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Slavery In Libya: Open Sore On The Continent

By Ita Offiong
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When the Abolition of Slave Trade Act was passed by the British Parliament in 1803, twenty-three years later, the British government came up with the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 which freed all slaves in the entire empire. But slavery has been subsisting in African societies in many forms including bonded or forced labour and forced or child marriage. According to a non-governmental organization known as Anti-Slavery International, slave trade has been operating in different forms in some parts of the world even after the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Right which forbids all forms of slavery or servitude everywhere in the world.

Though it is a well known fact that slavery is still being practiced in the continent under different guises, but the recent CNN video footage on Libya slave trade market where African migrants were being openly bargained and sold for as low as $400 each was what shocked the world. Most of these people were not refugees or captives of war; they were stranded migrants seeking entry into Europe. That they have been exposed to this unimaginable inhuman treatment is a sad narrative of man’s inhumanity to man, an open sore on Africa and indeed on the civilized world as a whole.

The fact that these migrants were said to be fleeing from the hash economic realities from their home countries in search of economic fortunes in Europe leaves one with a sour taste in the mouth about the dismal living conditions in the Dark Continent. That they have come face to face with a far worse situation than what they were fleeing from, is a nightmare they would have hurriedly woken up from.

To some, it was a desire to make it big while others were victims of human traffickers who deceived them by promising them non-existing jobs in Europe. Some reportedly sold their belongings in order to make the ill-fated trip that has landed them in this harrowing experience. And where they could not cross the Mediterranean, were abandoned and left to wallow in such a sub-human living condition in Libya.

Following the Arab Spring which culminated in the death of Libyan strong man – Muamman Qaddafi and the consequent splintered government, the country became a thoroughfare which received a large influx of people from other African countries who used the country as a gateway to Europe.

With a seeming absence of government in parts of the country, the report has it that more than 150 thousand illegal immigrants have crossed the Mediterranean and landed in Europe while about three thousand were drowned while trying to cross.

It is estimated that about 400,000 to one million migrants, most of them Nigerians are stranded in Libya. They have been subjected to sundry forms of abuse like being preyed upon by robbers, rapists, ritualists, slave traders and kidnappers. These migrants who have now become refugees are in deplorable condition as they have exhausted their money and the possibility of returning back is not there again. In view of this apparent dilemma, the traffickers who brought them now sell them out to work in farms as labourers in the worst inhuman condition. Some of them are kidnapped and ransoms are paid by their relatives back home through online fund transfer to secure their release.

According to CNN reports, the situation in Libya is not virtual but actual whips- and- chains forced labour slavery. Since the country happens to be the only entry point to Europe from Africa as Israel has effectively secured its borders, illegal migrants have taken over most ports of the country. One cannot imagine the tumultuous, tedious and traumatic experience some migrants reportedly go through; for instance some had to traverse all the way from Eritrea to Egypt to Sudan before reaching Libya.

Since Obama’s government- led NATO’s bombing campaign led to the ousting of Qaddafi’s regime in 2011; human rights abuses and human trafficking have regrettably become a big enterprise in the North African country. Many have blamed Mr. Obama for the ugly situation in Libya today, as if Qaddafi’s government was overthrown purposely to pave way for right abuse and slave trade. Some people have also forgotten the popular Arab Spring that consumed other despotic leaders at that time. It was the corollary discontent of citizens against the autocratic regimes of their leaders that informed that rebellion.

Whether or not America supported such popular people-oriented actions cannot rationally be blamed on the former president as being responsible for the current situation in that country. Though Mr. Obama has also admitted that the involvement of America in that exercise was a regrettable mistake but such grandstanding is not necessary now as International community is not without capacity to address the situation.

It is the fault of a clueless African leadership who squandered economic fortunes of the continent through profligacy and ineptitude that is driving their energetic youth to needless suffering and untimely death. Where funds meant for essential economic developments are mindlessly stashed away in foreign accounts, creating unemployment and leaving critical infrastructure in deplorable state; the exodus of some enterprising youth for a better living condition becomes inevitable. Even our leaders also travel abroad for medical check-ups, shoppings and send their children there for education thereby creating an impression that they are running failed states.

African Union alone can single-handedly handle the humanitarian crises in Libya, if there is a political will. And not only that, they can also set up machinery to arrest all future illegal migration from the continent. By far the most efficient antidotes against illegal migration is good and people oriented governance, after all why are Europeans and Americans not migrating to Africa also? The simple answer is the presence of a purposeful leadership and prudent management of their scarce resources occasioned by strong legal framework which they have put in place to deal with issues of corruption. African leaders unfortunately pay lip-service to graft war.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Ita Offiong and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."