TONIGHT ON THE TERRORDOME: Francis Bok, Abolitionist: - Escape from Enslavement in Sudan


6 PM Mountain Time

Few violations of human rights and human dignity are more profound than that of life-long forced labour.

People forced to work for others without pay and without liberty or rights are denied all the opportunities for joy, peace, personal relationships, education and social action that middle class and affluent people throughout the world take for granted.

Over the course of centuries, the European Holocaust against the civilisations of West Afrika forced at least 12 million people into life-long, inherited enslavement; but as G. Stavrianos argues in Global Rift, an additional 36 million people were killed or died due to abuse, disease and deprivation during capture, forced marches to the coast, and the Atlantic middle passage, before landing on a gulag which stretched across two continents and the Caribbean.

This European holocaust against Afrika, called the Maafa by some Pan-Afrikanists, therefore claimed the lives of, at minimum, 48 million people, and ranks as one of the greatest crimes in human history, and also one of the most lucrative, since its profits financed the creation of the European and Euro-American empire.

Afrikan rebellions against perpetual forced labour were constant and bloody. Eventually Afrikan abolitionists and their European allies achieved triumph, ending the trans-Atlantic trafficking of human beings and finally the enslavement of human beings inside the United States and Europe.

But slavery as an institution is still widespread, even in the 21st Century. According to Voice of America, the United Nations' International Labor Organization says more than 12 million people are enslaved in the world. Other estimates are higher. For example, Free the Slaves says at least 27 million people are held in bondage. But given the illegal nature of forced labor and the difficulty of verifying cases in populous countries like China and India, analysts say the total number will never be known. Most slaves live in Asia, while many are in [Green] Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. The vast majority of victims are women and children.” In Mali alone, according to a 2001 BBC news report, children “are being sold at the going price of $30 (U.S.) ... for cocoa production. ‘At least 15,000 children are thought to be ... [enslaved in] Ivory Coast, producing cocoa which then goes towards making almost half of the world’s chocolate,’ [with some] children younger than 11 years of age.”

For Pan-Afrikanists, little can be more horrifying than the notion that the enslavement of human beings is still being practiced on the Afrikan continent. Although the major players are transnational corporations, in that cocoa profits go to them, the ugly reality is that the enslavers on the ground are other Afrikans. That fact alone isn’t strange; throughout history, most people who were enslaved, were enslaved by people of the same colour, whether in Asia, Afrika or Europe. Although the etymology, is in dispute, many sources claim that the words “slav” and “slave” are connected, as the ruling classes of Western Europe enslaved their brothers and sisters from the east.

Yet given the historical horrors perpetrated against the Afrikan peoples, the idea that any Afrikan enslaves another is uniquely repugnant.

Currently, attention is focused on Sudan because of its civil war. What is less known is the extent to which people there are enslaved. Complicating our understanding further is the use of North American racial terms to describe Sudanese realities. Typically, Westerners call the conflict in Sudan a fight between Arabs and Afrikans.

Why the Sudanese people are called Afrikans instead of Sudanese speaks to Western ignorance (in reportage about conflicts in Northern Ireland, Bosnia or Russia, no combatant-side is called "White" or "European" or "tribal"). Calling one side Arabs, though, speaks in part to Western hostility against Arabs and Muslims and also to the self-description of culturally and linguistically Arabised Sudanese. Given a change of clothes, much of the so-called “Arab” population of Sudan would blend into the population of Harlem without the turning of a head.

Regardless of our miscomprehensions, people in Sudan continue to face misery. One man who escaped that misery is Francis Bok, “a refugee from Sudan and a survivor of child slavery. At the age of seven, he was captured and enslaved during [a] ... militia raid on the village of Nymlal in Southern Sudan. Bok saw adults and children brutalized and killed all around him. He was strapped to a donkey and taken north to Kirio. For ten years, he lived as the family slave to Giema Abdullah, forced to sleep with cattle, endure daily beatings, and eat rotten food. Called ‘abeed’ (black slave), Bok was given an Arabic name — Dut Giema Abdullah — and forced to perform Islamic prayers.”

At the age of 17, [Francis Bok] escaped, eventually making it as far as North Dakota. In 2000, Bok addressed US Congressional and Senate committees on behalf of his people to urge an end to slavery in Sudan, and later met an array of some of the most powerful politicians in the United States. In 2002, he was invited to the White House for the Sudan Peace Act signing ceremony.

“Bok has spoken to tens of thousands at colleges, faith communities and grassroots organizations across the country, including heading a panel on slavery at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government ARCO Forum. He has been featured on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, in The New York Times and Essence magazine and by dozens of other newspapers, radio, and television shows, including National Public Radio and Black Entertainment Television.

Bok launched the website [and] has been honored by the Boston Celtics as a ‘Hero Among Us’ for community service, and in December 2001 he carried the Winter Olympic Torch on its national relay tour. His autobiography, Escape From Slavery, received outstanding reviews from Publisher's Weekly, The Boston Globe and The San Francisco Chronicle.”

Bok is currently an Associate at the American Anti-Slavery Group in Boston.

“On Thursday, Feb. 23, 2006, Francis Bok... spoke [at Amherst College in Massachusetts] on ‘21st Century: Living Proof,’ a lecture detailing his personal story of being enslaved, escaping from slavery and creating a new life.”


bovmea said…
The destruction and genocide in Chechnya and Bosnia was done against Muslims by Christian Europeans while being ignored or even supported by the West. It's shameful that most of the so called compassionate far left of America and Europe also ignored or supported it.

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