Why is slavery still alive today?

How is it possible that slavery has reappeared on the African continent as an ongoing commercial enterprise?

While due note is to be taken of the shocked and embarrassed reactions and the political decisions on the part of African governments and the international agencies, Jamaica and Canada are to be commended for taking strong positions on this matter.

“This human indignity is unreservedly and entirely condemned by the Government and we commit to working with the international community to curtail this despicable trade in human beings, wherever it occurs across the world…”

Those were the words spoken by Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Kamina Johnson Smith as she expressed her government’s concerns in that country’s Senate last week.

Speaking on behalf of the Canadian government, MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes made an equally condemnatory statement in the House of Commons:

“Mr. Speaker, during the transatlantic slave trade, tens of millions of African people were kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. The world committed to ensuring that we never again repeat these deplorable, abhorrent acts. Canada condemns all forms of trafficking in persons everywhere, including the slave trade in Libya, as practices that have always been criminal. We support the efforts of the Libyan Government of National Accord and the United Nations’ call for an investigation.

Canada will continue its work to end human trafficking and bring those who prey on vulnerable people to justice.”

Now that the circulation of allegedly authentic videos is lending credibility to the earlier reports that migrants and refugees in Libya are being tricked, forcibly detained and sold in slave auctions, what is to be done about it?

It is important to recognize that the international trade based mainly on the use of African slave labour evolved in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries into the global strategy of colonial empire-building. This expansionist land grab and exploitation of the resources of the colonies fuelled the wealth creation through which European and North American economies prospered and put themselves in the privileged position that they occupy in today’s globalized economy.

That historic reality must raise embarrassing and immensely costly questions about Europe and North America’s duty to make reparations to the world’s developing countries on whose forced labour and natural resources they built their businesses, mansions and financial assets.

Today’s Europeans and North Americans therefore feel the need to avoid speaking about how their ancestors’ search for profit, allied with concepts of racial, cultural, spiritual and intellectual superiority, had opened the door to greed, invasion and appropriation of land, natural resources and to the exploitation of captive human labour.

Hence, it is far easier for them to accept UNESCO’s designation of August 23 every year as the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition.

But the national and international measures being announced to address the ugly “trade” in migrants and refugees who are trapped in Libya (and most of whom originated from the countries of West Africa) cannot properly resolve the core problem.

The more effective solutions are to be found hidden in the logical extension of a principle contained in the official statement coming out of the 5th African Union/European Union Summit Meeting held in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire  (November 29-30, 2017). According to that document, the African and European leaders reached a consensus on the strategy for dealing with African migration:

“They agreed that lasting resolution of the issue of African migrants is closely linked to addressing the root causes of the phenomenon and requires a political solution to the persistent crisis in Libya.”

Taken to its logical conclusion, the lasting resolution of the issue of African migration, including specifically enslavement and human trafficking, lies in addressing its root causes.

Among these root causes are the shameful realities of colonial expansionism, the theory and practice of racial superiority, the circumstances of trans-Atlantic slavery and the multi-national expropriation and exploitation of the resources of the former colonies.

Consideration must also be given to the other forms of slavery, such as human trafficking.

Slavery is still alive today because we are only now beginning to address the full implications of such enormous tragedies as the massive abuse of the human and property rights of the  indigenous peoples throughout Canada’s colonial and post-colonial history.

Slavery, in its many and diverse forms, is still alive today because the economic exploitation, human rights abuse and total marginalization of several generations of the Haitian community are still being condoned by all three arms of the state in the Dominican Republic.

Slavery is still alive today because the plight of that disemboweled Haitian community is still the most under-reported crime against humanity.

All of us, and especially the media and the international agencies, stand accused.