“Umuofia kwenu,” yelled Ogbuefi Ezuego the powerful orator in Chinua Achebe’s legendary novel Things Fall Apart. It was the fifth time the old man had bellowed and the crowd that had gathered at the market-place thunderously responded ‘Yaa!’
The crowd of men, numbering in their thousands, had gathered after they had heard at dawn the gong of the town-crier resounding. The message was simple. That, they ought to meet immediately after the sun had smiled away the grim looks of the dawn.
“Those sons [referring to the people of Mbaino— a nearby community] of wild animals have dared to murder a daughter of Umuofia,” said Ezuego to the teeming crowd.
Chinua Achebe says in that fictionary tale that Ezuego “threw his head down and gnashed his teeth, and allowed a murmur of suppressed anger to sweep the crowd. When he began again, the anger on his face was gone and in its place a sort of smile hovered, more terrible and more sinister than the anger.”
When Ogbuefi Ezuego was done telling the men gathered that their daughter had been gruesomely murdered by miscreants in Mbaino, the men longed for blood as though water to quench their thirst.
So was how the literary wizard captured the confrontation between Umuofia and Mbaino. But, could same be said of the response by Ghana when Aljazeera reported on April 7, 2020, that its daughter— 23-year-old Faustina Tay— had been ‘found dead’ at the basement of the apartment she lived in and served as a maid in Lebanon?
A mysterious death it was!
The said story dubbed “The desperate final days of a domestic worker in Lebanon” says, Ms. Tay had sent Canada-based activist group, This Is Lebanon, messages of the abuse she suffered in the house.
Considering the horrific nature of her death, it should have been enough trigger to spark an uproar in the camp of the cult of human rights groups in Ghana if not among Ghanaians proper. But, hey, there have been an absolute silence on the front of these human rights activists who would ordinarily make ‘noise’ over trivial issues.
Well, perhaps, they are all fighting Covid-19! In Ghana, the news of Faustina Tay’s death struggled to make headlines as only a handful of media outlets carried it on their portals. Similarly, very few people posted or commented on it on social media. It was/is not surprising that the hashtag #JusticeForTay did not fly. Had it been the video of a national security minister modeling in pyjamas for a supposed ‘side-chick,’ traditional media, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook would have had an overflow of commentaries. This is Ghana, a country where we major in the minor and the reverse is true.
Nonetheless, no matter how few the people who are adding their voices in seeking justice for Faustina Tay, the fight for her and many others in Lebanon and other gulf countries must constantly be echoed.
For migration expert, MacDonald K.B. Simpson, as far as poverty continues to torment many in Africa, we will keep hearing and seeing these sort of painful deaths.
“The main culprit [here] is poverty and so to speak, drives people to leave home not at their will. Also, the demand for cheap domestic labour in that part of the world is another cause. The demand for house helps, baby sitters, cleaners and so on is in high demand in the Gulf States and Africa is a fertile ground for such domestic workers,” he said to International Dialogue in email correspondence.
Mr. Simpson says that a single mother with very little education in Ghana who is struggling to make ends meet would be tempted by a ₵1,000 monthly remuneration plus free accommodation in Kuwait, Qatar or Lebanon and do whatever it takes to take that offer.
On Saturday, April 11, 2020, when International Dialogue spoke to a Ghanaian lady living in Lebanon, she echoed same sentiments. This lady— who spoke on condition of anonymity— though educated and enlightened says she could not resist the temptation of being promised [while in Ghana] a monthly salary of ₵1,000 as a maid in Lebanon.
Barbara [not her real name] says she is fortunate to have had a couple [her employers] who somewhat treat her well with the exception that she works 17-19 hours a day with basically no rest. That, there are hundreds of her fellows in Lebanon who are experiencing hell at first hand.
“Most Ghanaian women and other maids here are being severely beaten, intentionally starved for no apparent reason and sexually molested among others,” she said.
MacDonald K.B. Simpson says, “Faustina’s death should be blamed not on her employers alone but the process that sent her there and the poverty she had ran away from.”
