Slavery in modern Africa

Slavery in modern Africa

Slavery in Africa continues today. Slavery existed in Africa before the arrival of the Atlantic slave trade, as did an internal African slave trade and an Arab slave trade. Despite being illegal in all African countries, slavery continues in parts of Africa and the rest of the world.[1]


Background and History

Most of what is considered slavery in Africa today is a symptom of poverty and economics,[clarification needed] and it may be controversial to refer to it as "slavery" in the same vein as the Atlantic slave trade or other comparable forms of slavery.[citation needed] However, modern slavery in Africa may be seen by some analysts as a continuation or outgrowth of slave-trading practices in the past [2]; others say the situation is more complicated and requires an analysis of socioeconomic indicators as well as other economic issues.[3] Modern day slavery in Africa is the contemporary trade or trafficking of enslaved people and according to the Anti-Slavery Society:

Although this exploitation is often not called slavery, the conditions are the same. People are sold like objects, forced to work for little or no pay and are at the mercy of their "employers".

Antislavery Society, What is Modern Slavery

Forced labor in Sub-Saharan Africa is estimated at 660,000 (5%). This includes people involved in the illegal diamond mines of Sierra Leon and Liberia, which is also a direct result of the civil war in these regions.[4][5]

Types of Modern day slavery

Sex Based Trade

While institutional slavery has been banned worldwide, there are numerous reports of female sex slaves in areas without an effective government control, such as Sudan, South Africa and Liberia,[6] Sierra Leone,[7] northern Uganda,[8] Congo,[9] Niger[10] and Mauritania.[11] In Ghana, Togo, and Benin, a form of (forced) religious prostitution known as trokosi ("ritual servitude") forcibly keeps thousands of girls and women in traditional shrines as "wives of the gods", where priests perform the sexual function in place of the gods.[12]

Women from other African countries seeking refugee status in South Africa are trafficked by refugees from their own countries already living there. An estimated 1000 Mozambican girls are trafficked to Johannesburg each year and sold as sex slaves or as (unwilling) wives to the Mozambican mine workers. Young women have been trafficked from Thailand and China to South Africa; most serve as prostitutes or cheap labor. When identified by police in South Africa, victims of trafficking are deported as illegal immigrants; victims know the police will deport them and are therefore afraid of law enforcement. Notably, South Africa has no public services specifically designed to help victims of trafficking.[13]

Forced labor

Forced labor is defined as any work or services which people are forced to do against their will under the threat of some form of punishment. Forced labor was used to an overwhelming extent in King Leopold's Congo Free State and on Portuguese plantations of Cape Verde and San Tome. Today in the Democratic Republic of the Congo the indigenous people are usually victims of their Bantu neighbors, who have replaced the positions once held by Europeans.[14][15]

"We must work for the Bantu masters. We cannot refuse to do so because we are likely to be beaten or be victims of insults and threats. Even though we agree to work all day in the fields, we are still asked to work even more, for example, to fetch firewood or go hunting. Most of the time, they pay us in kind, a worn loincloth for 10 workdays. We cannot refuse because we do not have a choice.”.

Antislavery Society, Interview with an indigenous man in the Congo

Child slave trade

The trading of children has been reported in modern Nigeria and Benin.[16] The children are kidnapped or purchased for $20 – $70 each by slavers in poorer states, such as Benin and Togo, and sold into slavery in sex dens or as unpaid domestic servants for $350.00 each in wealthier oil-rich states, such as Nigeria and Gabon.[17][18]

Ritual Slavery

Ritual servitude (Trokosi) is a practice in Ghana, Togo, and Benin where traditional religious shrines take human beings, usually young virgin girls in payment for services, or in religious atonement for alleged misdeeds of a family member — almost always a female.[19] In Ghana and in Togo, it is practiced by the Ewe people in the Volta region, and in Benin it is practiced by the Fon.[20]

Slavery by Country

South Africa

Despite significant efforts made by the South African Government to combat trafficking in persons the country has been placed on the “Tier 2 Watch List” by the US Department of Trafficking in Persons,for the past four years.[21] South Africa shares borders with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland. It has 72 official ports of entry "and a number of unofficial ports of entry where people come in and out without being detected" along its 5 000 km-long land borderline. The problem of porous borders is compounded by the lack of adequately trained employees, resulting in few police officials controlling large portions of the country's coastline.


