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Columnist: Francis Mbawini Abugbilla

Slavery in Libya: A shame to Africa and International community

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Slave trade is one of the worst crimes against humanity. The “official” abolition of the practice varied from country to country but generally it ended in the 19th century for most countries. It is, however, disturbing, the resurgence of the practice in modern day Libya.

When the Cable News Network—CNN aired the barbaric practice two weeks ago, I expected at least the usual ineffectual mantra of “We condemn the act in the strongest terms” by our African leaders. This was not the case until during and after the European Union-African Union (EU-AU) in Cote d’Ivoire.

The act has not also received substantial condemnation from many governments in the international community. In trying to fathom the apathetic response to the issue, I had only, one reasonable answer to offer and that is the fact that the manifestation is the child of two parents: corruption and exploitation. These variables are intrinsically intertwined.

The continued exploitation of our natural resources at unfair trade terms is a teething problem that must be addressed if we really want to curb the Europe bound irregular migration characteristic of nations like Mali, Ghana, Nigeria, and Niger, etc.

Statistically speaking, Ghana is the second leading producer of cocoa in the world after Cote d’Ivoire; Niger is among the top 5 nations in the world for uranium production; Nigeria is a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC); and Mali is one of the world’s leading producers of groundnut (peanuts).

These resources, among several others and the enormous untapped human capital possess the abilities to transform resources into finished goods for consumption and exportation. It is sad, however, that young people cannot enjoy the proceeds of these resources due to corruption and exploitation. Africans are just custodians of their own natural resources.

African leaders lack the moral courage to condemn it because they have failed to create jobs for the teeming youth. Exploitation and unfair trade leave African countries with meager proceeds from the resources and with this, corruption also takes its share. Adding more salt to an existing injury, leaders have failed to make conditions favorable for people with entrepreneurial acumen to flourish. Some African countries receive aid or financial assistance with conditions such as a moratorium on public sector employment. How do we expect the ever-growing graduates to make a living? This is inimical to our economic growth and development in many ways. The lack of government support for entrepreneurial development among the youth is a recipe for the mass exodus in search of greener pastures.

Two of my close friends with sharp entrepreneurial skills graduated with BSc in Agribusiness from the University of Ghana in 2014. They have tried many businesses even when they were in school, but their efforts have not yielded any positive results despite the novelty of their ideas. They have frequented ministries and other government agencies to no avail.

Fortunately (and unfortunately), one of their proposals was accepted a for government funded project and they went for a one-week training, but the funding was never released. This example is just a microcosm of a macrocosm. (No politics here because National Democratic Congress and New Patriotic Party actors are the same). This also highlights an acute failure of our systemic structures in tapping into the knowledge passed on to the very citizens they groom academically.

The failure to address the unfair trade regimes, corruption, and the resource cursed syndrome triggers the migration adventure. In some West African countries for example, young university graduates with master’s degrees engage in “Okada” or “Zemidjan” for a living. This is a practice of using a motorcycle as taxi for commercial purposes. The practice is called by different names in different countries.

The sense and feel of failure and unaccomplished dreams can also lay fertile grounds for terrorist recruitment to mention the least. Unemployed young people are susceptible. The adage goes, “The idle mind is the devil’s workshop”. These vulnerable migrants who have found themselves in the hands of their slave masters are not travelling for holidays neither are they travelling on their own volition. Their current predicament can be related significantly to systemic frustration. African governments facilitate the youth exodus. They cannot prevent would-be migrants from traveling but they can provide enabling environment to encourage them to stay at home.

When the African Union called for the assistance to help the stranded migrants who turned slaves, Rwanda is the only country that has responded to host them regardless of their nationalities while Ghana and Nigeria have sent for their citizens. The leadership shown by Rwanda is praiseworthy and should be emulated. Rwanda’s economy is one of the fastest growing economies on the continent even after the genocide in 1994. This speaks volumes about African leadership. President Paul Kagame’s intervention brings back to memory, leaders like Kwame Nkrumah, Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba, among others.

The Libyan authorities are not exonerated of the blame for the inhumane treatment of their fellow human beings. During Qaddafi’s regime, black Africans received some form of maltreatment but not a reduction of human dignity into a commodity. We are witnessing the obnoxious and inhumane treatment of our fellow brothers and sisters partly because Libya is a failed state today.

The EU-AU Summit took place in Abidjan, the economic capital of Cote d’Ivoire from November 29-30, 2017. One of the key topics on the agenda was investing in the youth. This is an opportune time and the summit could not have come at a better time.

I hope that the resolution reached would not be just scraps of paper signed by delegates representing their governments and organizations. Let us stop modern-day slavery, corruption, exploitation and create conditions for entrepreneurs to thrive for our teeming youth to be absorbed.

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