Libya and a Retrogressive Continent

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The ongoing modern-day slave trading in Libya is unacceptable and must be stopped forthwith. Olawale Olaleye writes

On Tuesday night, following outrage by Nigerians, mostly celebrities, the federal government flew in some lucky 242 Nigerian migrants, who were stuck with the ugly fate of possibly being sold to slavery in Libya, a northern African country, during their quest for greener pasture.

International news agencies, like the CNN and Aljazeera had reported that hundreds of African refugees, mostly Nigerians, were being bought and sold on auction in “slave markets” across Libya. This, reports claimed, happened every week, with many of the slaves held for ransom or forced into prostitution and sexual exploitation to pay their captors and smugglers.

Unfortunately, many of them, investigations have revealed, ended up being murdered by their smugglers in the open desert or die from thirst or car accidents in the vast Libyan Desert. A morgue in the southern city of Sebha – an entry point for many refugees coming from Africa – is reported to be overflowing with corpses, with faulty refrigerator compounding the situation.

An official in Sebha, 650km south of the capital, Tripoli, described atrocious scenes of bodies daily dumped at the gates of the Sebha health facility by smugglers. He said the refugees, who died are never identified and many ended being buried without names or proper graves.

The health official, who pleaded anonymity for obvious security reasons, said Sebha’s morgue has only one dysfunctional refrigerator that can only hold bodies for up to three days but end up keeping them for months and on.
This ugly development had recently compelled France’s ambassador to the UN, Francois Delattre’s, to urge the Security Council to impose sanctions on the people involved in the Libyan slave trade of African refugees and migrants.

“France will propose to assist the sanctions committee … in identifying responsible individuals and entities for trafficking through Libyan territory,” he told the council on Tuesday.
Suffice it to say that the UN Security Council held an emergency session to discuss the possibility of sanctions against individuals and entities, and of applying the full range of international law including the use of the international criminal court, the session ended without any resolution.
Also, the Libyan authority had denied the story of auctioning people into slavery with the knowledge of the government. It however claimed that the situation in the country as far as the allegation of slavery was concerned, required help from the international community.

In the last one week, horrendous pictures of people allegedly sold into slavery under inhuman conditions had flooded the influential media, raising intense outrage from across the globe, particularly from Nigerian celebrities, many of whom had taken to their different social media pages asking government to intervene on behalf of Nigerians, who were being subjected to horrible and inhuman treatment in Libya.

It is also important to state that before the slave trading became really pronounced, there had been allegations of Nigerians being killed indiscriminately in Libya, albeit through human trafficking. In fact, government at a point had warned against traveling to Libya if there was no compelling need or reason.

It is therefore unthinkable and to say the least, comprehensible that slave trade which was abolished many years ago across the world is now trending in the 21st century, more so amongst the black nation themselves, courtesy the thoughtlessness of people of Libyan descent.
In 1806, the British Parliament passed the Foreign Slave Trade Act (46 Geo. 3, c. 52 (Eng.)), which forbade British subjects to trade in slaves with France or its allies. A year later, the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade (47 Geo. 3, c. 36 (Eng.) expanded the prohibition to the slave trade as a whole.

Although the abolition of slavery occurred at different times in different countries, it frequently occurred sequentially in more than one stage. For example, there was the abolition of the trade in slaves in a specific country, and then the abolition of slavery throughout empires.
Each step was usually the result of a separate law or action. It was first abolished by Cyrus the Great, when he freed the Babylonian slaves. Although slavery is now abolished de jure in all countries, according to Wikipedia, some practices akin to it continue today in many places throughout the world, including Libya.

With the Libyan experience now a source of concern across the globe and justifiably so, it is important for leaders in Africa to not just evacuate their people and seek sanctions against the country, which is expected anyways, more importantly is that African leaders must seek better understanding of why their people desperately leave their country, which often times is better than where they are headed just to seek greener pastures.

Leaders in Africa must see the Libyan experience as a critical development challenge that must be taken with all its seriousness. If a vast majority of African countries are well developed and its leader sincere in the delivery of good governance, the Libyans themselves would not ponder the idea of slave trade let alone creating a major panic and discomfort around the world.

The African Union, beyond seeking support from the United Nations, must come together to address some of the development challenges on the continent, starting with the poor attention they often give to education. Africa has come of age but has yet to live that reality. Still beggarly and laidback in disposition, such ‘Red Sea’ approach to leadership is the result of what is happening in Libya today and it would take more than just pouncing on Libya to address.