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Slavery in Libya, 21st century style – thanks to Barack Obama


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

Whenever I find myself distraught, helpless and angry, I tend to turn to poetry to find solace. Also because at times poetry can simply express your most inner feelings in such a simple and majestic manner. It can capture one’s anger, love and frustrations all in one stanza.

When I look at the dismal and hapless situation black African men find themselves in, in Libya, my heart bleeds.

I’m reminded of one of Longfellow’s poems:

The Slave’s Dream

Beside the ungathered rice he lay,

His sickle in his hand;

His breast was bare, his matted hair

Was buried in the sand.

Again, in the mist and shadow of sleep,

He saw his Native Land

Wide through the landscape of his dreams

The lordly Niger flowed;

Beneath the palm-trees on the plain

Once more a king he strode;

And heard the tinkling caravans

Descend the mountain road.

The forests, with their myriad tongues,

Shouted of liberty;

And the blast of the Desert cried aloud,

With a voice so wild and free,

That he started in his sleep and smiled

At their tempestuous glee.

He did not feel the driver’s whip,

Nor the burning heat of day;

For Death had illumined the Land of Sleep,

And his lifeless body lay

A worn-out fetter, that the soul

Had broken and thrown away!

Who would have thought that we would be trading in human beings on a massive scale in the year 2017. In this day and age, on the African continent, young black men are dreaming of yesterday, when all was well and they had some semblance of freedom, albeit under harsh conditions, back in their home countries.

How did this happen?

A cursory look at the history of Libya shows us that Muammar Gaddafi seized control of the Libyan government in 1969 and ruled as an authoritarian dictator for more than 40 years before he was overthrown in 2011 and brutally killed in Tripoli.

During Gaddafi’s reign, he kept a steady but firm hand on the internal affairs of his country and countrymen. Women and children were reasonably safe and the country for all intents and purposes was stable under his rule. He supported many countries on the continent, both in their fight for liberation and through his legendary financial support through loans and other mechanisms.

But then it all came crashing down when President Barack Obama and his administration decided that “regime change” was needed in Libya.

What a mistake – and how he must regret that decision now. He admitted as much in an article dated 12 April 2016, entitled, “Barack Obama says Libya was ‘worst mistake’ of his presidency”. “Failing to plan for the aftermath of Muammar Gaddafi’s downfall is the US president’s biggest regret from his time in office,” it read.

The relentless bombing campaign by the United Kingdom and France to facilitate the overthrow of the regime was such that when leaders (sitting presidents) of the African Union wanted to travel to Tripoli to discuss matters with the brother leader (as Gaddafi was known), Nato forces made it very clear that the safety of such a flight could not be guaranteed and was therefore not advisable. A further indication that they knew exactly what outcome they wanted in Libya.

Mind you, South Africa, as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council at the time, voted in favour of resolution 1973 to impose a ‘no-fly zone’.

Because of Obama’s intervention and facilitation, extremist elements now run the country, no law and order exists – and now we have slavery again.

The first black president of the land of the free and the home of the brave has reintroduced modern-day slavery in Africa.

It’s time to realise, Mr President, that the insatiable appetite of the military industrial complex cannot just be fed without being circumspect. Your predecessors all fell into this trap. President Clinton’s Achilles’ Heel was Somalia; only as US soldiers’ bodies were being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, televised for the world to see, did he end that senseless military intervention. President Bush and his Iraq campaign, which also led to the killing of Saddam Hussein, propelled that country into a war zone, till today the people of that country and region have not found peace. The less said about Syria and Aleppo the better.

The trail of destruction left in your wake as the United States of America is unprecedented, Vietnam, Japan, the Korean peninsula, the entire Middle East, and Africa – frankly, it’s murderous.

You can be forgiven for not being able to attain some of your election promises, such as the closure of Guantanamo Bay prison camp, even when there was a Supreme Court ruling to that effect, but slavery my brother? Unforgivable.

Guantanamo prison camp is the highest form of human rights abuse. Snatch and kidnap persons from all over the world and transport them to a territory where they have no habeas corpus. Where interrogations with less than kosher methods, torture and stripping people of their basic human dignity and identity are allowed to happen.

All the while refusing to grant them a basic right to a fair trial and justice as ordered by your Supreme Court.

But all this pales into insignificance compared to being treated like an animal, cramped into small spaces, continuously being beaten and threatened by fellow human beings. Being kicked and having guns shoved in your face for non-compliance and disobedience. Being burnt by cigarettes and fed like animals, if at all.

Do I hear 100 dollars, two hundred, no, three hundred… SOLD!

Where is the United Nations or more important, where is the International Criminal Court? Nowhere, of course, because black lives don’t matter, black lives are cheap, “it” can be sold to the highest bidder. Shame on all of you.

Hundreds of Africans have been bought, sold and murdered in Libya, all because of Western powers’ greed for oil and other resources on the African continent.

In the land of the free and the home of the brave, Mr President, I hope you take note of the Slave’s Dream, for that is all they can do today in Libya, dream of a better life elsewhere. Where they were once kings of their own destinies.

Slavery, you suck it up and own it, Barack Obama. DM


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