Mahider Bitew, Children's Rights and Protection expert at the Ministry of Women's Affairs, says that some remote studies conducted in Dire Dawa, Shashemene, Awassa, and three other towns of the country indicate that the problem of child trafficking is very serious. According to a 2003 study, about one thousand children were trafficked via Dire Dawa to countries of the Middle East. The majority of those children were girls, most of whom were forced to be prostitutes after leaving the country. The International Labor Organization has identified prostitution as the Worst Form of Child Labor.[22]

In Ethiopia, children are trafficked into prostitution, to provide cheap or unpaid labor, and to work as domestic servants or beggars. The ages of these children are usually between 10 and 18, and their trafficking is from the country to urban centers and from cities to the country. Boys are often expected to work in activities such as herding cattle in rural areas and in the weaving industry in Addis Ababa and other major towns. Girls are expected to take responsibilities for domestic chores, childcare, and looking after the sick, and to work as prostitutes.[22]


IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks) of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports children being sold to Arab herdsmen in Chad. As part of a new identity imposed on them the herdsmen "...change their name, forbid them to speak in their native dialect, ban them from conversing with people from their own ethnic group and make them adopt Islam as their religion."[23]


The Malian government denies that slavery exists, but some say slavery still continues as a reflection of the poverty in Mali.[24]


A system exists now by which Arab Muslims -- the bidanes—own black slaves, the haratines. An estimated 90,000 Mauritanians remain essentially enslaved.[25] The ruling bidanes (the name means literally white-skinned people) are descendants of the Sanhaja Berbers and Beni Hassan Arab tribes who emigrated to northwest Africa and present-day Western Sahara and Mauritania during the Middle Ages.[26] According to some estimates, up to 600,000 Mauritanians, or 20% of the population, are still enslaved, many of them used as bonded labour.[27] Slavery in Mauritania was criminalized in August 2007.[28] Malouma Messoud, a former Muslim slave has explained her enslavement to a religious leader:

"We didn't learn this history in school; we simply grew up within this social hierarchy and lived it. Slaves believe that if they do not obey their masters, they will not go to paradise. They are raised in a social and religious system that everyday reinforces this idea.[29]"

In Mauritania, despite slave ownership having been banned by law in 1981, hereditary slavery continues.[30] Moreover, according to Amnesty International:

"Not only has the government denied the existence of slavery and failed to respond to cases brought to its attention, it has hampered the activities of organisations which are working on the issue, including by refusing to grant them official recognition".[31]

Imam El Hassan Ould Benyamin of Tayarat in 1997 expressed his views about earlier proclamations ending slavery in his country as follows:

"[it] is contrary to the teachings of the fundamental text of Islamic law, the Quran ... [and] amounts to the expropriation from Muslims of their goods; goods that were acquired legally. The state, if it is Islamic, does not have the right to seize my house, my wife or my slave."[32]


Sudan has seen a resurgence of slavery since 1983, associated with the Second Sudanese Civil War.[33]

In the Sudan, Christian and animist captives in the civil war are often enslaved, and female prisoners are often used sexually, with their Muslim captors claiming that Islamic law grants them permission.[34] According to CBS news, slaves have been sold for $50 apiece.[35] In 2001, CNN reported that the Bush administration was under pressure from Congress, including conservative Christians concerned about religious oppression and slavery, to address issues involved in the Sudanese conflict.[36] CNN has also quoted the U.S. State Department's allegations: "The [Sudanese] government's support of slavery and its continued military action which has resulted in numerous deaths are due in part to the victims' religious beliefs."[37]

Jok Madut Jok, professor of History at Loyola Marymount University, states that the abduction of women and children of the south by north is slavery by any definition. The government of Sudan insists that the whole matter is no more than the traditional tribal feuding over resources.[38]

It is estimated that as many as 200,000 people had been taken into slavery during the Second Sudanese Civil War.[39][40]

