Joe Madison says he doesn't cry easily. But in Sudan recently to
witness the liberation of 400 women and children who had been held
as slaves, Mr. Madison wept.
"They all jumped up in unison, screaming and hugging and running
to their chief," says Madison, a Washington talk-radio host who
accompanied an international Christian group that had paid ransom
for the 4,435 captives. "I'm an African-American, the descendant of
slaves. It was like I was in a time machine, watching my own
ancestors in slavery. Only this is real and it's happening now."
Almost overnight, the civil war in Sudan - a 17-year conflict
that has claimed more than 2 million lives and raised humanitarian
concerns about slavery - is becoming a cause clbre here in America.
Officials in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, say that the
abductions of women and children are simply part of intertribal
But some Christian leaders have charged that the raids are part
of a government-sponsored program of forced Islamization of the
Christian and animist people of southern Sudan - an accusation
Sudanese officials reject.
Estimates on the numbers of abducted vary. While Sudanese
government figures record 14,000 southern Sudanese women and
children kidnapped in recent years, human rights experts say that
raiders armed by Khartoum have seized from tens of thousands up to
100,000 people and forced them to work as slaves.
The abductions occur against the backdrop of a civil war that has
claimed more than 2 million lives. But it is slavery that's turning
the crisis in the largest nation in Africa into an issue that
matters to Americans.
Prominent African-American leaders, including Madison, have
announced their own "21st-century abolition movement." Activists
say tactics will include protests against nations condoning slavery
and boycotts of the stock of companies doing business with them -
much along the lines of the global movement to end apartheid in
South Africa in the 1970s and '80s.
Last week, schoolchildren from Aurora, Colo., and former slaves
from Sudan, Mauritania, and Haiti, testified before the US Senate
Committee on Foreign Relations on the issue.
Colorado teacher Barbara Vogel founded STOP (Slavery that
Oppresses People) to raise money to buy back slaves in Sudan. The
group appealed to senators to help in the effort.
"Today in Sudan and around the world, there are children who
cannot sleep at night. They lie on the ground and they wait for
strong people to come and free them. Senators, you are strong
people. You have a big voice and strong arms. You can free the
slaves," said Francis Bok, who was abducted into slavery in
southern Sudan at the age of 7.
(Mr. Bok escaped his captors, made it out of the country, and is
now attending school for the first time and working with the Boston-
based American Anti-Slavery Group.)
Leaders of the new movement hope that by publicizing the
abductions in Sudan they can focus world attention on the scope of
the larger catastrophe in the nation.
"When 10 heads of human rights organizations met with US
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright last year, we were told that
the suffering in Sudan doesn't seem to be marketable to the
American people," says Charles Jacob, president of the American
Anti-Slavery Group. …