Slavery is rooted in Sudan's history, and is part of its war-stricken present. Because of its emotional potency, it has also become an object of particular attention and debate in the international media, sometimes to the exclusion of other aspects of Sudan's prolonged civil war. This short report aims to outline how slavery has re-emerged as a consequence of government conduct of the war and inflammation of racial and religious hostility, and to highlight some of the subject's hidden complexities.
Actual enslavement is the most extreme manifestation of a range of opportunistic practices including abduction, kidnapping, hostage-taking and forced labour, taking place against a background of massive destruction of homes and livelihoods. Both sides in the war have committed such abuses; both have conscripted young teenagers to fight. Slavery stands out in this pattern of dehumanisation, in being imposed exclusively on southerners by northerners. Top
Since the mid-1980s governments in Khartoum have provided automatic weapons and vehicles for local militias, to create a "buffer zone" against rebel forces in the south. These militias raid civilian villages, killing, looting and seizing captives, some of whom are enslaved. While the governments can not be described as having directly participated in slavery, they have engineered and profited from the social chaos out of which slavery has reappeared.
The current government in Khartoum, led by General Omar Hassan al-Bashir and the National Islamic Front, has been more ruthless and systematic than its predecessors in many ways. However, as this report seeks to demonstrate, there are dangers in singling it out for blame over slavery, which reappeared several years before General Bashir seized power in 1989. Both civilian and military governments of the last ten years have shown extreme reluctance, when confronted with evidence of slavery, to investigate fully. Top
Although the scale of actual slave-taking is far smaller than it was a hundred years ago, and it represents only a fraction of the human rights abuses now prevalent in the country, its revival exposes problems that must be acknowledged and wounds that must be healed if Africa's largest country is to find lasting peace.
The antagonistic language of slavery permeates social attitudes at all
levels in Sudan. Quotations from a variety of contemporary sources, including
Sudanese poetry and song lyrics, give an indication of how deeply it affects
the psyche of the country.Top