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Slavery in Africa: Alive and Well
(Written May 10, 2001)

In the eyes of most Americans, slavery is a relationship defined in black and white terms in the truest sense of the phrase, with the former suffering mightily at the hands of the latter.

How, then, should we deal with the story of the MV Etireno, the ship that made international headlines when it disappeared amid allegations that it harbored dozens of child slaves before surfacing in Benin?

The plight of the Etireno has made it clear that the slave trade is alive and well in Africa, with a most ironic of twists: the participants in the trade are almost exclusively native Africans.  The Etireno is owned by Nigerian soccer player Jonathan Akpoborie, who was suspended by his German team pending his ability to clear his name in this matter.  His claim that he was unaware that his ship could be involved in a slave ring is either a blatant lie or admission of gross irresponsibility on his part.   Either way, this discovery is quite unsettling to many African-Americans, who already think of Africa's development as having been extensively damaged by centuries of the European slave trade and shudder at the thought of their continental family being exploited by their own.

It is perhaps because both the victims and masterminds behind the trade are black that the resurgence of slavery has failed to register on the international radar to this point, since intraracial bondage lacks the titillation factor of white-black slavery.  Thousands of children are sent off into lives of forced labor in cocoa plantations, oil fields, and domestic work each year, some of whom are enticed by morally bankrupt family members promising educational opportunities.  

Yet unlike the intense scrutiny that accompanies human tragedies in Europe, this issue has been allowed to go relatively undetected.  Even now, the positive spin being put on the Etireno is that it contained "only" thirty one suspected child slaves. 

The response of the African-American community will reveal much about its character.  With the call for reparations growing louder each day, a failure to condemn today's African slave traders as vehemently as their European counterparts of centuries past threatens to paint its supporters as cynical opportunists with a skewed moral compass.  More importantly, remaining silent on this topic would insult the memory of our ancestors, who sacrificed too much for us to look askance when slavery rears its ugly head in our midst.

Copyright 2001 Anthony Lamar Rucker.  All rights reserved.

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