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Opinions of Saturday, 25 May 2002

Columnist: Abudu, Dr. Paul B.

The Business of Slave Trade in th Sudan

Foreign individuals, non-profit humanitarian organizations and businesspersons have on many occasions taken any conflict or human mishap in Africa as a venue of creating wealth for themselves. This happened in many African countries and is not limited to the issue of famine, political unrest, civil war in which the natural resources of the country is taken advantage of. Diamond and Gold dealings are a matter of public information. Some have taken the issue of civil war as a way of creating a “hoax” of slave trading. These individuals or non-profit organizations have raised millions of dollars from sympathetic westerners and used it for their own benefits and as a means of livelihood. Many organizations that have been instantly created to champion the cause of these issues can be cited endlessly.

This article will specifically concentrate on the issue of slave trade in the Sudan and the role of Christian Solidarity International. This is a Swiss based so-called charitable organization. It has raised millions of dollars for the main purpose of buying Sudanese slaves as a way of their redemption. This organization has decided that to resolve the so-called slave trading in the Sudan, they have to pay the slave traders to free the slaves. The fundraiser based in the United States is one Mr. Jim Jacobson. The payment for the purchase of slaves in led by one Mr. John Eiber.

The issue of slave trading in the Sudan has received a worldwide attention of unbelievably. As a result and concern of this issue, the United States of America organized a team to visit Sudan in April 2002 to investigate the allegations of slavery and abductions. Human rights organizations have accused the Sudanese Government of allowing abduction of civilians in rebellious southern Sudan for slavery. The US investigative group of experts is composed of from Britain, Italy, Norway and France and was led by Mr. Penn Kemble; former U.S. Agency for International Development and it included Mr. George Moose, a former assistant Secretary of State for Africa. It must be noted here that there is no African on this team. It is all foreign. This means that there is no African anywhere in the world that is an expert on the Sudan. The report of the investigation is yet to be published.

The Washington Post reported (February 26, 2002) that international outrage over the slave practice generated a surge of support for the rebels, especially among U.S. Christian groups and African Americans. Millions of dollars were raised in grass-roots campaigns, and then carried into Southern Sudan by emissaries to buy the so-called slaves.

The process goes as follows. A Western visitor meets in a remote village with a man whose face is obscured by a turban – the middleman, an Arab trader who has smuggled the slaves from captivity in the north. Between them are stacks of local currency. Under a nearby tree, scores – and hundreds – of children and women wait to be told they are now free.

CBS News had carried the story on two occasions in its nightly newscast. CBS in its inquisitiveness and aggressive investigative reporting has reported in its program 60 Minutes II (April 15,2002) that these scenes are a hoax. In fact, the video scenes amounts to nothing but a hoax. In fact, Mr. Dan Rather admitted that they “have been taken”. CBS interviewed those key participants in the matter and each has its own statement to make. For purposes of clarity, the full report by CBS 60 Minutes II is hereby reproduced:

60 Minutes II: Slave Trade

May 15, 2002

More than a century after President Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, another American has been making headlines trying to do the same thing on the continent where American slavery had its roots.

In Sudan, John Eibner has become an international celebrity by buying back slaves, using millions of dollars donated by thousands of people. But the donors may not be getting what they are paying for, and their good deeds may be making matters worse. Dan Rather reports.

Eibner estimates he has freed some 60,000 slaves. His work has been chronicled in newspapers and on TV screens around the world. Since he began his crusade in 1995, he has recruited the help of the media.

It was these scenes of mass redemptions that prompted fourth-grade teacher Barb Vogel and her students near Denver to write letters and collect money after school for slave redemptions. Vogel even went to Sudan in 1998 and says the money her students raised helped free 4,300 slaves in the eight days she was there.

“Once you see man's inhumanity to man, it changes you,” Vogel tells Rather. “I have to keep that pushed so far back in my mind, what I saw, and what I heard, because I can't believe that people can do what they've done to these people, and to these children.”

But what has been done to these people and to these children may not be what it appears. One insider has come forward with claims that the scenes of mass redemptions seen around the world are a hoax.

“It's a show. It's a circus, it's a staged event,” says Jim Jacobson, who worked for Eibner before becoming a slave redeemer himself. Like Eibner, Jacobson had to work with a rebel army to find the slaves and free them. The Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army - the SPLA - provides the planes and protection, the intermediaries and the interpreters for the short time that slave redeemers are on the ground.

“We got up there, and there was a botched radio communication,” Jacobson says of one “redemption.”

