"The Slave Trader: He sits opposite us on a low bench. He refuses to give his real name out of fear for his life, he says, and asks to be called Adam el-Haj. He also refuses to have his face photographed.
Since 1991, he says, he has freed 473 slaves, mainly women and children, returning them to their families for the set fee of 5 cows or the cash equivalent. An estimate 4000 Dinkas have been seized locally since the fighting started in the mid 1980s between the Islamic fundamentalist government of the north, and the non-Muslim African rebels of the south, according to local officials.
As we talk, a local official hands us a list of 59 children abducted in a raid on the village of Gokinacar in 1987 who have yet to be returned. The ' regime in Khartoum had made no effort to account for the whereabouts of these children, the official says. El Haj has 22 "associates" who scour the northern countryside looking for slaves.Top
"We swore on the holy Koran or the Bible to be honest and to secure the return of the abducted children to their parents," he says. That buyback system, he explains, was arranged between the chiefs of the Dinkas in the south and the northern Rizeigat tribe, to which El Haj belongs.
In exchange for sanctioning the return of the slaves, the Rizeigat have the right to graze their cattle on Dinka land during the dry season. Top
"I have chosen this job not [NOT] because it is profitable," says El Haj. "I have chosen it because I have 200 head of cattle. This job strengthens the actual understanding between the tribes. It allows our cattle and our tribe to go to the Dinka land in peace. Without my doing this, the Dinkas would not let the Rizeigat cattle to graze on their land."
Once he locates the children, he says, he must persuade the slave owners
to release them - for a price. If the owner refuses, El Haj reports this
to the Rizeigat chief."