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Beyond Slavery

Editor: Ama Lorenz

Brazil has become a model in the region in eradicating modern slavery. It's "dirty list", currently counting 187 companies with work analogous to slavery, is one of the working mechanisms . Read on.

Despite global efforts to tackle slavery and eliminate all forms of servitude in modern society, the centuries-old practice continues to metamorphose assuming more sophisticated, dangerous and brazen trends, dividing the global community by ethnicities and regions as it did hundreds of years ago.

While slavery has long been entrenched in numerous societies world over since time immemorial, the 15th century Trans-Atlantic trade that saw up to 12 million slaves, mostly from West Africa, hounded onto ships and transported to Europe and the Americas to work in tobacco and cotton farms, has had the biggest and most devastating impact, especially on Africa, and has altered global politics and relations.

From Cape Verde where Portuguese merchants set up their first slavery hub and actively advanced the sale and purchase of black slaves for centuries, to the less discussed but equally key Barbary slave trade in North Africa and the East African Muslim Arab-dominated slavery whereby young men and women were forcefully taken to the Middle East through the Sahara Desert and the Indian Ocean, serfdom has robbed Africans of some its most able and healthiest men and women.

From intellectual drainage to disruption of way of life, slavery dented Africa, slowed its growth and contributed to the negative connotation of a continent plagued by disease, conflict and ignorance. Such impacts continue being felt to date.

Slaves cutting sugar cane on the Island of Antigua, 1823.

Much of the literature and discussion on slavery has been advanced and told by the West in a controlled narrative that hasn’t quite accommodated the views and voices of Africans as victims of the slave trade. Yet stories abound about the lifelong and devastating effects, beyond forceful migration, that the trade did to a people, and altered their way of life and that of their descendants. The few voices that have given accounts of the impacts of the trade paints a picture of generational loss of value, pride, identity and of being subjected to racial profiling that has altered relations between people of different races and colour.

Beyond Africa slavery has dented relations, advanced bias and exemplified social stratification.

This dossier takes a different approach to the dominant conversation on slavery that often leans on imperialism. We seek to trace the history of slavery from the perspective of those who were affected by it and to tell their stories through their descendants who were robbed of their heritage, culture and identity.

The dossier is timely, as 2020 marks the 400 years since the first Africans were taken as slaves from Virginia Colony. Ghana, then known as Gold Coast, which also formed a key hub for slave trade has declared 2019 the year of return as it seeks to encourage the descendants of those that embarked on an odyssey of slavery to return home.

And as the subject continues to evoke deep emotions and spark heated debates, this dossier seeks to stimulate a discussion on confronting the bitter and uncomfortable past that will ultimately foster and allow global healing and coexistence.