"My Career Redeeming Slaves" by John Eibner, in Middle East Quarterly (Dec. 1999), 1500 Walnut St., Ste. 1050, Philadelphia, Pa. 19102–3523; and "The False Promise of Slave Redemption" by Richard Miniter, in The Atlantic Monthly (July 1999), 77 N. Washington St., Boston, Mass. 02114.
Slavery survives today in Mauritania (see WQ, Winter ’98, p. 140) and Sudan, Africa’s largest country. Indeed, chattel slavery, which had been suppressed in Sudan by the British, has been "experiencing a great revival" there, writes Eibner, an official with the Zurich-based Christian Solidarity International (CSI).
Islamic fundamentalists "gain[ed] the upper-hand in Khartoum" in the mid-1980s, he says, and set about subduing mostly Christian and animist southern Sudan. Slavery returned, as armed Baqqara Arab tribesmen raided the villages of black Dinkas, killing men and enslaving many women and children. After the radical National Islamic Front seized full power in Khartoum in 1989, Eibner says, slavery became "an instrument of a state-sponsored jihad." Today, he estimates, there are about 100,000 chattel slaves in Sudan--while many other Sudanese are in "concentration camps... and in militant Qur’anic schools, where boys train to become mujahidun (warriors of jihad)."
What is to be done? In late 1995, Eibner’s organization began "redeeming" Sudanese slaves, that is, buying their freedom through Muslim Arab intermediaries who usually pose as slave owners. By last October, CSI, paying $50 or more per slave, had freed 15,447 to return to their homes. But the slave raids in Sudan continue.
CSI has run into criticism, not only from Khartoum (which denies there is any slavery in Sudan and charges CSI with kidnapping), but from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which has called buying slaves "absolutely intolerable." Miniter, a Washington-based writer, argues that the practice, though well intended, is counterproductive: "Slave redeemers enrich every element of the trade: raiders, owners, and traders.... In effect the redeemers are keeping prices high and creating a powerful incentive for raids."
Antislavery activist Michael Horowitz, director of the Hudson Institute’s Project for International Religious Liberty, told Miniter that slave redemption "may not be the answer to the problem, but it is the answer to many mothers’ prayers." Miniter, however, believes that "public policy requires a focus on the larger interest. With good reason, the
U.S. government does not negotiate with terrorists or pay ransom to kidnappers.... Fighting slavery is not a task for sentimentalists." One effective measure that could be taken, in his view, if outside governments had the will and Sudanese rebels the tools, would be to cut the rail link between Khartoum and the regime’s southern stronghold of Wau. Without the train, Miniter says, slave raiders could not move large numbers of slaves north.