The Truth about Slavery in Sudan

Article excerpt

African-American leaders mobilize to help

SOME say it's genocide, others say it's religious persecution, still others say it's all about money and oil.

Whatever it's about, the reported existence of the buying and selling of human beings in Sudan--Africa's largest and poorest country--in the 21st century has triggered an international furor and is fueling a mushrooming movement of protest by African-American leaders and celebrities.

According to reports, thousands of Sudanese Blacks are being sold for from $10 to $100, and villages and communities in southern Sudan are being plundered.

For Sudanese who say they've escaped slavery and for African-Americans who have visited that country and say they've talked to newly freed slaves, the stories are of raids in villages and marketplaces in the Bahr el-Ghazal region, of the capture and enslavement of women and children and the murder of male villagers.

The raids, while not carried out directly by the Sudanese government, are reportedly sponsored and sanctioned by government officials or their surrogates.

The Sudanese government has continually denied claims of slavery. Government and diplomatic officials insist that it is illegal abduction as a result of tribal conflicts and as casualties of a long-running civil war.

Several Black leaders, including Rep. Donald M. Payne, D-N.J., the Rev. Al Sharpton, the Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy and activist Joe Madison, have visited Sudan to investigate firsthand the reported human rights violations there. Other leaders, such as Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., are working on Capitol Hill to get to the heart of the matter.

"We are going to be extremely vocal about this," Rev. Sharpton, president and founder of the Harlem-based National Action Network, told a press conference. "There is no way that we, the descendants of slaves, are going to sit by quietly while slavery is being conducted in the same homeland our forefathers came from."

The reported enslavement of thousands of south Sudanese Blacks isn't an effort to build an economic system on the backs of a race of people, African-American leaders say. That's just a smoke-screen for another agenda: The forced displacement of millions of southern Sudanese solely for the sake of money and oil--an effort to divide, conquer, and tap that region's natural resources without paying its inhabitants for it.

Sudan is a "classic example" of using racism and religion as an excuse for the "exploitation of Africans" by foreign interests, says Rev. Fauntroy, president of the National Black Leadership Roundtable in Washington, D.C.

"For 20 years I was on the banking committee and chair of the committee on international development, finance, trade and monetary policy," says Rev. Fauntroy, a former U.S. congressman and co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus. "And I know, therefore, that slavery' in Sudan is about oil money--clear and simple."

In recent years, several oil companies from more prosperous nations, including Canada and China, have discovered vast untapped oil reserves and water resources in Sudan's southern region. Now that international economic interests have focused there, with revenues of at least $500 million a year at stake, the scramble for control of that region has only intensified.

As a result, the slavery debate is complicated by international economic and political interests, as well as ancient religious controversies.

Since the second civil war between the mostly Arab-Muslim north and Christian south began in 1983, roughly 2 million Sudanese have died and more than 4 million southern Sudanese displaced out of a population of about 35 million. That says nothing of the 3 million people that the U.N.'s World Food Program says will face hunger or starvation.

The United Nations has received reports of human rights abuses by the National Islamic Front (and the legal National Congress) in the capital of Khartoum, and by the rebels, the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army, operating out of the south. …