"The practice of slavery is still alive and well in parts of Africa."
A Campaign Against Cruelty
The Global Picture
BY DAVID AIKMAN
IT CAN BE DANGEROUS TO CHALLENGE journalists to find a story that you don't want told. They just might find it. One tale that Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, didn't want publicized was the continued existence of slavery in the Sudan. Last March, after a 27-day "world tour" of such anti-U.S. states as Libya, Iraq, Iran and Sudan, Farrakhan was asked at a press conference how he could endorse the government of Sudan when that country continued to practice slavery. Bristling, Farrakhan challenged reporters to go to Sudan and prove that slavery still existed there.
Two Baltimore Sun reporters Ñ one black, one white Ñ and a four-person NBC crew accepted the challenge. Traveling to Sudan with a team from Christian Solidarity International, the two reporting teams interviewed not only slaves of all ages but a slave trader as well. For $1,000 the Baltimore Sun reporters helped purchase the freedom of two slaves the trader had brought to the village they were visiting.
Stories of the reporters' findings appeared in the Baltimore Sun last April and on NBC's Dateline last December. Both reports confirmed once again what has been widely known by the United Nations, by international human-rights workers and by Christian missionary organizations for almost a decade: 134 years after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in the United States, the hideous practice of slavery is still alive and well in parts of Africa.
Slavery in Sudan is an outgrowth of civil war. The country's predominantly Arab and Muslim north, with a rabidly Islamic regime called the National Islamic Front (NIF), has been waging a campaign of intimidation and coerced Islamization against the predominantly black and either Christian or animist south. The NIF has encouraged an Arab militia to seize villagers, especially women and children, as war booty to be sold in the north for slaves.
One of the first journalists to expose the slave trade was a brave Sudanese Christian, Bona Malwal. Later forced into exile, Malwal told his moving story to me and 15 other Christian journalists from all over the world at a conference in Jerusalem last May.
But Sudan is not the only African country where slavery persists.
Another one is Mauritania, on the west coast of the continent. Early in 1996, a brave Christian reporter from New York, Samuel Cotton, went into Mauritania and interviewed both runaway slaves and anti-slavery opposition politicians. Cotton's articles in a New York paper attracted publicity Ñ and provoked furious opposition from the Nation of Islam. But as a direct descendent of slaves, Cotton believes he has a moral responsibility to expose the wickedness of modern slavery.
Fortunately, he is not alone. At a gathering in Washington last December, representatives of an 11-member Abolitionist Leadership Council discussed ways to move the anti-slavery campaign forward and publicize this evil practice.
One of the most active campaigners is Charles SingIeton, senior pastor of one of the largest predominantly black churches in America, the 12,000 member Loveland Church in Los Angeles. Singleton founded Harambee, a Christian humanitarian organization that publishes a newsletter called COMPAS (Congress on Modern PanAfrican Slavery) specifically devoted to ending slavery in Africa.
"This is a cruel human rights issue," Singleton says. "We call upon the American church to stand up for what you say you believe."
Singleton, Cotton and others follow an honorable Christian tradition. In 1787, a devout Christian reformer named William Wilberforce wrote in his diary that God was calling him to abolish the slave trade in England. Just before he died in 1833, the British parliament voted to end slavery within British territories.
Many Christian organizations such as Promise Keepers have worked hard to keep racial reconciliation at the forefront of America's Christian agenda. The campaign against slavery is another wonderful opportunity for Christians to show their support for fellow believers, especially African Americans, who are working hard to end this sinister phenomenon.
In box - The practice of slavery is still alive and well in parts of Africa.
DAVID AIKMAN was a foreign and domestic correspondent with Time magazine for 23 years. Today he lives with his wife, Nonie, and their two daughters in Burke, Virginia, where he continues his career as a writer and journalist.
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