Slave trade thrives in Libya but the international community looks away

Saturday November 25 2017

Rap singers and activists from various

Rap singers and activists from various nationalities, who just visited Libya, speak during a gathering against slavery on November 24, 2017 on Place de l'Obelisque in Dakar. World leaders may have been quick to voice outrage over video footage of Libyan slave auctions, but activists raised the alarm months ago, and their warnings fell on deaf ears. AFP PHOTO | SEYLLOU 

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The slave trade is alive and well, right here in Africa.

If you want a strong and fit slave, put aside $400, travel to Libya and hang around for the auction of West African migrants.

It’s a good deal, about $10,000 less than you would pay for a Rolex watch.

It helps if you are a Libyan – as most of the buyers are – for you will put your slave to work immediately as a farmhand. Or you can speculate on his price like you do with Safaricom shares.


If you hold on, somebody else will come along and offer you $500.

With the world awash with outrages in Syria, Yemen and Burma that have transfixed the world’s media, another one in Africa is not going to interrupt Donald Trump’s breakfast.

Still, when CNN aired footage of what looked like a slave auction at a location inside Libya, there was a rash of global shame.

However, the revulsion soon frittered away.

Except, of course, in West Africa. Guinean President Alpha Conde, who is the African Union’s current chairman, denounced the images he had seen “as a despicable trade from another era” and called for an international inquiry.

The leaders of Senegal and Niger expressed themselves to be “deeply angry”. Burkina Faso recalled her ambassador from Tripoli.

There is no gainsaying the West African fury, considering that most of the stranded migrants in North Africa hoping to cross the Mediterranean for a better life in Europe originated from there.

However, there are two problems that must be confronted. Libya is a broken state with two rival governments.


Militias roam the place such that it’s not clear who to hold accountable. A formal promise that was given by one half of the Libyan government that it would investigate the slavery “allegations”, as it calls them, is hot air.

The AU will issue searing statements and call for follow-up. Then, what next? Some members are distracted by other things. Kenya is just winding down from a tiresome election cycle.

Zimbabwe is going through its transition from the Robert Mugabe era. I wouldn’t bet that calling a summit in Addis Ababa will bring a full quorum.

The only refreshingly proactive country was Rwanda. She has arranged to evacuate 50,000 migrants and settle them in the country.

Though she is a tiny country, she said people had no right to mistreat other human beings.

The migrants are best advised to take up the Rwandan offer and others like them which come along. The false dream of making it to an illusory paradise in Europe is what has landed them in their tragic situation.

French President Emmanuel Macron has said he will raise the matter before the UN Security Council this week. That would be progress.

The Council is the executive arm of the UN and can take certain punitive measures where it deems necessary.


What the UN should avoid are the empty, long-winded reports that are its trademark and that rarely recommend decisive action.

What it should do is station investigators on Libyan soil who will apprehend the criminals behind the cases of human trafficking.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said the slave auctions should be investigated as crimes against humanity.

Very well. Though the ICC is a slow and ponderous institution, all options should be open.

* * *
Anybody who imagined Robert Mugabe would agree to go into exile doesn’t seriously understand the man. There was no shortage of possible offers. Jacob Zuma would have fallen on his feet to grant Uncle Bob asylum.

So would the Angolan and Zambian governments. But if there is one thing the former Zimbabwe leader could never countenance, it is to die in a country outside his birthplace which he loves and whose freedom he fought for.

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