Friday, 14 June 2013

Slavery in Sudan

The most serious failing of mankind today

by Ruchir Arora

The wind was gentle and steady. Thin veils of clouds hung in the sky. It was a steel gray morning. Thousands of birds hidden in the trees broke out in a spontaneous melody. Ker Aleu Deng an Sudanese teenager, walked in timidly and came to a large uninviting door with brass hinges and a giant knob. He was warmly welcomed in this building, which the Americans call Capitol Hill. His hands were trembling and stomach, queasy from anticipation. It was a cosy place which boasted of simple clean lines with urban furniture. He stopped and remembered what all he had gone through and at that very moment his lost eyes turned cloudy. Suddenly a huge crowd along with the interviewer rushed towards him and he began. He began to tell about his quest to retrieve his own existence and the world needed to know the horrifying truth of his past. He mustered courage and he started narrating about his devastating truth. (8)

One of the most serious failings of mankind is the inability to abolish slavery. Slavery is a civil relationship whereby one person has absolute power on another and controls his life, liberty and power. Even-though slavery was made illegal in the US in 1863 it still forms dark clouds in many nations around the world. Though slavery is not legalized anywhere in the world, the number of slaves today is higher than at any point in history. It is still existent in many areas of the world, including Sudan. (1)

Sudan is one of the largest countries of Africa, located in the North East of the continent. Slavery has been endemic in Sudan for thousands of years now. There have been more than 2500 people enslaved until today in Sudan. Statistics show that around 60% of those abducted were taken to the northern Sudan by either the murahaleen or government created bodies. It is hard to imagine that slavery still exists in Sudan; in today’s era of technologies.(1)

Deng does not know where he was born, all he remembers is living in North Sudan with his mother and his slave master Zakaria. When Deng was young, his mother told him several times that his father was dead and also the fact that they were captured by Zakaria and all his other relatives were taken away by the Arab troops, named Murahaleen, as a result of the civil war.(7)

The Civil war that existed for more than 20 years between the Northern and Southern Sudan gave rise to slavery. Sudan has been at war with itself for more than 3 quarters of it’s existence. The reason for the conflict is the cultural and religious divide that characterizes the country. Northerners have traditionally controlled the country and have sought to unify it along the lines of Arabism and Islam despite the opposition of the non-muslim, christian southerners and marginalized people in the west and east. This was more than a conflict between the Northern and southern Sudan, a religious conflict between Islam and Christianity . (4)

Deng’s main work was to collect and pick hibiscus leaves for tea. Deng found Zakaria a very violent man because he often hit Deng and his mother by whipping them. At times he would beat Deng and his mother to such an extent that they would need to run to the neighbors for protection. Since his mother was a concubine to Zakaria, she had several kids with him who in front of Deng slowly disappeared without his knowledge. Deng gave a lot of respect to his Zakaria however he would always call him by bad names like “Jengei”, “abd” and “Kafir” as well. Also Deng was given an arabic name and sent to an Arabic school and was forced to not follow his religion christianity. Deng was entirely deprived of his identity.(7)

Thousands of women and children who are captured in this course of raid are forced into different kind of abuse including forced labour as domestic workers, cattle herders, marriage and even rapes. Some were sold or given to others as presents or even hired and given out as casual workers.All the money often went to the owners.In most cases the slaves were ill treated and subjected to physical abuse. Separation from families and taken to communities of which they haven’t even heard of makes it more easier for them to go into trauma and depression and the same time vulnerable to abuse and torture. (1)

“I was treated worse than the animals I slept with. Like them, I was property,” Deng later told lawmakers at a House Foreign Affairs Committee panel hearing on US policy toward Sudan.

“But the animals weren’t beaten every day. I was. Every single day, with a horsewhip… The animals were fed every day. But I wasn’t.” Said Deng in an interview.

The history of Sudan also contributes a lot to the existence of slavery in Sudan. After ancient Egyptians came to Sudan, prisoners were taken as slaves by the Nubians in Sudan centuries ago. Soon after the Arabs conquered Egypt, they tried to conquer the Nubian region, however their efforts were unsuccessful. During this time a treaty was signed between the Arabs and the Nubian, according to which Nubians agreed to supply 360 slaves annually to the Arabs, After the fall of the Nubian kingdom the Funj came into existence, who also used slaves in the army in the reign of Badi. After their own fall this region became notable for slaves under the reign of Mohammed Ali. (2)

