Every year, the UN invites government agencies, NGOs, artists, students, and educators to organize events that support the theme of the celebration. Artists, musicians, cultural organizations, and theatre companies stage events and performances to express their resistance against slavery. On this day, educators, governments, and organizations enlighten people about the events that transpired during the transatlantic slave trade.
Also, they speak about its consequences. The UN set this day to also celebrate people who worked hard to abolish the slave trade In Africa, the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition was first celebrated in Senegal on August 23, 1999. This year’s theme is “Ending Slavery’s Legacy of Racism: A Global Imperative for Justice.”
Indigenous Slavery in Africa
Even before the transatlantic slave trade, there had always been an indigenous internal aspect of slavery in Africa. This had to do with the need for labor mainly for the farms, mines, fisherfolks, and so on. What made internal slavery peculiar was that people also needed slaves as wives. So, women were mainly enslaved for marriage and to help with household chores. There were slave markets where Africans were sold.
Women always fetched a higher price than men. The Whites would marry African women, have children with them and those kids became part of the family. Men were mainly sold across the Atlantic to go and do the back-breaking labor. The coming of the transatlantic slave trade intensified the quest to buy and sell Africans. In Africa, people that were conquered by colonial rulers were easily sold as slaves in the West. Prisoners of war were exchanged for ritual and other purposes.
Origin of Transatlantic Slave TradeThe remembrance of the slave trade celebration offers an opportunity to reflect on the roots of the slave trade. The origins of the transatlantic slave trade can be traced to Cabo Verde Island, which is Africa’s most western point. It is located about 500 km off the coast of Senegal and lies on the Atlantic Ocean. In 1462, about 100 Portuguese and Spanish settlers arrived on the island, which was uninhabited at the time. Portuguese built settlements in Cabo Verde. They grew crops for themselves and also reared domestic animals.
But they also wanted to make money. So, they decided to plant crops like sugarcane and cotton for export, and for that, they needed an unpaid labor force. These Europeans discovered Africa as they searched for labor. So, thousands of Africans were brought in from some of the main communities of West Africa. However, the supply of cotton and foodstuff from Cabo Verde was not profitable enough for the Portuguese settlers.
Subsequently, they turned to two other activities – repairing ships and selling enslaved Africans to America and Europe. At the time, there was a high demand for enslaved workers in the Caribbean. Also, Cabo Verde was easy to access from all directions from the Atlantic Ocean. The strategic location of the island saw it become the first maritime hub of the transatlantic slave trade. Historians suggest that underdevelopment in Africa is a consequence of the slave trade. By taking away the strongest and the youngest from Africa, the continent was stripped of its ability to develop.
Powerful nations on earth grew richer and stronger on the profits of the slave trade. According to Al Jazeera, more than 12 million men, women, and children were forcibly transported from Africa on slave ships particularly to North America and South America.
Today, countries across the world have outlawed slave trade. But even as we commemorate the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, the truth is that slavery is still thriving. Modern slavery commonly takes the form of forced labor, unpaid labor, domestic servitude, and human trafficking.
Victims of Modern Slavery
Let’s take an in-depth look at two victims of slavery in recent years.
Alima Bonsa is a native of Burkina Faso. She alleges that Allen Stack trafficked her from her country to the United States. Stack visited Burkina Faso in 2001 where he met Bonsa. He got interested in her and afterward decided to ask her hand in marriage. She opposed the idea of marrying him but her family was for it. Following the consent of her people, Allen married Alima who was aged 18 at the time.
While everyone thought that Alima was very lucky to marry a White, she was not. Her troubles started on their first night when Stack raped her. Then, he forced her to move to Philadelphia, US, then to Italy, back to the US, then to Montreal, Canada, and lastly to New York, US.
Stack acquired a farm in Old Chatham, New York. In 2010, he took Alima’s mum and two sisters to the US. Two years later, he brought her niece. He also brought her brother to the US in 2015. All including Alima were subjected to forced labor on the farm. Alima worked from morning to evening with little or no pay. Besides being forced to work, Alima alleges that Stack really abused them physically.
In 2017, Alima attempted to get her birth certificate, passport, and other documents from Stack but she wasn’t successful. To disconnect completely from Stack, Alima filed for divorce and Order of Protection. Many Black women in America have been enslaved, silenced, dismissed, and ignored, like Alima Bonsa.
Ashu Kelly is a human trafficking survivor from Cameroon. After school, she developed a zeal for making money and living a good life. This desire led her to seek working opportunities in Kuwait. She got into contact with a pastor who alleged to have helped many Cameroonian girls secure good jobs in Kuwait. Kelly says that she was ready to do anything genuine to make money. She explains,
“I felt like going to work over there in Kuwait would probably give me more money to probably further my education and take care of my family.”
