Civil war has raged in Sudan off and
on between the Sudanese government and rebels in southern
Sudan since 1955. After a ten year period of peace the conflict
reignited in1983, and the war in the south has been fought
since then by the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).
(1) Since the mid-1990s several organisations and anti-Sudanese
activists have claimed that as a consequence of this war
there is a flourishing "slave trade" in Sudan in which the
Sudanese government and its northern forces raid southern
villages and "enslave" Dinka tribesmen, women and children.
Groups such as Christian Solidarity International (CSI)
and British activists such as Baroness Cox claim that the
people involved in the "slave trade" are governments forces
including northern Arab "slave traders" and "militiamen".
These groups and activists then further allege that in the
course of visits to parts of southern Sudan they have engaged
in "slave redemptions" whereby southern Sudanese tribesmen,
women and children are supposedly "bought back" from northern
Sudanese tribesmen said to have abducted them. These groups
claim to have "bought" back or "redeemed" thousands of slaves,
often several hundred at a time, from Arab traders. (2)
There is a considerable body of independent opinion that
finds these claims deeply questionable. It should perhaps
firstly be noted that the claims made by Baroness Cox and
CSI have long been criticised by human rights organisations
and activists. Amongst these have been the United Nations
and its agencies such as UNICEF. (3) The respected human
rights expert, and Sudan specialist, Alex de Waal, while
co-director of the human rights group African Rights, has
also said of the claims made by Baroness Cox that:
"(O)vereager or misinformed human rights advocates in Europe
and the US have played upon lazy assumptions to raise public
outrage. Christian Solidarity International, for instance,
claims that "Government troops and Government-backed Arab
militias regularly raid black African communities for slaves
and other forms of booty". The organization repeatedly uses
the term "slave raids", implying that taking captives is
the aim of government policy. This despite the fact that
there is no
evidence for centrally-organized, government-directed slave
raiding or slave trade." (4)
De Waal further observed:
"the issue is a slippery one: slavery slides off into issues
such as hostage taking. The difference between a hostage
and a slave is important. It shows how Sudanese history
must be seen in its local context, and how it is a mistake
to impose stereotypes from elsewhere. It also points to
solutions: intertribal negotiations rather than
indiscriminate 'buying back' - which runs the risk of inflating
the ransom beyond what families can afford and, even worse,
creating an incentive for further raiding and abductions."
Peter Verney, the author of an official 1997 Anti-Slavery
International report on allegations of Sudanese slavery,
has also commented on allegations of government involvement
"[T]he charge that government troops engage in raids for
the purpose of eizing slaves is not backed by the evidence."
The claims made by CSI and Baroness Cox have also clearly
been of concern to groups such as Anti-Slavery International,
the world's oldest human rights organisation. In a submission
to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva,
Anti-Slavery International publicly stated:
"There is a danger that wrangling over slavery can distract
us from abuses which are actually part of government policy
- which we do not believe slavery to be. Unless accurately
reported, the issue can become a tool for indiscriminate
and wholly undeserved prejudice against Arabs and Muslims.
[WE] ARE WORRIED THAT SOME MEDIA REPORTS OF "SLAVE MARKETS",
STOCKED BY ARAB SLAVE TRADERS - WHICH [WE] CONSIDER DISTORT
REALITY - FUEL SUCH PREJUDICE." (7) (emphasis added)
The judgement of some of those most vocal in allegations
of "slavery" and "slave redemption" in Sudan has been called
into question. As a general view on Baroness Cox's reliability
on Sudan, it is worth nothing that in Andrew Boyd's sympathetic
biography of her, 'Baroness Cox: A Voice for the Voiceless',
Dr Christopher Besse of Medical Emergency Relief International
(Merlin), a humanitarian aid organisation with which Cox
is closely associated (Dr Besse and Baroness Cox are both
trustees of Merlin), is quoted as saying:
"She's not the most popular person in Sudan among the humanitarian
aid people. She has her enemies, and some of them feel she
is not well-enough informed. She recognizes a bit of the
picture, but not all that's going on." (8)
For someone who is even said by her friends to only recognise
"a bit of the picture, but not all that's going on" to be
making the sort of claims she has on Sudan is regrettable.
