Africa's invisible slaves

By TIM SANDLER  |  November 14, 2006

In a March 1 raid of the southeast village of Dere, one of several southeast Nuba villages attacked by government forces in the last few months, Nur says more than 300 women and children were abducted.  Some were taken to Kharoum.  Many of the children, he says, were herded to a slave market in El Lagowa, a village also perilously close to the government militias’ train route.

Recognizing that exchanging money, guns, or livestock for slaves is the only certain way to retrieve their people, a loose coalition of Sudanese churches has formed to buy back slaves form the militia and traders; they then return the captives to their families or find homes for them. 

The reverend Macram Gassis, an exiled Catholic bishop from Sudan who has covertly returned there three times in the last two years, has used such buyback programs to help liberate more than 50 children abducted by the military government and Arab traders. 

“Slavery is not something of the past,” Gassis says.  “It is a reality that we are experiencing in the Sudan.  And, unfortunately, the civilized world is either horrified and they don’t want to hear about it, or they are ashamed and they choose to ignore it, or they have insufficient information.  But I think any person who hears about slavery should be touched.  It is a sin against humanity.  And the government’s hands are dipping with the blood of innocent people.”

The vitriol in Gassis’ voice amplifies the gentle desperation felt by many of the weary, yet patient villagers here in southern Sudan.  For now, the rainy season has given some residents respite; torrential downpours often leave the roads and trails into villages impassable.  But sure as the dry season will return, so too will the raids and abductions.  And if, as it is said, slavery is the shadow in man’s soul, Sudan will endure as Africa’s heart of darkness. 

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