“The word did not get there in time. The kids weren't waiting for us. I said, ‘Where are the children?’ And they said, ‘Oh-- just wait-- or, you know, just go over here and meet with the village leader and-- you know, we-- we'll find the-- the slaves.’"



Then, Jacobson says, he watched the SPLA handlers round up children in the village and escort them over by the tree.

“Instant slaves,” he says. “Kids of the village. Kids that were just playing around. I mean you know, I just wanted to cry.”

Who is to be believed?

Jacobson and Eibner both are Christian human rights workers who found their cause in Sudan after civil war broke out between the government in the north - controlled by fundamentalist Muslims - and the rebels in the south, made up mostly of Christians. Both say they were compelled to act when up to two million men women and children were killed by bullets and famine and thousands of the southern survivors were taken as slaves.

Eibner, working for a Swiss-based charity called Christian Solidarity International, came up with the idea of paying to free the slaves. Jim Jacobson was his American fundraiser.

Eibner dismisses Jacobson as a disgruntled former associate out to discredit him.

“I don't regard him as a credible source at all,” Eibner says “He went off on his own, never having been to Sudan before. Not having any real contacts himself. And I can well imagine that he got himself into a very difficult situation But there's no reason why we should be- held accountable for what somebody else has done.”

A civil war, fear and starvation compel villagers to be silent. But Roman Catholic missionary Mario Riva lived in Sudan for 24 years, saving the living, burying the dead and learning the local Dinka language. He says the translators he saw at an Eibner redemption purposely misinterpreting the words.

“For example,” Father Riva says, “I tell him, ‘Please, ask the people if they are-- they were slaves, or they are slaves or not.’ And the translator says, ‘Are you coming from home?’ And they all say yes. And the white man sees the faces, and the heads saying yes. But he doesn't know what for.”

He says the slave “traders” are local people given money to round up villagers and bring them to “redemptions.” As for the people who may be playing the part of a slave, they may get a few coins to fill an empty belly.

Eibner says the criticism is unfounded: “I'm absolutely sure that what we do is credible, that money that is sent to us for this purpose is used for that purpose, and that women and children are freed from the terrible abuse, the rape, the beatings, the forcible conversions, all of the horrors that are an inherent part of slavery in Sudan.”

But if Eibner’s critics are right, all of his millions in dollars of donations may be creating a larger market for real slaves.

“Historically we know that you start paying to get people back, that just sends a message, ‘Well, let's take some more and maybe-- we'll get some more money,’" says Carol Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF, the U.N. agency that helps Third World children. She says Eibner has indeed redeemed real slaves but nowhere near the number that he claims. But she also says he is creating “much more slavery than existed before."

Eibner denies this saying slavery in Sudan is primarily driven, not by supply and demand, but by political, ideological and military forces.

But Father Riva thinks Eibner and the others must know that a scam is occurring.

“They know,” he says. “They want to save the Sudanese. But this is the wrong way.”




The clear evidence from the above interviews and video scripts is that the slaves weren’t slaves at all, but people gathered locally and instructed to pretend they were returning from bondage. Imposters appeared in the role of the Arab middlemen.

If slavery is an anathema in the modern world, why is it that the slave traders who are paid for the purchase of these so-called slaves are not arrested on the spot? Why buy slaves and let them go back to the villages and only to be sold back to the slave traders. This has become a recycled operation. For more detailed information read the Washington Post of February 26, 2002. This is a first class hoax beyond descriptions.

The point here is these so-called charitable organizations that raise lots of money use it for their own benefits under the pretext of aiding the needy in Africa should be investigated. This organization Christian Solidarity International should be investigated in respect of their role in this slave trade hoax. Those who contribute money should also seek accountability and records of the organizations to which such contributions are made. This should go across the board to all international charitable organizations that seek funds for purposes of aiding famine, conflict, etc in Africa. Their funds are misused and they need to know.

The Christian Solidarity International has claimed that it has purchased over 60,000 slaves since 1995 at a cost of between $33 to $50 per slave. The CBS video shows how the transaction takes place. It is so elementary and fraudulent that the apparent fraud is unmistakably there.

The credibility of the Government of Sudan is at stake and not only that Africa suffers severely from these reports. Therefore, the OAU or the African Union (AU) should aggressively attack these issues to clear the good name of Africa. These are issues confronting Africa and should be handled by Africans.

The OAU or the EU should appoint a high power African investigative team to look into this very critical matter and issue a public report of international credibility.

Dr. Paul B. Abudu
Founding Executive Director
African Institute of Strategic Studies
(Website:http://aiss40.tripod.com Email: aiss40@hotmail.com)
Views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of Ghanaweb.