Black African Slavery Is Still Alive and Well in 2017

After CNN aired footage of black African immigrants being auctioned off in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, many Africans living in France protested against this new kind of slavery. The protests happened outside of the Libyan Embassy in Paris on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017. Other reactions and videos of the event have come out on social media as well. You can see the video for yourself here:

Origins in Neo-Colonialism

A better understanding of what is happening requires a look at the history of Africa and its relationship with other continents, particularly Europe and the Americas. It is hypocritical respond to these videos with “How are those things possible in 2017?” without reminding ourselves of who are being sold, where are they from, why they are in Libya, and who is behind this market.

Africa has been, and still is, the center of the global economy. This truth is based not only on the quantity and variety of the natural resources in the continent, but is also based on the experiences of its population in the past and present. The transatlantic slave trade, which officially started in 16th century and ended in the 19th century, and the European colonization of Africa, which began with 19th century and ended officially in the 20th century, are two illustrative examples. Those two events were prompted by the same purpose: to steal the African resources. In the first, it the theft of human beings, and in the second, natural resources were stolen.

Africa map

As black African chattel slavery died down, Europe’s countries carved up the continent itself to exploit its resources as well as people.

The African migrants who are sold in Libya today are from Sub-Saharan countries. These nations have been destabilized by poverty and the wars that have characterized African almost for two centuries. In the 1960s, many African countries gained a so-called independence, but European countries never really gave up their desire to control the continent. The dictatorship and corruption plaguing many countries in Africa stem from external influence from these Western powers who destabilized African governments in order to have access on natural resource. Behind many armed conflicts in Africa, there are multinational companies who have caused and/or taken advantage of the chaos in order to profit oil, diamond, gold, coltan and other natural resources found in the soil of Africa.

Without having to need a political and/or military presence, taking advantage of civil strife costs less to the West than traditional colonialism in terms of money. But who suffers from those chaos? Africans, of course. Hypocritical, or at least uninformed, observers, claim that African migration is caused by undemocratic political systems in Africa; however, they omit to mention who destroys or undermines those systems. Certainly, African migrants leave their homeland because of the economic or personal safety issues; nevertheless, these problems are not the origin of their misery.

Modern-Day Slavers Take Advantage of Migrants’ Desire for a Better Life

No one should be punished for wanting to have a better life. That is the only wish of these young people who risk their lives by crossing the Sahara desert to reach the Mediterranean shores. This long journey from Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Mali, Eritrea, Niger and other sub-Saharan countries brings the migrants in Libya where the border with Europe a sea of only 300 km (186 mi).

Many of these migrants spend a lot of money to reach Libya, thinking that they will just have to work few months and get some money to pay their final journey to Europe, their El Dorado. But this plan is often just a dream: Reports have revealed cases of torture, killings and, of course, forced labor against Black Africans there as well as in other countries in the Maghreb, a region that also includes Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Mauritania.

Again, this is nothing new. Those current inhuman conditions are tied to the past treatment of black Africans by whites and Arabs: Arabs sold Europeans black Africans, who were then sold to other white men in the Americas to work in plantations.

What is the difference between those two markets of black people? In the past, the Arab merchants carried out raids to capture people to sell, attacking Sub-Saharan black African villages. But today, black people are voluntarily going to their sellers and paying them money and thinking that they will get help with migrating to Europe,

Enslaved Migrants Face Horrible Conditions

After NATO’s military intervention in Libya and the death of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the country became uncontrollable and, even today, civil war continues to destroy Libya. All kinds of illegal trafficking in arms, drugs, and people, take place in the country, which is now under the control of many factions of rebels and trafficking groups. Sub-Saharans Africans have been the main victims of exploitation of migrants of these groups for a simple reason: their numbers. According to a recent report by the United Nations IOM (International Organization of Migration) from October 2017, 93% (395,185 individuals) of the total migrants in Libya originate from 30 identified African nationalities.

Again, this is nothing new. Those current inhuman conditions are tied to the past treatment of black Africans by whites and Arabs: Arabs sold Europeans black Africans, who were then sold to other white men in the Americas to work in plantations.

Some of the African migrants who escaped Libya have reported how hard the situation is for black Africans in that country. In a Sept. 12, 2017 New York Times article, witnesses reported that “work and living conditions are grim. Women have reported being forced to work as prostitutes to earn money for the trip across the sea. Many men say they are beaten and even shot at by smugglers. Traffickers have locked up some migrants, forcing them to call home to have relatives pay ransoms to secure their release.”

These horrible conditions were further confirmed by the IOM on Apr. 11 that same year: “Over the past few days, I have discussed these stories with several who told me horrible stories,” said an IOM Niger staffer. “They all confirmed the risks of been sold as slaves in squares or garages in Sabha, either by their drivers or by locals who recruit the migrants for daily jobs in town, often in construction, and later, instead of paying them, sell their victims to new buyers. Some migrants – mostly Nigerians, Ghanaians and Gambians – are forced to work for the kidnappers/slave traders as guards in the ransom houses or in the ‘market’ itself.”

European Countries Are Increasingly Complicit in Migrants’ Suffering

Eritrean immigrants arrive in Messina, Italy. Photo by Nicholas Pinault.

The sad story of this African misery in Libya is that the traffickers are paid twice: first by the migrants who want to go to Europe, and again by the Europeans governments who want to protect their borders. On Sep. 26, the Washington Post reported that the Italian government has been paying Libyan militias to stop migrants from crossing the Mediterranean ocean:

“Motivating the Libyan militias’ newfound zeal for blocking migrant movement, is a new policy spearheaded by the Italian government,” the Washington Post piece reported. “The approach relies on payment to militias willing to act as migrant deterrent forces. Italian government representatives use intermediaries such as mayors and other local leaders to negotiate terms of the agreements with the armed groups. They also build local support in the targeted areas by distributing humanitarian aid.”

It is sad and shameful in these cases to see black people as a source of revenue for Europeans and Libyans. That black people are sold openly and publicly, in 21st century, just like in the past four centuries. There is some good news, however. After the CNN exposé, some African governments took the responsible move of stating to repatriating African migrants—both their citizens and in some cases, others—in Libya. The Rwandan government is offering refuge to 30,000 migrants, and the Côte d’Ivoire has sent planes to bring back its citizens from Libya.

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