We sit in her office at the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control, where Agnes Igoye works as a senior immigration officer and training manager. It is a hot day and over the whirring of the fan, Igoye, speaks of her childhood with fond memories about her parents giving her a chance at getting an education. Igoye says her birth was unwelcome in the village.
“My birth was a scandal. I was a girl,” she says. “My paternal aunt came to my bedside to check my sex and was disappointed.”
Igoye explains that within the cultural context at the time, the birth of a girl child was not worthwhile. Boys were seen as pillars: the ones who carried the family name.
However, her parents, both primary school teachers, believed in the value of education and paid for their daughters to go to school, despite ridicule from the rest of the villagers.
Working against human trafficking
On completing her undergraduate studies, Igoye applied and joined the Immigration Department in 1996. Her work introduced her to the gruesome underground work of human trafficking.
However, at the time, the word human trafficking was not being used , she explains.
“When I joined immigration in 1996/7. The world had not coined the word trafficking,” Igoye says. “Before then trafficking was happening. I used to see them [victims] at the border but did not know what it was like. We called it something else.”
Igoye says women have fallen victim to traffickers who pose as job creators or as boyfriends, as illustrated in her two anecdotes below.
“This Muslim girl who had been lured to go out to work in a country in the Middle East was told that her clothes would not work here,” Igoye says. “The girl was told how to dress up and made to wear skimpy outfits. As an initiation into prostitution, three men, high on drugs gang-raped her. She could not leave because they had taken her passport and she didn’t know how to seek for assistance.”
In another case, a girl arrived at the airport with no money. When Igoye quizzed her, she said that she was going to trade. The girl further explained that her Nigerian boyfriend was waiting for her in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
She did not know which part of Nigeria he was from although they had been communicating for two years. Igoye says that traffickers first lure the victim before recruiting them for sexual exploitation or to transport drugs. One of the ways traffickers hook victims to them, Igoye explains, is to create an emotional attachment, in this case this trafficker posed as a boyfriend.
In 2008, Igoye got more specialised training from officials from the US Department of Justice. The training included modules on victim identification, investigations and curriculum development. The trainers later selected her to carry on trainings with them for other law enforcement officers. She travelled to various parts of the country to conduct the trainings.
“We went around the country training. We got to train 1000 law enforcement people,” she says.
At the time the debate about human trafficking was picking up in the country. The Trafficking Act was being drafted by Parliament and waslater passed in 2009. Igoye explains that while Uganda’s law mirrors the UN Palermo Protocol, it has also been localised to deal with issues like forced marriage, child marriage, use of children in armed conflict, human sacrifice and witchcraft/rituals.
Igoye says that there are more victims out there, more than those who come through the task force office. She adds that sometimes, the victims are not aware that they are victims. So they have trained immigration officers on how to identify potential victims. Igoye says Immigration officials are now required to explain to people picking up new passports on human trafficking scenarios. Some, she says, have stopped their journeys, and some parents have thanked them for providing information and the modus operandi of traffickers.
Travelling to the United States
Igoye later applied and was awarded a place at the highly competitive and prestigious, Hubert Humphrey Fellowship in 2010.
“The beauty about the fellowship is that during the competition, you are asked what programme you want to undertake. They give you a host university and you get to work professionally. You network with people and organisations that deal in the issues that take you there. It is your programme,” Igoye says.
Building on her experience combating human trafficking in Uganda, she attended the Minnesota State Human Trafficking Task Force meetings, got specialised training from the Not-For-Sale Academy in San Francisco and became a certified investigator in trafficking. She also got to work with the Not For Sale Minnesota Chapter and participated in the strategic planning of human trafficking interventions/ campaigns at the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota.
She also trained with the White House Project on women and leadership. The programme was designed to assist women to advance and take up leadership positions.
During this time, Igoye, made a commitment of action with President Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiatives (CGI) to counter human trafficking.
“I committed to creating a rehabilitation centre to care for victims of human trafficking and children of war, and I committed to train 1,000 law enforcement officers,” she says.
She also interacted with practitioners and celebrities who are engaged in anti-human trafficking issues.
In February 2013, Igoye, initiated the Huts For Peace programme, to provide houses for women survivors of torture and gender based violence. The programmes include a peace and reconciliation programme, and support in agricultural production. The project beneficiaries thus far include 22 families including more than 100 orphaned children in their care.
Igoye’s childhood has helped define how she looked at a woman’s worth and she constantly seeks to redefine it through her public service work.
“When I recall growing up, everyone thought that a girl was worthless. Today even my paternal aunt is my biggest fan. My sisters and I, all went to school and defied everything and changed the whole narrative in that village. We need more examples from women in society to uplift other women.”
Family. She is the third born in a family of eight children- six girls and two boys,
Education. Went to Kitante Primary School, Trinity College Nabbingo and Makerere University where she did a course in social sciences on government sponsorship.
When she is not working. She speaks at different fora including rotary clubs, some radio stations, schools, international organisations and in foreign commissions.
Helping vulnerable children
Giving back to society has always been one of Igoye’s dreams. Together with her sister, Kateh, who had already started doing outreaches and getting children, they started the centre, Chain of Hope, in Gulu. The children had said they wanted to study, thus helping Igoye focus on buying books for the centre. Starting with saving her stipend, which meant surviving solely on canned foods, Igoye later realised that the $1,000 (Shs2.5m) she saved would not be enough to get as many books as she had hoped.
“I went to Books for Africa and I spoke to them about what I wanted to do,” she says. “I made a deposit and started fundraising to bring a container of 23,000 books. I raised over $10,000 (Shs25m).”
Igoye says she raised the $10,000 from organisations like Ford Foundation, and from her classmates and friends.
Since her return, she has continued fundraising and collaborating with Books for Africa and is expecting two more containers, which will bring the total to 69,000 books.
• Fulbright/ Hubert Humphrey Alumni Global Award. It is given to alumni whose achievements in the field of social entrepreneurship serve as an example of the spirit of the Fulbright programmes.
• 2012 Inspirational Woman of Uganda Award for Anti-Human Trafficking Work and Youth Empowerment by CEDA International.
• Named one of 50 Emerging Global Women Leaders by the Women in Public Service Project, launched by Hillary Clinton in 2011.