The Times newspaper was perhaps somewhat unkinder when in
reviewing her activities in Sudan it stated that "Cox means
well but looks ever so slightly unhinged". (9)
It is not just Baroness Cox's judgement that has been called
into question. The veteran southern Sudanese politician
Bona Malwal directly challenged claims made by Baroness
Cox to have "redeemed slaves". In a letter to her Malwal
"On at least three different occasions, you have come into
Twic County without the permission of the local leadership,
using Messrs Stephen Wondu and Martin Okeruk [SPLA officials]
as your license to do so. You then say each time that your
mission was to redeem slaves and that indeed you have done
so, when in each instance this had not been the case. The
latest episode was in October  when you landed at
Mayen Abun without even the courtesy of informing the local
I know that you have put out for propaganda, and maybe for
fundraising purposes as well, that you redeemed slaves at
Mayen Abun in October when nothing of the sort happened.
I sincerely hope that this type of game stops...I sincerely
hope that you do see the harm that could be caused and that
you will refrain from this activity in the future. " (10)
Malwal's standing within the southern Sudanese community
is unassailable. Malwal is the publisher of the 'Sudan Democratic
Gazette'. He is a former Minister of Information and Culture
and was the editor of the 'Sudan Times', the largest English-language
newspaper in Sudan before 1989. He went into exile when
the present government in Sudan came to power a decade ago,
and teaches international affairs at Oxford University.
Baroness Cox has herself previously described him as "one
of the well-respected elders of the Dinka tribe". (11) The
implications of Bona Malwal's letter to Baroness Cox are
clear and it is for the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.
"SLAVE REDEMPTION" CHALLENGED BY INDEPENDENT SOURCES
With regard to the specific issue of "slave redemption",
one of the few neutral sources against which the claims
made by Christian Solidarity International and Baroness
Cox can be assessed is the report by the Canadian government's
special envoy to Sudan, John Harker, into human rights abuses
in Sudan. The Harker report, 'Human Security in Sudan: The
Report of a Canadian Assessment Mission', was commissioned
by the Canadian government and published in February 2000.
One of the two missions with which John Harker was tasked
"independently investigate human rights violations, specifically
in reference to allegations of slavery and slavery-like
practices in Sudan." (12)
While Harker was critical of many human rights abuses in
Sudan, he clearly questioned claims of large scale redemption.
He specifically touched on the credibility of claims of
large-scale "slave redemption" made by Christian Solidarity
"[R]eports, especially from CSI, about very large numbers
were questioned, and frankly not accepted. Mention was also
made to us of evidence that the SPLA were involved in "recycling"
"Serious anti-abduction activists...cannot relate the claimed
redemptions to what they know of the reality. For example
we were told that it would be hard not to notice how passive
these "slave" children are when they are liberated or to
realize how implausible it is to gather together so many
people from so many locations so quickly - and there were
always just the right number to match redemption funds available!"
The Harker Report also detailed how fraudulent "slave redemptions"
were being used to raise money for the SPLA, money which
he stated is used to purchase arms and ammunition:
"Several informants reported various scenarios involving
staged redemptions. In some cases, SPLM officials are allegedly
involved in arranging these exchanges, dressing up as Arab
slave traders, with profits being used to support the SPLM/A,
buy weapons and ammunition..."
The Harker Report documented the deliberately fraudulent
nature of many "slave redemptions":
"Sometimes a "redeeming group" may be innocently misled,
but other groups may be actively committed to fundraising
for the SPLM/A & deliberately use "slave redemption"
as a successful tactic for attracting Western donors.
