Slavery in the Sudan since 1989

By Lobban, Richard | Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Slavery in the Sudan since 1989

Lobban, Richard, Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)


ONE IMAGINES THAT THE BRUTAL HISTORY of slavery is long over and should only be the study of historians. The sad and well-documented truth is that this sordid business in fellow human beings has not only continued but it has expanded in the years since the arrival of the National Islamic Front to power in Khartoum. The history of slavery in the Nile valley is extremely ancient indeed. Certainly in the times of the Egyptian pharaohs, slaves were taken from among all enemies that included Asians, Libyans, and Nubians. Even when Nubians were in power as in the case of Kerma, of Dynasty XXV, or in Meroitic times slavery continued. Horrendous levels of slavery were reached during the Turkish occupation of the Sudan (1821-1885) as they had a great thirst for them in their armies, harems, and in domestic service and foreign export. The case for the Mahdiya perpetuated the domestic use and export of slaves from the Sudan and even the famed Mahdist soldier Othman Digna was a slave trader. This is not to mention the m ost notable Zubeir Pasha who profited greatly in the business. Under colonialism slavery did decline substantially because the British wanted cheap "free" labor to pick the cotton they needed for their booming textile mills.

Thinking that slavery has a five thousand-year history in the region perhaps one is less surprised that it should not have ended. But in the 20th century and in the 21st century we have just begun is a time of United Nations declarations on human rights and mutual respect of cultural diversity. This is also a time of Article 3 of the Geneva conventions that govern the treatment of prisoners of war that typically defines the conditions under which slaves are captured. With some cynicism in the modern world one is not amazed to discover isolated criminal cases of slavery, forced prostitution, and domestic brutality, but slavery as a regular practice is still hard to comprehend. Thinking of how many millions of people of African descent have suffered from slavery it is harder to comprehend that the current practice is in the hands of other Africans.

Today, slavery has resumed in the Sudan as a matter of informal, but institutionalized policy that is implemented through the Popular Defense Force (PDF) militias (murahileen) that are supported by Khartoum to serve the practice of "ethnic cleansing" and "mass displacements" (Human Rights Watch). Slavery has become part and parcel of the government's long failed effort to suppress the movement toward secular rule and a return to democracy and away from the fascist system that hides beneath a claim of Islamic justification. In order to have some common understanding about slave status we can accept the definition by Kevin Bales appearing in Miller (1999, A21). He terms slavery as "a relationship in which one person is completely controlled by another person through violence or the threat of violence for the purpose of economic exploitation."


Since the pioneering work on human rights in the Sudan by Sulayman Baldo, U.A. Mahmoud, Mohamed Omer Beshir, Abdullahi An-Na'im and Mahgoub al-Tigani even more have been inspired to heed the call for further action. The work of the Anti-Slavery Group in Boston led by Charles Jacobs (1999) and Tim Sandler (1995) has added to the exposure of Sudanese slavery and the complexities of U.S. and Canadian foreign policy vis-a-vis the current Sudanese regime. Documenting illegal slavery is naturally difficult. This was also the case during the 'Underground Railway' and the abolition movement in the United States. In 1987, even before the NIF government, the former Sadiq al-Mahdi regime had been allowing slavery as a weapon of war. Such was the case in the El-Diem (also spelled ad-Daein) massacre on 27 March 1987 as reported by Mahmoud and Baldo (1987). Aside from the thousand Dinka killed in the main incident there were also reports of slavery of Dinka women and children in the Kordofan-Bahr al Ghazal borderlands. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Slavery in the Sudan since 1989


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.