So, she worked and saved part of the money needed to facilitate her travel. The pastor promised to cater for the balance. They also agreed that she would work for two months and pay back the pastor. After getting the money, the clergyman purported to have secured a supermarket job for her. Subsequently, Kelly traveled to Kuwait and she was really happy.
Upon arrival in Kuwait, she got the shocker of her life after realizing she had been hired to work as a house help. She says, “I was confused, devastated, shocked…but there was nothing I could do because my passport was already taken from me and I didn’t even know my way around.”
Months of Labor without Pay
She decided to try and cope with the job. She started working and by the third month, she hoped to get her salary, that is, after paying her travel facilitation costs. But the employer didn’t pay her anything. After asking for the same in the fourth month, she was told her salary would come after the end of her two-year contract. She tried to plead for regular pay but all her pleas fell on deaf ears. She was told no pay would come if she wasn’t ready to work for two years.
Kelly contacted the pastor who facilitated her travel to just let him know the situation. The man of God told her to simply do what the employer says. At that point, she realized even the pastor was not on her side. The man of the house was a drug addict. He used to beat his wife. Worse still, he used to seduce Kelly whenever his wife was not around. He even beat her up after refusing to sleep with him. After working for about six months without a salary, she left the house.
She sought help from the housemaid’s office and got deployed in an eight-story building that housed 23 people. While her deployment marked the end of seduction and beating, it was the beginning of hard labor without pay. She was supposed to clean the entire building, wash everyone’s clothes, cook for them, and so on. After working for six months without a salary, she couldn’t bear any more.
Again, she quit the second job and sought a better placement from the housemaid’s office. In the third house, she didn’t stay for long because every man in that house – from the father of the house to his son – wanted to sleep with her. She managed to run away and luckily, she connected with an activist who later on took her to the immigration office. That’s how she managed to get back to Cameroon.
Victims of modern slavery such as Bonsa and Kelly are coming out to seek help and justice as well as warn others about the danger of falling into the hands of traffickers. Even as the world marks this year’s Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition celebrations, governments should be reminded to take action and enforce slavery laws effectively.
Transatlantic Slavery vs Modern Slavery
The transatlantic slave trade was more or less a legal business that was widely perpetrated by Europeans and Americans. It largely took a triangular shape between America, Africa, and Europe. Ships from Europe sailed to Africa and took men and women. They then sailed across the Atlantic Ocean shipping Africans to America to work as slaves.
The journey was dangerous and the general conditions of ships were poor. Besides, sailing across the Atlantic Ocean took up to eight weeks. During every journey, some lives were lost. On arrival, Africans were traded for different products such as cotton, rice, tobacco, coffee, and sugar that were produced in the US. Some Africans were sailed to Europe and traded there.
The transatlantic slave trade continued for about 400 years after which it was abolished around 1807 onwards. While the slavery of the past mainly involved trading Africans across the US and Europe, modern slavery is widespread across the world.
According to Emily Smith, a Curator of modern slavery at the International Slavery Museum, contemporary slavery is a crime that takes two forms – means and service. It involves, “holding of someone through means of actual, or the threat of, physical and psychological violence to make them provide a service for benefit. A service may be one of labor, sexual, or a criminal nature for example.”
Today, human trafficking is one of the most common forms of modern slavery. Many African men and women are recruited or transported by force or through deception and psychological manipulation for exploitation overseas. Exploitation takes many forms such as domestic servitude, sexual purposes, organ harvesting, labor, and so on. To such people, their cry with regard to the remembrance of the slave trade is for governments to offer them justice.
Technology Facilitates Modern Slavery
The modern-day world is characterized by a wide range of technological products. The most common are laptops and smartphones. These are offering exploitive opportunities in contemporary slavery. Human traffickers use them to create false job adverts and make quick illegal deals.
Moreover, they recruit desperate Africans through fraudulent job promises. Using such offers, they lure people to travel legally and willingly across borders. Exploitation begins during the journey or upon arrival. Technology has also enhanced transportation across the world. Today, humans are trafficked faster and often more safely.
Slavery is illegal virtually in every country across the world. Nonetheless, cases of modern slavery are witnessed now and then particularly in Africa. Many enslaved workers continue to suffer in the hands and homes of merciless and careless masters. Some choose to remain silent for fear of losing their lives.
The Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition celebration is perhaps a great way to remind authorities to effectively enforce laws against slavery. But do you think modern slavery is worse than the pre-colonial era? We would love to hear from you. Share your thoughts in the comments section below.