"We did speak with an eyewitness who can confirm observing
a staged redemption and this testimony conformed with other
reports we had from a variety of credible sources. The "redeeming
group" knew they were buying back children who had not been
abducted or enslaved. The exchange was conducted in the
presence of armed SPLA guards. The "Arab" middle man/trader
delivering the children for "redemption" was recognized
as a member of the local community even though he was dressed
up in traditional Arab costume for the event." (13)
Evidence of staged "slave redemptions" had started to emerge
several months earlier. In a July 1999 article entitled
'The False Promise of Slave Redemption', published by 'The
Atlantic Monthly', American journalist Richard Miniter provided
unambiguous first hand evidence that there was fraud and
corruption in the process of "slave redemption" in Sudan.
(14) He had visited southern Sudan accompanied in the company
of James Jacobson, the president of Christian Freedom International
to investigate the "redemption" process. Jacobson, a former
Reagan Administration official, had previously served as
Christian Solidarity International's Washington representative.
In 1998, the American branch of Christian Solidarity International
USA went its own way as Christian Freedom International,
with Jacobson at its head. He was an enthusiastic supporter
of "slave redemption" until he actually visited southern
Sudan to see the "slave redemption" situation for himself.
subsequently publicly disowned "slave redemption" because
the financial incentives involved encouraged both the taking
of captives as well as fraud and corruption.
CLEAR SPLA INVOLVEMENT IN "SLAVE REDEMPTION" FRAUD
Miniter and Jacobson made contact with the "Sudanese Relief
and Rehabilitation Association" (SRRA), an arm of the SPLA.
Miniter's article unambiguously documented the involvement
of what he terms "middle level" SPLA/SRRA officials in fraudulently
presenting "slaves" to visiting Western would-be "redeemers".
The following is a direct quote from Miniter's article:
"I witnessed an attempted slave redemption that was unquestionably
problematic during a recent visit to Nyamlell, a large settlement
about fifty miles south of the Bahr al Arab river, in southern
Sudan. Nyamlell has been the location of many slave redemptions
covered by the U.S. media. The night before my visit officials
from the local branch of the Sudanese Relief and Rehabilitation
Association in Lokichokio, Kenya, asked for a meeting with
James Jacobson, who had been hoping to redeem the slaves
in Nyamlell. After half an hour of small talk the officials
got down to business. "How much money are you bringing for
"Four thousand dollars," Jacobson said.
"Ah, that is very helpful. There are forty slave children
to be redeemed."
"Forty children? That would be a hundred dollars each. Don't
other groups pay fifty dollars each?"
"No. Everyone pays a hundred."
"What about Christian Solidarity International?"
"Ah, they are different. They buy in much larger quantities."...
"Jacobson exchanged no money, but two mid-level SRRA officials
insisted on accompanying him and me to Nyamlell. When we
landed on the dirt
runway, a local commissioner named Alev Akechak Jok met
our plane. He refused to make eye contact with the SRRA
officials, and was adamant
about meeting privately with Jacobson and me...The commissioner
offered tea and an admission: "There are no slaves here
for you to buy."....Hadn't the SRRA radioed his village
the previous day and learned that there were forty children
to be freed? He shook his head no.
"As we returned to the airstrip, the SRRA officials rejoined
us. One said that he had just found a trader and ten children
to be redeemed.
Jok suddenly became angry and pulled me aside: the officials
could not hear us over the whirling propeller. "You must
leave now!" he demanded.
Are the children slaves? I asked. "No," he said, "they are
the children of the village." Jok has since been removed
from his post, probably in retaliation for his honesty."
