The scourge of slavery

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Dr Ngarikutuke Tjiriange

Slavery was practised in the world in the 17-19th centuries. A slave is powerless and right-less. A slave becomes the property of another person; in that sense, legally he/she is a commodity, yet he/she is a human being. It took a long time to abolish slavery in the world.

For example, among the many international conferences and efforts to abolish slavery was an anti-slavery conference in Brussels as far back as in 1890. That conference resolved that it was “the emphatic desire of the conferring powers effectively to protect native races of Africa from oppression and slavery”.

The slave trade had the most disastrous socio-political consequences not only for Africa but also for the whole world. It is, therefore, unbelievable that today in the 21st century in Africa there are apparently some countries where some people are procuring and selling other human beings as slaves and the leaders of those countries are pretending to be oblivious of what is taking place in their countries until they are alerted by news agencies of a foreign country.

I was shocked to read in the local media that there was “Explosive footage released by CNN showing men being sold at an auction in Libya”. It is further stated that “the footage shows an auctioneer standing in front of a group of young men shouting: “Big strong boys for farm work. 400? 700? 800? (US dollars)” It is reported that the CNN representatives secretly filmed an auction outside the Libyan capital Tripoli.

It is also revealed that “…the men sold into slavery were migrants and refugees. Twelve Nigerian men were sold at the auction”. It is also stated that the Libyan authorities “strongly condemn such practices and would take the necessary steps against those involved and provide the necessary cooperation for African Commission on Human and People’s Rights”.

The analysis of the above quoted statements led to one conclusion that apparently the Libyan authorities seem to be pretending that they were oblivious of the slave trade, which was taking place outside Tripoli until the Cable News Network (CNN) exposed the terrible crime.

They only started reacting when CNN had revealed and exposed this abhorrent and terrible crime.
I must say it is good and commendable that the Namibian government condemned the Libyan slave trade. Southern African Development Community (SADC) members of parliament also strongly condemn the reported slave trade.
While the condemning of the barbaric slave trade by both Namibia and SADC as a whole is highly appreciated, the Libyan authorities must be brought to order and punished for allowing slave trade of the poor migrants to take place in their country.

It is not enough to just condemn the slave trade, which is taking place in that country, but tangible and serious actions must be taken against the authorities of Libya.
After all Libya is a party to the international instruments under which the international community is obligated to abolish slavery.

There is the United Nations (UN) Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institution and Practice similar to slavery to which Libya is a party. In addition, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which prohibits slavery, also binds Libya. There is a principle of Customary International Law under which agreements are binding upon Contracting Parties (Libya included) (Pacta sunt Servanda).

Therefore, the authorities of Libya must not only be condemned but they should be subjected to legal prosecution under international law.

It is difficult to believe that the Libyan authorities were oblivious of the slave trade, which was taking place outside the capital city of Tripoli. They surely should have known about the exploitation of the migrants and refugees in their country. Therefore, they cannot pretend that they did not know what was going on in their own country and they are now strongly condemning such practices.

One thing for sure, some Western countries are to be blamed for what is happening in Libya today. They had created the situations which is plaguing Libya today.

The killing of Muammar Gaddafi by some Western countries has left Libya in the mess that is prevailing in that country today. Of course, like many other people, Gaddafi had his own shortcomings too. For example, he was known to be trying to impose his religious beliefs on the people of the continent of Africa.
Therefore, his policies were not always accepted.

I remember one time when we met him in Libya, he openly said if it was not because of Christianity in Africa things could have been better. It was because of Christianity that there are problems in Africa. That as it may, the killing of Gaddafi by some of the Western countries was the recipe for disaster and destruction of his country.
Just years after his death, the country was initiated into confusion and political uncertainty. The once rich Libya has economically declined and political stability compromised. Its political popularity declined not only in Africa but the world over.

The country, which once was fighting for the liberation of Africa from colonial oppression, is today the country where slavery is apparently being reintroduced.

The people in Libya, who were supporting oppressed people in Africa, have started to pursue the dreaded disastrous path of slave trade, which was practised in the 17-19th centuries.

It seems this dreaded phenomenon is not confined to Libya, but to other countries in the Middle East too.
I remember sometime back reading in the media about one Namibian girl, who apparently was caught by slave masters while she was clandestinely trying to communicate her ordeal over the phone to her relatives in Namibia from Dubai where she was forced into sex slavery.

What is happening in Libya to these desperate young people may set a serious precedent to the miserable treatment of migrants in other countries, which may be tempted to imitate that unacceptable development. Inaction against the Libyan authorities by the international organisations may set the stage for the reintroduction of slavery in Africa and beyond.

When countries do not strictly behave in accordance with general principles of international laws then the potential of creating chaos is a consequence of such behaviour.

Let me end by saying it is outrageous, shockingly bad and unbelievable that in the 21st century, after the odious scourge of slave trade, which was abolished by mankind all over the world, is now taking place in a country that is a member of African Union (AU) and UN and the authorities of that country seem to have been oblivious of the crime until it was exposed by CNN.

I am not convinced that Libyan authorities did not know what was happening to the migrants in their country. The AU and the UN seem to be too gullible and easily believe that those in power in Libya might not have known about the slave trade, which was taking place in their country. Can we really believe that the authorities in Libya came to know about Africans being sold as slaves in their country only when the story was revealed by CNN?

It is just incredible for the people to believe that. Maybe some people still believe that black people will always remain as slaves. They are sub-human persons, who should be sold like property even in the 21st century.
*Tjiriange is a former Swapo secretary general and former cabinet minister

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