The Independent (Kampala)

25 January 2013

Uganda: China, Ugandan Women Row

Anxiety as Embassy moves to restrict young businesswomen's travel to China:

The number of young women travelling to China is at an all time low following a move by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ask the Chinese Embassy to restrict their travel over fears of engaging in prostitution and drug abuse while there.

The development, which also includes a provision that any woman below 35 years of age must get clearance from a cabinet minister, has sparked anxiety and debate in the business community.

Everest Kayondo, the chairperson of the Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA), said the Foreign Affairs ministry recently wrote a letter to the Chinese Embassy informing them to be more cautious with all women below the age of 35 who are applying for visas to go to China particularly for visits or business. The government argues that Uganda's image abroad has been tarnished by young girls who travel to China under the guise of being businesswomen and resort to illegal activities like prostitution and peddling illicit drugs.

Foreign Affairs State Minister Henry Oryem Okello told The Independent on Jan.16 that the government position is clear. "Prove to the Chinese Embassy that you are going to do real business and thereafter get back to Uganda," he said, adding that all the vetting procedure is done at the time one applies for the visa.

However, the government dismissed claims by KACITA that it gave the traders' body the mandate to recommend the women who should get visas.

When The Independent visited the Chinese Embassy on Jan. 18, the officials said they had stopped issuing visas to women below 35 who were being recommended by KACITA. They said only young women with recommendations from government ministers were being given visas. A visa to China costs about Shs 250,000 and the Chinese Embassy has reportedly tightened entry requirements to young women, which include having an invitation letter from China among others.

Image worries

While appearing before a Parliamentary Committee in December last year, Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary James Mugume was put on the spot over reports of young women being turned into sex slaves in Asia. The MPs demanded that serious steps be taken to end human trafficking to Asian countries like China.

A top businesswoman who has been trading in China for several years, told The Independent on Jan.19 that the number of Ugandan prostitutes in various Chinese cities was a matter of great concern. She said Luganda is a common language on the streets of big cities and Ugandan girls in their twenties are on high demand particularly among African men in China. This, she said had given Ugandans a bad reputation in that country.

However, Josephine Kalebi, the executive director of Junior Achievement, an entrepreneurship organization, said it was wrong to victimize young businesswomen because there are many progressive women under 35 who should not be denied the chance to pursue genuine business opportunities in China.

However, she said the government should have used other means to identify wrong doers instead of punishing even the innocent businesswomen. She said it is very difficult to get access to a minister for a recommendation letter and many times business opportunities cannot wait for late comers.

Majwega Musoke, a director at the Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, appeared to support the move, saying it was the responsibility of the Chinese government to ensure that Ugandan women are not lured into illegal activities while in China. However, Charles Ocici, the executive director at Enterprise Uganda, suggested that the matter needed more serious attention beyond mere vetting by the Chinese Embassy.

He said the government should build a credible business class that can positively sell the country's image abroad. He said desperate young women needed to be empowered and sensitized about the dangers of illicit activities like prostitution.

"These illegal activities happen beyond our borders and we can't easily control them," he said, adding that women resort to such activities because there are limited opportunities for them to involve themselves in productive activities in their home country. "The government has to support the growth of the local private sector."

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