The verified revelations that human beings are being sold at slave auctions in Libya have shocked the world – as they should.
Last week it was reported that the UN-backed Libyan government had launched a formal investigation into the matter, but it is difficult to see how this horrific human rights abuse will be effectively stamped out unless there is massive international intervention.
This is so for several reasons.
First, much of Libya is widely regarded as ungovernable – the government in Tripoli reportedly controls even less territory than the different warring factions. Large swathes of the country are also “run” by the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
Libya is simultaneously filled with millions of refugees from throughout north west Africa trying to get to Europe. These people are extremely vulnerable to predatory bandits who have apparently been making a lucrative income out of smuggling and selling people for some time.
In fact, rights groups and NGOs have reportedly been trying to raise the alarm for years, but to no avail.
Conditions of civil war within a failed state provide precisely the context in which barbaric human behaviour can flourish unchecked – even in this so-called modern age.
How did things reach this point?
Rewind to 2011 and the escalating conflict between Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi and rebel armies.
What got my attention back then were the widespread reports that Gaddafi was killing his own people and intent on killing more.
Nato then stepped in and blitzed Gaddafi’s forces – an act which South Africa endorsed.
I would later cringe when I saw Gaddafi being humiliated and brutally killed by the rebels.
I remember thinking, “If these are the new rulers of Libya, they’re no better than the man they accuse of gross human rights violations”.
But the damage was done. And worse was to come.
The general consensus is that the western forces behind Gaddafi’s removal – who had a clear keen interest in Libya’s oil industry – then failed to properly stabilise the country by providing sufficient peace-keepers.
Although wealthy from its oil, the country had nevertheless been faltering under Gaddafi. During his four decades of rule, he failed to build strong administrative institutions of government. After his demise, these were populated by former rebels with no administrative or governance experience.
Hardly surprising then that attempts to implement the rule of law failed and repeated attempts at a transitional government were ineffective as the country continued to splinter spectacularly.
Moving to the current crisis, we cannot simply stand back and point fingers at ourselves, the rebels, Nato or the West.
We are required to go further in our thinking and ask how it is that in this so-called modern age we are still witnessing the unforgivable act of trading in human beings, and even the harvesting of their organs?
How is it that we, on the one side, are boldly announcing the arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, yet on the other side are capable of almost inconceivable barbarism!
We all know the term “human trafficking”. It has become common as more and more people are destabilised in their own countries. The sale and prostitution of women and children is reported on often.
These ghastly atrocities are happening at a scale that should cause us all to ask, are we a civilised species at all? If so, what is civilised about us?
Pointing fingers at Libyans, or at Isis or at some other fanatic, murderous group is not enough.
We are all the same species. We share the same planet. We have capabilities, we control certain resources.
Why is that we are still at a place where it is possible for one man to do extremely well while another is crushed in squalor? Even worse, to be crushed as a direct result of the unbridled greed of one, some or most of us?
Why is it that leaders in different countries very often act in ways which ultimately produce horrific atrocities? And why do people continue to act out of the least developed state of existence – primal self-interest?
Has all of history not taught us to act differently? Has it not shown us that if one lives for himself and “his kind” alone, the collective abundance which is possible through cooperation is diminished?
I may be ranting, but slavery in 2017 should produce no less a reaction from all of us.
Further than that, evidence of slavery in 2017 should produce a decision and a commitment from you and me to play our part in shifting mankind from lazily inhabiting its lowest level of existence.
Unfortunately, the more we see of these atrocities, the more we are persuaded that maybe this is our lot – that mankind does not have the capability to move beyond the shortsighted self-interest which locks us into perpetual horror.
When will we realise that the cost – the human cost, the cost in terms of our planet’s collective resources, and the cost in time lost – is the result of a species locked in narrow patterns of unthinking greed. What an outdated waste!
When will we begin to change the way we think?