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Slave Trade and Slavery Still Exist in Africa

June 28, 2013

Slave Trade and Slavery Still Exist in Africa

By William Ochieng

A large number of my friends were elated by a November 10 feature story in [Nation Media Group publication] the Daily Nation on “How slavery thrives in the Sudan”.

I used to tell them that living in Kenya was like living in heaven, and that there were untold atrocities in many African countries, but they never believed me.

Just across the border in the Sudan, black youths are still hunted into slavery like during the era of Seyyid Said, the mid-19th century ruler of Oman and Zanzibar.

Slave trade in East Africa started long ago, but in the Sudan it goes back to the era of the Pharaohs in Egypt. Black folk were captured in Nubia (Northern Sudan) and walked to Egypt where they worked in the farms, households and in the Egyptian armies.

Between the 11th and 15th centuries (AD) when the Arabs began to infiltrate Sudan in large numbers, thousands of young Africans were ambushed and ferried to Egypt and Arabia. Young men, in particular, were castrated in order to keep them off Arabic women.

And many years before Jesus Christ was born, many black people lived to the North of Khartoum, and some in Egypt. But as the Arabs intensified their habit of slave trade, most of these black communities migrated southwards while some moved out of the Sudan completely, into Uganda, Kenya, Eastern Congo and Chad.

Indeed, a large number scattered to West Africa and across into the Americas.

Slave trade in the Sudan became even more pronounced in the 19th century, despite British and American legislation which outlawed slave trade and slavery.

In 1825, the Turkish ruler of Egypt, Mohammed Ali Pasha, wrote to his agents in Sudan the following letter:

“You are aware that the end of all our effort and expenses is to procure Negroes. Please show zeal in carrying out our wishes in this capital matter.”
And what was the Pasha’s “capital matter”? The procurement of black slaves.

It was not until 1890, when both the British and Egyptians signed the Condominium which legalised their joint occupation of the Sudan, that slave trade and slavery were legally “abolished” in that country.

But the British control and administration in their Sudanese colony was perfunctory and patchy, particularly in Southern Sudan, so internal slave trade and slavery continued until independence in January 1956.

The Southern leaders had complained to the British that the North would not safeguard their interests after independence, but the British seemed in a hurry to leave.

Indeed, four months before independence on August 18, 1955, the first Anyanya revolt broke out, but the British left, anyway.

On January 9, 2011, the Southern Sudanese will have an opportunity to decide whether they continue to live forever in bondage, or whether to walk away.

But this well-known slavery history makes us wonder what the African Union is all about, with slavery still continuing in the Sudan, Mauritania, Algeria and Morocco. By now, someone should have moved to stop it once and for all.

Prof Ochieng’ teaches History atKenya’s Maseno University


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