OPINION: An inhuman abuse that must stop
“He first saw the slave ship and convinced himself that he had gotten ‘into a world of bad spirits’.
“He was surprised when he saw an American because he had never seen one before. He saw people getting whipped and smelled the rotten filth that was present in the ship.”
Some people might be familiar with this account of slave capture by Olaudah Equiano, kidnapped at the height of the Atlantic slave trade from what is now known as Nigeria and sold off as a slave in the Americas or what was then known as the New World.
Maybe the one good thing about this experience was that Equiano survived and was freed. He then not only supported the fight against slavery but also wrote a book recording the horrors of one of humanity’s worst abuses.
The practise of slavery was subsequently abolished – in 1865 in the United States of America. The United Kingdom had passed the Slavery Abolition Act around 32 years earlier, in 1833.
Today we don’t talk about slavery much. We’d like to think this inhumane barbaric abuse no longer exists and if it does the people who practice it are likely viewed as uncivilised beings.
Enter Iraq over the past few years and Libya this year.
In the country ruled since the late 1960s by Muammar Gaddafi slavery has been revived.
The late Libyan leader was a champion of a United States of Africa and there can no doubt that he would not ever have approved of this heinous activity.
African men and women who leave their own countries trying to get to Europe use Libya as the main gateway out of north Africa.
Thousands of them drown in the Mediterranean each year. It has now transpired that others do not reach their desired destinations for a variety of reasons.
Some are prevented from entering Europe illegally and detained in camps.
And now we have learnt that a number of these desperate men and women refugees are being sold off as slaves in Libya by callous people who are capitalising on their plight to make a quick buck.
Slaves are said to be sold for amounts ranging from $400 (about R5200).
Just thinking about what is involved in reducing a human being to a commodity and selling them off should be a horrendous and difficult exercise for anyone in the 21st century.
Even worse when the victim is completely vulnerable, very often a refugee, fleeing war or grinding poverty or a host of other such circumstances.
There are many such factors which induce people to try to vacate their countries in Africa for “greener pastures” over in Europe.
At this point we need to be honest enough as Africans to acknowledge that some of these problems have been caused by rapacious leaders who cling to power long beyond acceptable terms of office and ruin economies through poor policies or governance.
I have observed that blame is also being apportioned to Nato and the previous Obama administration which invaded Libya and deposed Gaddafi.
There is certainly substance to the notion that the immense instability and splintering of the country that followed the removal of Gaddafi allowed a vacuum to open into which the Islamic State stepped, and extremist terror then surged in the region.
The current administration in Libya has had its hands full trying to deal with Isis and other rough groupings which have taken control of different parts of the country.
I would concur that Nato and the US in particular – who, according to the late Madiba, arrogated to themselves the right to be the policeman of the world – have to take some responsibility for creating conditions that gave rise to such great instability in Libya.
At the same time, also of concern is the apparent silence from the Arab League in the face of this shocking violation of basic human rights.
At the very least one would expect them to issue a statement of condemnation. So far I have heard nothing from this organisation of which Libya is also a member.
Only the EU has thus far condemned the practice of modern-day slavery.
I want to round off by imagining what Aime Cesaire, the Francophone poet might have said had he still been alive:
When I switch on my television, and I see images of African brothers and sisters being ill-treated in Libya, I say that we have been lied to – slavery is not dead
When I turn on my radio, when I hear news that African migrants have been insulted, mistreated and persecuted, I say that we have been lied to – slavery is not dead
And when, finally, I look at social media and see gory pictures of African brothers manhandled, chained and brutally beaten, I say that most certainly we have been lied to – slavery is not dead.
Let modern slavery stop. It must stop.