Joe Madison Witnesses the Horror of Slavery in Sudan

By Brown, Peter | The New Crisis, November/December 2000 | Go to article overview
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Joe Madison Witnesses the Horror of Slavery in Sudan


Brown, Peter, The New Crisis


"The people in southern Sudan are members of the Dinka tribes and live about the same way they did 1,000 years ago.

There is no running water; people bathe in basically mud puddies, when it rains, or marshes. There is no electricity. There are no roads; the people walk usually along narrow dirt paths. Everyone lives in mud huts. Even schools are one-room mud huts. There are no modern conveniences."

This is what former NAACP board member Joe Madison observed in September while spending 10 grueling days in southern Sudan. Madison, 52, a veteran talk show host in the nation's capital on WOL-AM, is known as the "Black Eagle" by the thousands of listeners who wake up to his popular morning-drive radio show "Madison & Company."

Those who know him wouldn't be surprised that he risked injury and even death for 10 days in the middle of a civil war that has seen millions die from famine, disease and civil strife, to document that modern-day slavery is taking place in Sudan.

Madison's resume of activism reflects a commitment to the principle that all human beings have a universal right to freedom, justice and self-determination. Over the years, he has used hunger strikes, marches and arrests to draw attention to human-rights abuses. Madison once organized and led a march from Los Angeles to Baltimore to increase awareness of South Africa's former apartheid regime.

Selected executive director of the Detroit NAACP at age 24, Madison has used his morning show to address controversial topics. As I questioned him about his trip to Sudan, it soon became apparent from the tone of his voice that witnessing modern-day slavery and experiencing the daily regimen of the Dinka people had profoundly impacted his life.

"The reason I went was that after four or five years of talking about this and reading and hearing debates about whether [slavery] exists or doesn't exist, I decided to go there and witness it for myself," Madison says. "The images will be with me for the rest of my life."

Madison wasn't there only to observe slavery; he also participated in the emancipation of 4,435 slaves. His trip was made possible by a Christian human-rights organization, Christian Solidarity International. CSI works closely with Sudan abolitionists to purchase the freedom of slaves captured in southern Sudan. To date, CSI has been responsible for freeing over 38,000 slaves.

SLAVERY BACK TO THE FUTURE

For one to comprehend how human beings can be captured and sold into slavery, one has to understand the history of the region, as well as the political, cultural and religious hegemony of Arabic-speaking Muslims who control northern Sudan.

"Sudan," or "land of the blacks," is the largest country in Africa, more than three times the size of Texas and a quarter the size of the United States. It borders nine countries. In recent times, Sudan has been divided by religion and culture. From 1899 to 1955, Sudan was ruled under a parliamentary system of government, jointly controlled by the British and Egypt.

By 1956, Arab nationalists had seized control of the government and instituted policies eroding the religious and cultural autonomy of the mostly black, Christian southern Sudanese. Their refusal to acquiesce to an Islamic-peppered constitution ignited a 16-year civil war between north and south Sudan. The war would finally end in 1972, and the south would claim a measure of autonomy. But in 1989 the north's armed forces overthrew the democratically elected government, setting in motion another protracted north-south civil war.

Slavery in Sudan is being employed as a war strategy. The northern Sudan government is using slave raiding in conjunction with conventional military warfare to force southern Sudanese to submit to an Arab/Islamic Republic. Black Sudan slaves are captured just as crudely as Africans were over 300 years ago on the coast of West Africa before being shipped to America.

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