Ghana, Togo, Benin

In parts of Ghana among the Ewe people, a family may be punished for an offense by having to turn over a virgin female to serve as a sex slave within the offended family.[41] In this instance, the woman does not gain the title of "wife". In parts of Ghana, Togo, and Benin, shrine slavery persists, despite being illegal in Ghana since 1998. This system of slavery is sometimes called trokosi (in Ghana), or voodoosi in Togo and Benin, or ritual servitude. Young virgin girls are given as slaves in traditional shrines and are used sexually by the priests, in addition to providing free labor for the shrine.<ref name="Ghana's trapped slaves"/ A lot of Chinese prostitutes are trafficked to Ghana to service expatriate communities in the country, the enslavement protection Alliance west Africa (EPAWA) investigation reveal. Accra-based non-governmental organization told citi news victims are recruited under the guise of working as restaurant assistants. they Are then confined and forced to provide sexual services.

See also


  1. ^ Anti Slavery Society and Modern slavery
  2. ^ "African Holocaust Special". African Holocaust Society. Retrieved 2007-01-04. 
  3. ^ Anti-Slavery Society
  4. ^ Bloody Diamonds of Sierra Leone
  5. ^ Anti-Slavery Society Forced Labor
  6. ^ Africa | Liberia's Taylor appears in court. BBC News (2007-07-03). Retrieved on 2011-03-08.
  7. ^ Press | Human Rights Watch. Retrieved on 2011-03-08.
  8. ^ News | Human Rights Watch. (2011-03-04). Retrieved on 2011-03-08.
  9. ^ Girls at U.N. meeting urge action against sex slavery, trafficking, child labor, AIDS
  10. ^ Andersson, Hilary. (2005-02-11) Programmes | From Our Own Correspondent | Born to be a slave in Niger. BBC News. Retrieved on 2011-03-08.
  11. ^ Africa | Mauritanian MPs pass slavery law. BBC News (2007-08-09). Retrieved on 2011-03-08.
  12. ^ Ghana's trapped slaves, By Humphrey Hawksley in eastern Ghana, 8 February 2001. BBC News
  13. ^ Sex Slavery in South Africa[dead link]
  14. ^ Forced Labor in Congo
  15. ^ BBC Types of Slavery in Africa
  16. ^ West Africa's child slave trade
  17. ^ West is master of slave trade guilt
  18. ^ Human Trafficking & Modern-day Slavery - Nigeria
  19. ^ Slavery Today in Africa
  20. ^ FAQ About the Form of Slavery Called Trokosi, ECM Publications, 2002, p.1
  21. ^ SABC South Africa people trafficking
  22. ^ a b "Ethiopian Slave Trade". 
  23. ^ IRIN Africa: Cbin: Children sold into slavery for the price of a calf
  24. ^ Kayaking to Timbuktu, Writer Sees Slave Trade
  25. ^ Islam and Slavery
  26. ^ Fair elections haunted by racial imbalance
  27. ^ The Abolition season on BBC World Service
  28. ^ Mauritanian MPs pass slavery law
  29. ^ The Johns Hopkins News-letter 'SMIR talk exposes modern slavery' - Brendan Schreiber and Maria Andrawis, 5 December 2003
  30. ^ "The last law, in 1981, banned it but failed to criminalise it. However much it is denied, an ancient system of bondage, with slaves passed on from generation to generation, still plainly exists." Steady progress in Mali and Mauritania, The Economist
  31. ^ Slavery: Mauritania's best kept secret
  32. ^ Segal, p.206, in "Islam's Black Slaves: The Other Black Diaspora," quoted by Suzy Hansen of on 5 April 2001 - . The book cite is Ronald Segal (2002)
  33. ^ The Middle East Quarterly. December 1999, Vol.6:Number 4. John Eibner, “My career redeeming slaves”
  34. ^ Islam and Slavery
  35. ^ "Curse Of Slavery Haunts Sudan". CBS News. 25 January 1999. 
  36. ^ "Danforth to be named U.S. envoy to Sudan". CNN. 4 September 2001. Retrieved 23 May 2010. 
  37. ^ . [dead link]
  38. ^ Jok Madut Jok (2001), p.3
  39. ^ War and Genocide in Sudan
  40. ^ The Lost Children of Sudan
  41. ^ Slavery in Ghana. The Trokosi Tradition

External links

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