Obama urged to cancel Tanzania tour


US President Barack Obama should cancel his planned visit to Tanzania later this month in protest against the government’s failure to settle a “slavery” case, a Washington Post commentator urged on June 10.

At issue is a US court’s ruling in 2008 that Alan Mzengi, then a diplomat in Tanzania’s Washington embassy, should pay USD1,059,349 in damages to a young Tanzanian woman who worked as a servant in his home.

Washington Post opinion writer Dana Milbank quotes a human-rights lawyer as saying, “An official visit from the US president is a gift that is utterly inappropriate after a Tanzanian government official committed horrifying human rights violations just a few kilometres from the White House.”

The attorney, Martina Vandenberg, added that Obama “would undermine all credibility on trafficking” if he makes his scheduled stop in Tanzania.

The judge in the case found Mr Mzengi to have systematically abused the woman, Zipora Mazengo, who came to the US in 2000 on a visa that diplomats can arrange for prospective nannies.

In 2006, two years after fleeing the Mzengi home, Ms Mazengo received a special US visa given to victims of human trafficking.

Mr Mzengi, who reportedly now serves as an advisor to President Jakaya Kikwete, left the US in 2008 without paying any of the damages the court had ordered.

Ms Mazengo testified that her contract stipulated ,she would be paid USD900 a month and would receive two weeks paid leave per year as well as two days off each week.

But the US court found that Ms Mazengo was forced to work more than 100 hours a week without pay.

“When I made any mistakes, Mrs Mzengi would scream at me,” Ms Mazengo told a US Congress committee in 2007.

“Once when I did not prepare her breakfast, she hit me on the face and sent me out in my summer clothes to stand outside in the snow. She told me that if I complained, ‘blood would fall on the floor.’”

“The Tanzania case appears to be an instance of business interests trumping human rights,” Mr Milbank wrote in the Washington Post.

“The Chinese president visited the East African country a few months ago, and US businesses are eager to get in on the region’s petroleum supplies and other natural resources before China becomes dominant there.”

President Obama has made action against human trafficking “a centrepiece of his foreign policy agenda,” Mr Milbank observed.

He quotes the US president as having declared in a speech last year that “when a woman is locked in a sweatshop, or trapped in a home as a domestic servant, alone and abused and incapable of leaving — that’s slavery.”-nation.co.ke

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