28 January 2013

Zambia: Women Caught Up in 'Rich Hubby Hunt' Recount Harrowing Tales

IN the late 1980s and early 1990s, Zambia saw a lot of foreigners, particularly West Africans who settled on the Copperbelt where there was an economic boom in the emerald mining industry.

This boom influenced increased cash circulation on the Copperbelt, thus triggering a lot of social woes in many households and individuals, especially women.

The economic boom in the province led to a number of young women dating foreigners who were popularly referred to as 'Ama Sene Sene' (meaning Senegalese) because the majority were believed to have come from Senegal but some were actually from Mali.

Some of the women ended up getting married to these "aliens" and later followed their husbands to their respective countries.

Generally, these women were young but married to men old enough to be their fathers because of money.

There was actually a jostle for these men where every aspiring wife wanted to be associated with a Sene Sene who mostly owned a 504 Peugeot, popularly known as Zyula Mukango (Skidding Lion).

The 504 Peugeot was the car of the moment.

However, the sorry side of the story is where some women who followed their husbands were turned into slaves.

Most of these women, if not all of them, did not have the slightest idea of who their spouses were with regard to marital status, occupation and so forth.

There were instances where these husbands would come and introduce their workers or colleagues as brothers or cousins to their Zambian wives who also to some extent descended on the wife's female relations.

And children, as young as ten, were taken to West Africa after their fathers died, to learn their culture as their tradition demanded so.

But some of the offspring from these marriages, especially girls, found themselves in terrible situations such as forced early marriages and child abuse.

It is sad that most of these women paid dearly for harbouring illegal immigrants all for the love of money and fame.

These memories are still lingering today but carry with it a sad facet of life.

In some instances, when the immigration department conducted screening operations, the women hid their spouses in their relatives' or friends' homes for fear of being deported because probably they had overstayed in cases where work and residence permits had expired.

Greenwell Lyempe, a senior legal officer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the majority of foreigners started dating Zambian women for a variety of reasons.

"The men who came here alone married or dated these women for the sake of shelter and protection from local authorities," Mr Lyempe said.

He said most of the women who followed their husbands suffered rude shocks because they found out later that their spouses were married and had children in their countries of origin, which left most of them either stranded or in a state of despair.

"Of course many West African nations are predominantly Islamic, thus polygamy is allowed but for many Zambian women, who were Christian, it was hard for them to adapt to that norm as the cultures and traditions were at variance," Mr Lyempe said.

The other predicament that the wives found themselves in was that generally, their husbands came from rural areas with strict traditional values, contrary to the luxurious lifestyles the women were introduced or exposed to while in Zambia.

So the two sides of lives were in total contrast.

Finding themselves in a polygamous union in a foreign land without an inkling of the language were other hostile situations the women were exposed to.

Sheila Chanda (not real name ), who once lived in Kitwe, has been married to a Malian "guru" for more than 10 years and narrated how she got stuck in a polygamous relationship due to the children that were born out of this arrangement.

She said initially she was full of high expectations but when she ventured to her husband's country of origin, things changed and life became tough there.

"I had difficulties in communicating with my husband's relatives using the local language. The language barrier was a real hindrance, coupled with culture and religion also as Mali is predominantly an Islamic state," she said.

Ms Chanda recounted that since Mali is so far away she found it difficult to return home amidst all the woes she was subjected to, but somehow she endured and managed to adapt to the harsh life by becoming a small-scale entrepreneur.

She learnt sewing and farming and now makes traditional chitenge outfits from the local fabric which she sells in Zambia through friends who own boutiques back home.

And of course she looks forward to a time when she would return home and reunite with her family as communication is not very easy that side, and she certainly misses her family.

However, the big question that begs for an answer is; will her possessive alien husband allow her to travel to Zambia and trust her to get back to Mali since even for her to give out this interview to the media at the time was a hassle?

Certainly for Ms Chanda to make a move she will have to consider whether to abandon that relationship or not but her greatest worry is that she will eventually lose out on the custody of her children with this man.

Her other concern is that her passport has expired and since Zambia has replaced all old travel documents she never had the opportunity to do so and is still clinging to the old one.

Derrick Chabu said his cousin who had married an East African was turned into a farm labourer after the couple relocated to the remote area of the country.

The man who worked in Ndola had three wives back home.

"When she went to Kenya she discovered he had three wives already. She was made to work on the farm and was mistreated because as a foreigner she was virtually enslaved with no way out," recalls Mr Chabu.

When she got ill, efforts were made to contact the Zambian High Commissioner in Nairobi but with no success.

The woman later died and was buried there.

One of her family members travelled to the East African country and found that her relative had died and buried.

Mr Chabu said unlike nowadays, in the past it was hard to keep track of relatives due to limitations in communication.

However, some prudent Zambians who ensured they kept in touch with their stranded female relatives would alert the Ministry of Foreign Affairs if things became amiss.

International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Zambia country director, Andrew Choga said one of the hindering factors was that Zambia did not have empirical evidence on women stranded abroad.

"It is important for us together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to establish where these women are, where they came from.

"It is also important for families to provide us with profiles of women who left and the countries they went to," Dr Choga said.

He said it would be easier for the IOM to trace the women through the foreign missions and other embassies.

However, Annie Lang, who is the IOM migration management programme officer, said the organisation was planning to have community outreach and sensitisation programmes on the issue.

"It is important for citizens to realise that they have a role to play in this situation because it is also a form of human trafficking," Ms Lang said.

She advised Zambians to contact embassies in the countries they are moving to for them to be traced in the event of any eventualities.

"It is vital for Zambian embassies to be ready to provide assistance to Zambians; if they cannot find an embassy they should at least register their presence with our IOM missions," Ms Lang said.

She said the IOM had a global fund to help stranded migrants return to the countries of their origin.

"We receive requests to assist stranded women and children who want to come back through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and sometimes our missions identify women who are stranded," Ms Lang said.

When families report their relatives missing, Ms Lang said IOM liaises with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and embassies to facilitate the bringing back of the women home.

When all is said, it is important to come up with preventive measures because repatriating victims is costly.

On the other hand, when it comes to "matters of the heart" it difficult to tell people who to fall in love with.

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