Here, the current lockdown in parts of Ghana has exposed the deep divide between the rich and the poor in the West African state. Successive governments have turned a blind eye on this without creatively thinking to uplift the masses from hardship. Even if Ghana had state farms, in of its 16 regions, and employed those Ghanaians who go to serve as maids elsewhere, they would have lived dignified and meaningful lives.
“On one of my trips back to Ghana a couple of years ago, I met two young ladies on a plane who told me they were domestic maids in Erbil, the capital city of Kurdistan, and that they were going to Ghana for a one month holiday. Kurdistan! I had never thought Ghanaian women would work there. I was surprised not at the country they were coming from but the story they had told me,” says MacDonald K.B. Simpson.
What concrete action did we take as a people after Yahya Jammeh and his soldiers allegedly killed 44 Ghanaians in 2005?
Somewhere last year, at the Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission, Lieutenant Malick Jatta and Corporal Omar A. Jallow said that the Ghanaians were executed by the “Junglers” squad on the orders of Mr. Jammeh.
A Ranking Member of Ghana’s Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, after the Jallow confession, said at the floor of parliament that government must reopen probe into the gruesome killings. This, we are yet to know whether the probe has been reopened.
However, if it is lack of commitment on the part of government, the Ghanaian media should not be slacking too. Rather, it should be fronting campaigns to get justice for such slain and abused fellows.
What the Ghanaian media must know is that it is shameful to report on an issue once and go to sleep. After the media reported on the killing of investigative journalist Ahmed Suale, it went to bed only to come back to it on the occasion of his one year anniversary. Currently, there is no news on the journalist. We will only see and hear the media at next year’s anniversary when it will be calling the police and the Ghana Journalists Association among others on ‘how far’ the investigations have gone. Can we be serious a little?
Today, it is Faustina Tay and we must not, yet again, remain silent! This is the right time for the militant feminists— the so-called gender activists— to rise and fight for their own.
These gender activists must join some of us in telling the Lebanese government to abolish the Kafala [sponsorship] system. Under this system, a migrant domestic worker’s legal status is solely in the hands of their employers.
The sad reality is that one could easily become illegal migrant should the employer terminate their contract. And the most worrying part of this law is where these employers are free to seize the domestic workers’ passports. Who does such a thing in this modern era?
The African Union must rise and engage the Lebanese government over these abuses against domestic workers as it is not only Ghanaians suffering this fate.
“On Tuesday, November 5, the 20th day of the ongoing uprising in Lebanon, an Ethiopian Airlines flight from Beirut arrived at Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport. [In] its cargo was seven dead bodies of Ethiopian domestic workers who had died in Lebanon,” says Lebanese writer and researcher Joey Ayoub in an opinion piece on Aljazeera’s website in November 2019.
The government of Ghana must as well dispel the fears of many including Fraud and Security Consultant Richard Kumadoe over the seeming inactiveness of the country’s security services to clamp down on persons who lure our women to slavery in the Gulf countries.
“I guess and suspect that the [security] agencies have gone to sleep,” says Mr. Kumadoe to International Dialogue, “so, it’s time to wake them up to take their positions and to discharge their responsibilities in curtailing the widespread of human trafficking especially Ghanaians to other countries.”
People who lure these women to Lebanon and such places are engaged in a subtle form of human trafficking. This, we must admit and act swiftly. Barbara— the maid in Lebanon— says they were smuggled through the Kotoka International Airport. They did not go through the laid down checks every passenger goes through. She did not even have the yellow fever pass!
May the soul of Faustina Tay find a peaceful rest. And may we not relent on our effort to seek justice for her. As to whether she was murdered or she committed suicide, the bottom line is that we now know there was an existing threat on her life by her employers.
Can we let #JusticeForTay trend till something substantial is achieved?
The writers are Ghanaian journalists who have interest in the world’s politics with an unflinching eye mainly on what pertains in Africa. Views expressed here are solely theirs and do not, in anyway, reflect the editorial policy of this media organisation.
Twitter: @abisolo7 & @aniwaba