Way back on 10 December, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by which the civilized world and most of mankind accepted that: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
Recent horrifying videos and pictures of slavery and slave trade coming from Libya do not depict Libya as a nation of people with reason and conscience. The barbarism exhibited by that country clearly underscores the point that the protection of human rights and the promotion of universal brotherhood will fail in any unregulated society. The dismantling of the structures of governance and state authority in Libya throws the country to Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature where life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” With three de facto Governments and without a strong central Government in Libya, commitment to international morals and obligations is unimaginable. As the Chinese Philosopher, Mozi, would put it, in such a rudderless society, the custom is everybody according to his moral, and as such, even father and child can fight each other with water, fire and poison.
Therefore, whilst we are shuddering, grieving, horrified and scandalized as a race, there is still the need to note that the problem is not entirely that of the depraved Libyans. The root of the problems is with (1) the political, economic and socio-cultural conditions of the countries from where the victims of the Libyan slave trade and slavery are fleeing; (2) the fact that the United Nations’ systems, African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other international bodies are losing focus and relevance; and (3) Western countries that have become insular and less concerned about the problems of the continent of Africa.
Leadership has failed the continent, and there is no hope for a quick turnaround. There is hardly anywhere on the continent where governance is structured to make human development a priority. Rather, governance is structured to give the elite security and justification for the hijacking of the resources of the state. There is hardly anywhere on the continent where the majority of the resources of the state is not allocated to recurrent expenditure which, in the main, is composed of the salaries and perquisites of the elite. Worse still, a better part of the small percentage left for capital expenditure is lost to corruption.
The resultant effect is that education – which is key and essential to the breaking of the vicious circle of ignorance, poverty and insecurity – is neglected. There is abundant evidence across the globe that not only is education more profitable and reliable than any other natural resource, it also provides the shortest route to development and sustainable prosperity. However, African Governments are, for obvious reasons, more interested in extractive and other natural resources that give them immediate money from which they can easily steal.
With the false pictures of easy money and prosperity for everyone, which they watch on television and the big screen, many of the unemployed, unemployable, uneducated, poorly educated, misinformed and vulnerable victims of poor governance see Europe and America as their saving grace. With no proactive and protective measures by Governments to fend away hawks and human traffickers, these vulnerable elements are exposed to rings of “recruitment, transportation, transfer, habouring or receipt”. Many of these victims are cajoled and smuggled out of their countries through fraud and deception.
The exploitation of these vulnerable persons is not limited to forced labour, bonded labour, debt labour, child labour and slavery. Their ordeal includes prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation, in addition to the removal, manipulation or implantation of organs.
In a video that recently went viral, a Cameroonian man named Bouquet Ismael gave an account of his life as a slave in Libya. The takeaways from his testimony are numerous, and mindboggling. (1) Slave trade and slavery are entrenched – and have been going on for a very long time – in Libya. Slave trade and slavery are so commonplace that the average Libyan home has a private prison for captured black Africans. (2) There are plantation farms in Libya that are dependent on slave labour. (3) There are rebel groups in Libya that are holding hundreds of non-Libyan men and women captive and in hellish bondage. (4) Non-Governmental Organizations are not entirely clean and altruistic in their anti-slavery and anti-slave campaigns in Libya. (5) The Libyan Navy is involved in the slave trade. (6) The CNN documentary is just a tip of the iceberg of the evils that are being committed against black Africans in Libya. A detailed and complete account of the atrocities being committed against black Africans in Libya is capable of instigating a third world war. (7) Slave trade and slavery are egged on by Europeans to dissuade or discourage migrants from migrating to Europe. This, I believe, should be a prompter to investigate the frequent boat accidents through which thousands of migrants have lost their lives. (8) Organ traffickers benefit from the multitude of deaths on the high seas – by harvesting the organs of corpses that are either retrieved from the high seas or those washed ashore by torrents. (9) There are American and French organ merchants, disguising as oil explorers, hovering with boats along the Libyan-European route.
There are many official reports that are corroborative of Bouquet Ismael’s testimony. As far back as May 2015, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) had reported that:
The tragic loss of lives in the Mediterranean sincemid-April highlights the critical importance and urgency of addressing the issue of migrants in transit to Europe, as unseaworthy boats carrying migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees continue to leave the Libyan coast. Despite the escalation of conflict in Libya, migration flows into the country continue amid widespread human rights abuses perpetrated by state and non-state actors against migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees in Libya in a climate of impunity. Those transiting through Libya include individuals seeking economic opportunities as well as people fleeing conflict or persecution.
Against the backdrop of political crisis, armed hostilities, the absence of national asylum legislation and breakdown of law and order, migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees in Libya are at the risk of abuse, including detention in horrific conditions; torture; abduction for ransom; exploitation; and killings.
Libya is only a transit route to Europe – not a destination – for the victims that stray into that country. With the kind of xenophobia and aversion to migrants being exhibited by Europeans, it would not be a surprise if Libyans are not only encouraged but also financed by Europeans to halt the tide of migration from Africa. If Britain, the world’s foremost colonizer, could exit the European Union on account of its aversion to migration, Africans should see the evil trade in Libya as a precursor to – or warning against – the worse treatments that await African migrants in the Western world.
African leaders should also note that human trafficking is a lucrative business. The annual proceeds of human trafficking is in excess of US $150 billion. Thus, stopping or checkmating it is very difficult. Making ad hoc responses to the trade in the form of evacuating those that are fortunate to escape the prisons and farm plantations in Libya may not be greatly helpful. The trade must be fought with the same strength and zest as the fight against terrorism or Ebola. It is beyond the continent to fight the trade; but the continent must be at the vanguard of the fight. The continent must articulate and structure its response to the trade and endeavor to get a buy-in from the rest of the world.
In the meantime, there are some burning questions we cannot afford to ignore. Why does it have to take the CNN to jolt the world to action when the aforementioned report has been there since May 2015? Have there not been pictures of repeated incidents of hundreds of migrants perishing in the ocean in the attempt to cross to Europe from Libya? Where were the following bodies when Libya was perpetuating those atrocities: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); International Organization for Migration (IOM); International Labour Organization (ILO); United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT) and the countless NGOs feeding fat on human trafficking and exploitation? What assurances are being given that the effort to rehumanize Libya and stop it from continuing in the evil trade and slavery would not die as soon as CNN and other international media turn their cameras away from Libya? Are the countries of the affected persons making concrete efforts to comb other countries of the Maghreb for other trapped citizens of theirs?
As a parting note, may it be noted that that Libyan evil trade is one sordid example of the evil impacts of poor leadership on the continent. Africans urgently require an emergency response to leadership in Africa. Though I may not subscribe to Plato’s philosopher king proposition, I think this is the time for Africans to establish and maintain political structures and mechanisms that will throw up intelligent leaders with tested, verifiable and proven commitment to the good of the majority of the people.