The simple fact that Alev Akechak Jok was punished for his
actions would clearly indicate continuing SPLA involvement
in this fraud, a fraud which has obvious propaganda and
financial advantages to the rebels. Miniter also documented
a further way SPLA officials are involved in fraud with
regard to "slave redemption":
"Corrupt officials set themselves up as bankers and insist
that redeemers exchange their dollars for Sudanese pounds,
a nearly worthless currency...The officials arrange by radio
to have some villages play slaves and some play slave-sellers,
and when the redeemers arrive, the Sudanese pounds are used
to free the slaves. When the redeemers are gone, the pounds
are turned back over to the corrupt officials, who hand
out a few dollars in return. Most of the dollars stay with
officials, who now also have the Sudanese pounds with which
to play banker again."
This is not the first time that an American journalist has
questioned SPLA involvement in the whole issue of "slavery"
and "slavery redemption". William Finnegan, in his article
'The Invisible War', which appeared in 'The New Yorker'
in January 1999, tells of having himself come across a "slave
trader" at Nyamlell similar to the one spoken of by Miniter:
"To me, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the mystery
surrounding Nyamlell's slaver rescuer was his relationship
with the S.P.L.A. If he was in fact a double-dealer, running
a nefarious business, could the local rebels be in league
with his operation? They certainly seemed to endorse his
That the SPLA/SRRA officials have a clear propaganda or
financial interest in presenting these Western visitors
with "slaves" to be bought back is clear. Yet it is the
SPLA that continues to "facilitate" the "slave redemptions"
for groups such as Christian Solidarity and people such
as Baroness Cox.
Several points should be made with regard to the SPLA and
these activists. Firstly, Baroness Cox is an unabashed political
supporter of the SPLA, eager to assist their cause, and
there is no doubt that the allegations of "slavery" in Sudan
advances the SPLA's propaganda campaign against the Khartoum
government. Secondly, one should place on record the SPLA's
capacity to deceive. Dr Peter Nyaba, a SPLA national executive
council member, has described the SPLA's "sub-culture of
lies, misinformation, cheap propaganda and exhibitionism"
vividly: "Much of what filtered out of the SPLM/A propaganda
machinery...was about 90% disinformation". (16) Thirdly,
it is also important to put the SPLA into perspective. The
'New York Times', a vigorous critic of the Sudanese government,
states that the SPLA: "[H]ave behaved like an occupying
army, killing, raping and pillaging." (17) It has also described
the SPLA leader John Garang as one of Sudan's "pre-eminent
war criminals". (18) Given the SPLA's track record there
is no reason to doubt that they might also engage in fraud
for financial or propaganda reasons.
FRAUD AND CORRUPTION CONFIRMED BY REUTERS
Interviewed after his visit to Nyamlell with Miniter, James
Jacobson told the 'Denver Post' of his clear reservations
"I just felt everything was not as it appeared to be. You
don't know if after several days these groups of people
The 'Denver Post' reported that the leaders of major human-rights
organizations were stating that abductions are "not only...increasing
but that the increases almost certainly are related to the
sudden availability of Western money for buybacks":
"It's like paying hostage takers ransom, they say, arguing
that any payment lends credibility to the notion of buying
and selling human beings. They say the money encourages
Speaking to Reuters, Jacobson stated that:
"It has turned into a circus. The problem now is that Western
dollars are making the situation worse, both in terms of
abductions and in terms of corruption." (20)
A Reuters report in July 1999 confirmed the "massive corruption"
reported by Jacobson:
"Local aid workers...say that they have seen children who
they have known for months passed off as slaves...And Reuters
interviewed one boy in Yargot who told a completely implausible
story of life in the north, a story which he changed in
every respect when translators were swapped." (21)
In May 1999, the 'Christian Science Monitor' also clearly
"There are increasingly numerous reports that significant
numbers of those 'redeemed' were never slaves in the first
place. Rather, they were simply elements of the local populations,
often children, available to be herded together when cash-bearing
redeemers appeared." (22)
The German current affairs magazine Der Spiegel has also
reported that Dutch, South African and German journalists
being taken to a CSI-arranged "slave redemption" in southern
Sudan noticed that all the villages in the vicinity of the
"redemption" were totally deserted. CSI and SPLA attempts
to explain this away were said to have been less than convincing.
