maintains the presence of the right kidney which the police and family medical examination reports confirm to be missing.”
The Observer has seen Nakintu’s Abdominal CT scan report done by Dr. Sharif Kikomeko from Mulago National Referral Hospital, which reads in part, “the right renal bed is empty. No right kidney is seen. Note is made of comminuted and mild displaced fractures in the right pubic and left ischial bones.”
A February 8 2022 Uganda police medical report done on Nakintu reads “non-visualization of the right kidney in the abdomen.”
Wilful trade of organs
In 2018, Melody Naggayi graduated from Metropolitan International University with a bachelor’s degree in Education. She walked all the streets of Kampala looking for a job without any luck. During the same period, Naggayi had split with her campus boyfriend who left her with two children to look after.
Without a job, she decided to join her friend in Saudi Arabia. She left Kampala in August 2019 and headed for Saudi Arabia on a three months visitor visa optimistic she would find a job and legalize her stay as a domestic worker. In Saudi Arabia, Naggayi traded her kidney for Ushs Shs 3 billion.
“In 2019, my friend in Saudi Arabia invited me to join him there and find a way of getting a job. I had never thought of working abroad but this time; I counted it as a blessing. My friend assured me he had a contact person at the Ministry of Internal Affairs that could help me move abroad. Out of excitement, I borrowed money from a friend and processed my passport. At the immigration offices, the person requested for UGshs 200,000 and I got my clearance to move. I left in August 2019. In Saudi Arabia, I spent two months trying to find a job but in vain.”
“I established contacts within the Ugandan community. In my desperate attempts to find a job, I found a Ugandan man who told me of a life-changing plan. He told me he could help me earn three billion shillings within 48 hours and all I had to do was give him was a 15% commission. This was a sweet deal I couldn’t turn down…”
“He told me there was a company buying a kidney at UGshs 3 billion. All I had to do was to go for a medical test to examine my organs and their compatibility with the recipient. I declined the offer but I needed money because I was in deplorable condition. My visa was almost expiring yet I didn’t want to return to Uganda without money. The person I was staying with had reduced me to a sex toy and I was already overstaying my welcome in his home. I had to find a quick way out. I decided to donate my kidney. I called the guy. A week later, they came in a company car in which I was driven to the hospital. I was told it was a win-win situation for the hospital and me. I was cautioned that whatever happened was between me and them. They asked whether I was okay with the transaction to proceed and I agreed.”
“They assured me how the money would transform my life. While I waited in the room, I prayed to God to be with me. The doctor wanted to know which part of Africa I came from but I declined to tell him. He said Ugandan organs were good and he told me he had received many donations before. He said very many people from Africa had donated their organs during their illegal stay in Saudi Arabia to earn a living.”
“I was sedated and woke up with a bandage around my abdomen. The Ugandan man that brought me asked for my bank account where they could transfer my money and I didn’t have one so I gave him the account of the Ugandan that had been hosting me in Saudi Arabia. The money was immediately wired to his Ugandan account.”
“I got some complications like body weaknesses and headache which disappeared with time as I kept taking the drugs I had been given. Since I was now rich, I paid the person that had been sheltering me and I decided to return to Uganda. I processed my return documents. I set foot in Uganda around February, 2020. We then got financial disagreements with my then-husband and we separated.”
“I invested my money in different projects like rentals and bought chunks of land in Mubende and Kassanda districts. I don’t regret my decision because my failure to get a legitimate job in Saudi Arabia opened up a lifetime opportunity although it is a risky bet as some people have been hoodwinked to donate only for them not to be paid”
In June 2020, Uganda’s cabinet approved the human organ donation bill dubbed the Uganda Human Organ Donation and Tissue Transplant Bill that seeks to establish a legal framework for human organs, cells and tissue transplant in Uganda and also regulate donations and trade in human organs, cells and tissue for the safety and security of Ugandans.