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Debunking a Myth: Baltimore Sun Reporters Accept Louis Farrakhan's Challenge to Prove Slavery Exists in Sudan; They Buy and Free Two Slaves

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Debunking a Myth: Baltimore Sun Reporters Accept Louis Farrakhan's Challenge to Prove Slavery Exists in Sudan; They Buy and Free Two Slaves

Article excerpt

Baltimore Sun reporters accept Louis Farrakhan's challenge to prove slavery exists in Sudan; they buy and free two slaves

TWO BALTIMORE SUN reporters carried out one of the more unusual foreign assignments. They bought two slaves in Sudan.

The newsmen, Gilbert A. Lewthwaite and Gregory Kane paid the equivalent of $1,000 to an Arab trader for the slaves, two young boys, and returned them to their father. The exploit, achieved under harsh and dangerous conditions, led to a three-part Sun series.

According to Kane, the staffers' trip to Africa was "inspired by that eminent statesman and humanitarian [Nation of Islam leader] Louis Farrakhan -- who, [during a National Press Club speech] said he didn't believe slavery existed in the Sudan and challenged the media to go there and find proof."

Actually, however, Sun editor John Carroll had decided before Farrakhan's statement to investigate reports of slavery in war-torn Sudan.

The buying of slaves was approved before the reporters took off for what Carroll termed a "very risky assignment to a very nasty place."

White, British-born Lewthwaite, 60, is a veteran foreign correspondent, who has served in London and Paris since joining the Sun in 1971. He covered the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and traveled on assignment to Cuba, Haiti and Central America.

Kane, 44, who is black, is a Sun columnist focusing on the city's African-American community. It was his first trip out of the United States.

Loaded with bottled water, water purifiers and dehydrated meals bought mostly at a Baltimore surplus store, the pair flew to Nairobi, Kenya, and from there hitched a ride to Sudan's rebel territory on a small Cessna operated by Christian Solidarity International, a humanitarian aid group. Within two hours of pitching their tents in the bush, they heard reports of a slave trader operating a few miles from their camp.

Before going to the Sudan, the reporters wrote that their research of the country revealed it to be "one of the remotest, most disease-ridden and dangerous places on earth."

To witness slavery, their trek took them to front lines of a civil war between the ruling Islamic government in the North, and the black African tribes in the South.

They didn't have to produce passports or visas. "We came in the back door," Lewthwaite told E&P.

Of their campsite, they wrote:" . . . the temperature must be 100-plus, and we have no water to wash ourselves or our clothes. The flies seem to find us increasingly attractive. We are drinking water at an alarming rate. We are always sweating, always thirsty, and the water comes hot from sunbaked plastic bottles. It is not pleasant."

Accompanied by native guides and interpreters, Kane and Lewthwaite trudged three hours through the bush to meet the Arab slave trader, Adam El Haj, who claimed the abduction of children was organized by the government and that he had freed 473 slaves -- mostly women and children -- from slave owners, returning them to their families for five cows or the cash equivalent.

The reporters handed over Sudanese currency obtained in Kenya in exchange for two half brothers, Garang Deng Kuot, 10, and Akok Deng Kuot, 12. The children were then reunited with their father, a poor farmer in a nearby village, who had watched the transaction. …

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