It should also perhaps be noted that Jacobson subsequently
revealed that following his exposure of the "slavery redemption"
scandal, the SPLA banned him from travelling to certain
parts of southern Sudan. (24) It is clear, therefore, that
there are at least three direct concerns with regard to
"slave redemptions" in Sudan.
Firstly, are the people said to be "slaves" not more accurately
described as victims of inter-tribal abduction or kidnapping?
Given that there has clearly been a history of intertribal
raiding and abduction between the northern tribes and the
Dinka within the areas in question -southern Kordofan and
northern Bahr al-Ghazal - why has this been described as
"slavery" when almost identical patterns of inter-tribal
raiding and abduction between the Dinka and Nuer, two black
southern Sudan tribes, two or three hundred kilometres to
the south, have not been described as "slavery? (25) Is
it possible that the label "slave" has been used either
as the result of what African Rights described as lazy assumptions
or as a propaganda weapons against the Sudanese government?
Secondly, assuming that the people being presented at these
"redemptions" have indeed been the victims of abduction
or kidnapping, is there not the danger, as pointed out by
several human rights groups, that if, for whatever reason,
naïve Westerners introduce vast amounts of cash into
the process, this may well fuel further abductions for precisely
that new Western market? It is sadly all too possible that
hundreds if not thousands, of Sudanese civilians may have
been abducted specifically to cater for those Western organisations
who, for political and religious reasons, have been willing
to pay large amounts of money in order to project anti-Sudanese
Thirdly, it is now clear that many "slave redemptions" are
staged. Independent sources have stated that while some
of those outside groups involved in these "redemptions"
may have been innocently misled, other outside groups may
be purposefully using "slave redemptions" in order to raise
money for the SPLA.
These "slave redemptions" therefore fuel the Sudanese conflict
in at least two ways. They echo inaccurate and stereotyped
propaganda images of Sudan and the Sudanese conflict which
serve only to misinform the international community, which
in turn can distort positions taken by countries such as
the United States. And, if what credible outside commentators
have said is true, the money raised through fraudulent "slave
redemptions" is actually used to procure weapons for the
which are then used to prolong the war.
And, just as in Northern Ireland where much of the resistance
to a peace settlement has come from those paramilitaries
involved in organised crime as part of that conflict, those
SPLA war lords involved in widespread "slave redemption"
fraud worth several hundred thousand dollars have little
reason to embrace any peace process.
Perhaps the final word on the "redemption" of abductees
should be given to those closest to the issue. Referring
to the CSI/SPLA -arranged purchase of "slaves" by the 'Baltimore
Sun' in 1996, a source close to the Dinka retrieval committee
- the Dinka community's own grouping which exists in the
affected areas to secure the return of abductees - was quoted
by Anti-Slavery International as saying that they were concerned
"Such outside intervention with big sums of money may make
matters worse and can encourage others to capture and "facilitate"
the retrieval of more children for economic motives." (26)
Writing in 1998, de Waal echoed what would come to be very
justified concerns about the process of "buying back" slaves
when he stated that:
"It is easy to envisage how this could be manipulated by
traders and local officials, and could even create incentives
for kidnapping children for ransom." (27)
Peter Verney, the author of the 1997 Anti-Slavery report
on Sudan has stated:
"It is not clear what impact hundreds of dollars are having.
Maybe it's even maintaining the set-up. Market forces mean
that you can probably
buy a child if you want one." (28) There is every reason
to believe that everything warned about by de Waal, Anti-Slavery
International and the Dinka retrieval committees, and worse,
has come to pass. It is clear that exactly the very situation
warned of above has come about, fuelled by partisan and
such as Christian Solidarity International and activists
such as Baroness Cox.
1 The SPLA is sometimes also referred to as the SPLM/A,
a reference to the Sudan People's Liberation Movement.
