News/Sudan: Slave trade thrives in Sudan

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Subject: News/Sudan: Slave trade thrives in Sudan
From: Melanie Orhant (
Date: Wed Feb 02 2000 - 16:29:49 EST

                          Slave trade thrives in Sudan

OTC 1/29/00 3:38 AM

 Johannesburg (Mail and Guardian, January 28, 2000) - In 1994 Christian
Solidarity International officials discovered a booming slave trade in
Sudan. Here they tell the stories of some of the slaves for whom they
bought freedom
   Since 1995, an organisation based in Switzerland, called Christian
Solidarity International (CSI), has spent $1-million redeeming 20 000
Dinka slaves, captured in Southern Sudan, in the wake of the war the
government of Sudan is waging against the south.
   The slaves are captured in raids on their villages which may or may not
form part of the Khartoum government's war effort. Freelance raiders,
aware that the government won't ask too many questions about raids into
the territory of the Dinka people - from whom Khartoum's enemy, the
Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA), draws many of its recruits -
take advantage of the situation to capture slaves.
   The slave raiders prefer women and boys. In order to catch them, they
kill the men and burn down their villages. When the women and children run
into the bush, they are chased and captured. They are made to carry the
"spoils" of the raid, usually sacks of grain, to the north. They are then
sold to wealthy Arab families.
   Arab families with large farms and plantations in the Arab areas
immediately to the north of Southern Sudan may buy between 50 and 100
slaves. Families buy women to be used as "concubines" who perform farm and
household tasks in addition to providing sexual services. If the women are
young enough, they are genitally mutilated as soon as they reach puberty,
so as to make them acceptable to their Arab masters.
   Boys are circumcised. In a bid to "Arabise" them thoroughly, the boys
are taught to recite the Qur'an by heart. They are, however, not taught to
read or write Arabic.
   CSI uses networks of "retrievers" - Arab traders who live just to the
north of the Dinka, in Darfur and Kordofan, and who operate in secret - to
buy back the slaves. The organisation pays 50 000 Sudanese pounds, or $50,
for each redeemed slave. At current market prices, that also happens to be
the price of two goats.
   In its last redemption trip, which occurred as recently as December
1999, CSI bought back 5E000 slaves from Bar-ez-Ghazal. They are now being
reintegrated into their Dinka communities.
   The Sudanese government denies that slavery goes on in its territory.
It describes the slaves as "abducted persons" and says it puts them in
"peace camps". But slaves are not only seized during village raids - they
are also taken from the camps. Most of those in the camps have been taken
during government army operations in areas sympathetic to the SPLA.
   The Sudanese government is very hostile towards CSI. Last year, it got
the United Nations, two of whose rapporteurs are reported to have
concluded that slavery does occur in Southern Sudan, to withdraw the
observer status it had given CSI. This was because CSI asked SPLAleader
John Garang to testify to a UN committee on slavery and Garang spoke in
his own name, instead of in the name of CSI.
   CSI operation raisees many moral issues. Organisations like the United
Nations Children's Fund argue that it is morally wrong to pay for the
slaves, because it condones or promotes slavery. I went to Zurich to put
the question directly to CSI's president, Hans Stuckelberger, and his two
operatives who actually pay the money to the redeemers and free the
   Their answer was unequivocal: if your child, wife or sister had been
captured in a slave raid and you heard you could buy him/her back for $50,
would you be asking this question? They also emphasised that there was no
evidence that buying back the slaves promoted the trade. They were careful
to have each freed slave photographed, so that he/she could not be
recaptured by the "retrievers" and sold. And only "retrievers" trusted by
local communities were used. It would not be in the interest of well-known
"retrievers" to play a double game, as they could easily come to harm at
the hands of the Dinka.
   CSI officials were at pains to explain that the system of slave
redemption was evolved by the Southern Sudanese communities themselves.
   Long-established trade relations exist between the Dinka chiefs and
Arab traders, and the Arab traders, not all of whom approve of the
Khartoum government's military, religious and social policies towards
southerners, offer information and assistance to the raided communities.
The "retrievers" hope that when the war ends and Southern Sudan opens up
once more for trade, the good relations they have cultivated with the
southern people will benefit them financially.
   CSI is a small Christian organisation which grew out of smuggling
Bibles behind the then Iron Curtain. It discovered slavery in Southern
Sudan by accident, when it was the guest of the Khartoum government in
1994. The government wanted to show off its "peace camps", populated by
southerners "displaced" by the war, to the international community. But
CSI obtained information from a southerner working in the hotel where CSI
officials lodged that his village had been burned down and that his mother
had just managed to escape to Khartoum.
   CSI was prompted to ask why the Sudanese government's "peace camps"
were only populated by women and children. The government's answer was
that the men worked in "fields far away" and would return by the time the
CSI officers would have left the camps. This did not satisfy CSI and it
carefully recruited collaborators from within the official party that
accompanied the officials to the camps, from whom true translations of the
stories told by the camp inmates were obtained. There were no men in the
camps, they found, because the men had been killed or imprisoned as
would-be recruits for the SPLA. The women and children could more easily
be acquired when there were no men around.
   Within one year, CSI had gone south, without the Khartoum government's
permission, to investigate the matter further from the areas controlled by
the SPLA. It stumbled upon the small-scale redemption of slaves that the
Dinka chiefs were carrying out whenever they could raise the money. Having
discovered that money could be useful, CSI launched an appeal for funds,
the result of which has enabled it to redeem 20E000 slaves so far, at a
cost of $1-million.
   We met a young woman called Deng. She was enslaved when she was 12 and
hadn't yet reached puberty. It was while she was in the north that she
reached puberty.
   She was forcibly subjected to female genital mutilation, something that
her own people didn't do. She was held down, an old lady came with a knife
and cut her genitals.
   After that, she was used by her master as a concubine. She had a baby
when she was only 14. The baby was six months old when we redeemed her.
   What struck us was how she loved this baby, although its light
complexion served to remind her constantly of the raping to which she had
been subjected. She cuddled her baby tenderly. She clearly demonstrated
the spirit of a Dinka can overcome the enormous psychological torture that
is a part of being a slave in Sudan.
   We heard of another lady who was enslaved with her mother and her two
sisters. The mother and the two sisters went to different masters. One day
her mother and two sisters met at the well where they used to draw water,
and were so excited at meeting together that they tried to flee. We don't
know the circumstances. What we know is that she and 18 others - they were
altogether 21 - were discovered and recaptured. They were publicly
   This woman witnessed the execution of her mother and two of her
sisters. Usually such execution is done by cutting their throats.
   Our most recent trip was in December. Among those we freed was a
50-year-old lady who had lived with her husband and four children before
her village was raided. Her husband and three of the children were killed.
She was captured with her baby. Despite her immense grief, she was forced
to walk ... to the north, carrying sacks of food.
   She spent several years in slavery, during which her child grew up. One
day, as the child was playing with the children of his master, there was a
quarrel, as there would be, between kids. Her master's children reported
her son to their father. The man was greatly angered, and clubbed her
child on the back of the neck with a thick stick. Blood oozed from the
child's nose. He was soon dead in his mother's arms.
   When she protested, the man cut her with a knife. There was nothing she
could do. She was still working for this master when our retriever found
him and paid off her master. Even when she regained her freedom, she still
looked absolutely destitute; almost out of her mind.
   by Cameron Duodo
   Copyright 2000 Mail and Guardian. Distributed via Africa News Online.
    Copyright 2000

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