Christian Solidarity International, a Zurich-based humanitarian
group, announced yesterday that it bought the freedom of 5,514 African
slaves in Sudan during a secret mission last week, bringing the total
number of freed slaves through CSI to 20,961. The highly controversial
redemption program, however, has come under fire.
“The slaves, mainly Christian and animist women and children from the
Dinka tribe, were brought out of captivity in northern Sudan and
returned to their homeland in the south by eight networks of Arab
retrievers,” said CSI in a statement.
The government-backed slave trades in Sudan prompted local Dinka
tribe members to organize a buy-back program with the slaves’ captors, a
neighboring Muslim tribe, several years ago.
John Eibner of Christian Solidarity International began the organization’s program of slave
redemption which he says is based on native efforts that, until his
intervention, were only occasionally successful, according to the
Although CSI’s assistance has greatly increased the number of slaves
freed through buy-back programs, the organization has come under heavy
criticism for its methods.
“We’ve made slavery more profitable than narcotics,” said James
Jacobson, a former CSI representative who has left the organization.
In a land where the average per capita income is about $500 a year,
slaves are being purchased by CSI and other humanitarian groups for $50
to $100 each, an amount the Atlantic Monthly claims can
create a “powerful dynamic.” Before CSI intervened into the local
practice of slave redemption, the going rate was $15 per person.
Manase Lomole Waya, director of Humanitarian Assistance for South
Sudan in Nairobi, said, “We welcome them for exposing the agony of our
people to the world. That part is good. But giving the money to the
slave traders only encourages the trade. It is wrong and must stop.
Where does the money go? It goes to the raiders to buy more guns, raid
more villages, put more shillings in their pockets. It is a vicious
Human Rights Watch claims there are many
dangers associated with continued redemptions: “Knowledge that there are
foreigners (with presumably deep pockets) willing to pay to redeem
slaves can only spur on unscrupulous individuals to make a business out
of redemption. When the practice started in the mid-1980s, it seemed
that the primary motivation of the raiders (in addition to weakening the
Dinka population) was to acquire cattle, with slavery as a secondary
consideration. The availability of foreign funds poses the risk that
those who already conduct the slaving raids on Dinka villages may make
abduction the primary motivation, or may abduct children and women for
the explicit purpose of gain from the sale or redemption of abductees,
even if cattle remain the primary war spoils attraction.”
The organization also warns against fraud as a result of Western
redemption practices. Since no lists of missing tribal members are used
for reference, the middlemen, or “retrievers,” that are used in the
process may “borrow” children who have never been abducted in order to
sell them to the humanitarian groups that are so willing to redeem
While there are no documented instances of this having taken place,
the opportunity for well-intentioned foreigners to be duped by middlemen
However, CSI praises “retrievers,” saying they bring slaves back “at
great personal risk of injury from the security agents of the regime in
Khartoum, which opposes their activity.”
Despite the risk posed by authorities in Sudan’s capital city, CSI
continues its program in cooperation with local tribal leaders. The
group’s website maintains that the $50 per slave price tag has remained
fixed despite four years of “rampant inflation” in Sudan.
In their statement, CSI officials point to the atrocities of slavery
and the raids by which slaves are captured as their reason for putting
the immediate welfare of each captive at the forefront of their efforts.
“During the raids, villages are torched, men are shot dead, the
elderly are beaten and abused, and women, children, cows, goats and food
stores are captured as war booty,” they said. “The women and child
slaves are forced to walk for days to the North. On the way, beatings,
public executions and gang rape are commonplace.”
They continued, “In the North, the slaves are divided among their
captors. They are routinely subjected to forced labor, sexual abuse –
including female genital excision — forced Islamisation, beatings,
death threats and racist verbal abuse and a meager diet.”
In the face of documentation of such actions, the Sudan government in
Khartoum refuses to call the captivities what they are — slavery. The
official government response is that it is trying to stamp out
abductions for forced labor.
Christian Solidarity International added that more than 100,000
people remain in bondage in northern Sudan in government concentration
Protest against Sudan slavery, genocide