2 See, for example, 'Five Thousand Sudanese Slaves "Freed"',
News Article by BBC World Africa Online on 22 December 1999
at 18:24 GMT and 'Swiss NGO Buys Freedom for 4,000 Sudanese
Slaves', News Article by Agence France Presse on 1 February
3 See, 'UN condemns aid group for buying slaves', 'The Times'
July 9, 1999, 'UNICEF slams buying freedom for Sudan slaves',
News Article by Reuters on Feburary 5, 1999 at 12:42:37.
4 Alex de Waal, 'Sudan: Social Engineering, Slavery and
War', 'Covert Action Quarterly', Spring 1997.
5 Alex de Waal, 'Sudan: Social Engineering, Slavery and
War', 'Covert Action Quarterly', Spring 1997.
6 Peter Verney, 'Slavery in Sudan', Sudan Update and Anti-Slavery
International, London, May 1997.
7 The reference number of this submission to the United
Nations Commission on Human Rights is TS/S/4/97, and is
available to view on the
Anti-Slavery International web-site at http://www.charitynet.org/asi/submit5.htm
8 Andrew Boyd, 'Baroness Cox: A Voice for the Voiceless',
Lion Publishing, Oxford, 1998, p.324.
9 'The Times', 30 January 2001, p.27
10 Letter from Bona Malwal to Baroness Cox, 23 January 2000
posted on South Sudan Net (http://southsudanet.net/baroness_caroline_cox_1_arnellan.htm).
11 'A Response to the Sudan Foundation' s "Questions" and
Criticisms of CSI's Work in Sudan', CSI Magazine, Issue
90, December 1997 available at http://home.clara.co.uk/csiuk/90page4.html.
12 John Harker, 'Human Security in Sudan: The Report of
a Canadian Assessment Mission', Prepared for the Minister
of Foreign Affairs, Ottawa, January 2000, available at http://www.dfait-maeci.gc-foreignp-3110186-e.pdf,
13 Ibid., pp.39-40.
14 The article was published in two parts in 'The Atlantic
Monthly' and is also available online in two parts. Part
one is available at http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/99jul/9907sudanslaves.htm
and part two at http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/99jul/9907sudanslaves2.htm.
Miniter's work has previously appeared in The New York Times,
The Wall Street Journal and Reader's Digest.
15 William Finnegan, 'The Invisible War', The New Yorker,
25 January 1999.
16 Peter Nyaba, The Politics of Liberation in South Sudan:
An Insider's View, Fountain Publishers, Kampala, 1997.
Relief to Sudan', Editorial, New York Times, 6 December,
19 Rescue of slaves backfiring', 'The Denver Post' August
20 'Aid group tries to break Sudan slavery chain', News
Article by Reuters on July 11, 1999 at 23:40:58.
21 'Aid group tries to break Sudan slavery chain', News
Article by Reuters on July 11, 1999 at 23:40:58.
22 "Slave 'Redemption' won't save Sudan", 'Christian Science
Monitor', 26 May 1999.
23 'Sklavenhandel am Gazellenfluss ', Der Spiegel, Number
30, 24 July 2000.
24 Jim Jacobson,
'A Bad Ultimatum', 'Frontline News ', Christian Freedom
International website at http://www.christianfreedom.org
contradiction is examined in more detail in ' "Slavery"
in Sudan. When is a "Slave" not a "Slave": An Examination
of the 1999 Wunlit Accords' The British-Sudanese Public
Affairs Council, London, December 1999, available at http://www.espac.org
26 Peter Verney, 'Slavery in Sudan', Sudan Update and Anti-Slavery
International, London, May 1997, p.20.
de Waal, 'Exploiting Slavery: Human Rights and Political
Agendas in Sudan', 'New Left Review', No 227, 1998, p.145
28 'Indecent interest in genocide', 'The Observer', (London),
26 July 1998.