One day some animals whose responsibility was Deng’s, escaped. Zakaria thought that this was purposely done by Deng and the fact that he thought that Deng had left hibiscus leaves because of which the animals escaped. Zakaria was very furious and decided to punish Deng . Zakaria tied Deng to a tree and Deng was hanging upside down. Then Zakaria took huge amounts of chili powder and smashed it into Deng’s eyes. To make things worse Zakaria put a fire to create a burning sensation. Deng was blinded with fear as he tore off into utter darkness. His entire body trembled for days and he was arrested by sheer panic. His own voice struck terror in his heart. He was tongue tied and remained motionless for days later until he was rescued by one of his neighbors Bakhit. He could not see anything after a few days and his vision deteriorated day by day and was later sent back to his village.(7)

Another reason is poverty. Most of the people in Sudan are either into farming or cattle herding. But because of the unpredictability of rainfall, shortage of water during the dry season and cattle raiding there is high poverty. Moreover the civil war destroyed the entire city economically so poverty existed and still exists in huge abundance and this was also one of the reasons which fuelled slavery. (3)

Lack of Proper law and governing bodies is another major reason. The Sudanese government did not have any control on the people, had no command over the nation , did not have any well built technology and infrastructure and had no support from other nations. These were the reasons which contributed to Deng’s devastating past. (3)
The government of Sudan until the year 1991 did not consider slavery as a crime but just a result of inter -tribal welfare. Human rights watch rejects this and also blame the Sudanese government for backing up the Arabs and supporting them in their acts. That is why Sudan has ratified slavery convention, the supplementary convention of the abolition of slavery, the slave trade and the institutions and practices similar to slavery. Because the Dinka communities persuaded the communities of Korfordan and Darfur the Minister of Justice established the Committee for the Eradication of Abduction of Women and Children (CEAWC) on 15 May 1999 for the safe return of women and children to their families. It was mandated to investigate reports of abduction, and to bring to trial anyone suspected of supporting or participating in such activities. Several communities and even the people of the Dinka community who are helping free these slaves face numerous difficulties in carrying out their work. They have faced threats and some have been killed. Funding also continues to be a major obstacle.A comprehensive peace agreement was signed in 2005, and a new constitution, which criminalizes slavery, was adopted. However, the abduction issue has still not been fully considered and reflected upon, and the majority of those enslaved have not been released. Furthermore, once released, there is no proper support to help these slaves adjust back into their communities and to consider their education and health needs. (1)

Deng was taken to the US for treatment of his lost eyes. Deng gave an interview in Capitol hill telling his dreadful story to the world. He wanted to spread awareness and the world to know that such major social inequalities still exist today. His goal is to set all sudanese captives free and to be like his rescuers. Deng has great willpower because of which he is now getting back his vision and live a normal life. He has started getting education and also plays the piano as a hobby. He is a good example of a slave who has come out of his trauma and become one of the successful slaves but not all slaves are able to overcome this trauma.(7)

“I must get my soul back from you; I am killing my flesh without it.” Situations are now slowly getting better. They thrive for their existence every single day of their life. Love is the answer as it can mend even the deepest wounds. Love can heal, love can strengthen and yes love can make the change, love is the solution. Its time now to help these people free from atrocities and trauma and at the same time reunite with their families however slavery cannot be tackled in isolation, it is tied to other social and economical problems in Sudan and communities are helping by addressing these problems in different ways however we all can help by spreading awareness and by running charities for these poor people.Do you think that the slaves who are free know are happy and safe? Most of them are still in trauma they need love and if we can even give them the small gesture it will make them feel that there are people for that slave .And with our and several communities efforts, in the future there will be no more Moses and Deng anymore.


(1) -"Slavery in Sudan." Anti-Slavery. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2013.

(2) "Slavery in Sudan." Wikipedia. Wikipedia Foundation, 19 Apr. 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2013.

(3) "Sudan." Economy: Population, GDP, Inflation, Business, Trade, FDI, Corruption. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 June 2013.

(4) "Slavery in Sudan - the Evil Lives." Yahoo! Contributor Network. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2013.

(5) "A Brief History of Sudan - Part 1." African History. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2013.

(6) "Home - Rural Poverty Portal." Rural Poverty Portal. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2013.

(7) "Keer Aleu Deng." Keer Aleu Deng. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2013.

(8)"Christian Broadcasting Network." 'Lost Boy' Begs US to Help End Sudan Slave Trade. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2013.

(9) "Sudanese History: The Slave Trade." Sudan Sudanese History Slavery Slave Trade. N.p.,n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2013.

(10) N.p., n.d. Web. 13 June 2013.

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