How Slavery Came Back to Libya


If international news reports about the return of a slave trade in the north African country of Libya have escaped your attention, perhaps you’ve noticed the celebrity Instagram posts by the likes of Pharrell, QuestloveLL Cool J, Nas, and T.I. Cardi B also dropped some bold, insightful analysis via IG Live.

In recent weeks more and more hip hop artists have been using social media to raise awareness about this outrage against humanity. Disturbing photos and videos illustrate the horror of the conditions in Libya, as Black Africans are sold into modern-day bondage by Islamic militants, in scenes resembling the slave trade in the United States before the Civil War.

Amidst calls to “Pray for Libya,” many have called on world leaders, or asked what average citizens can do to help. A better question might be, what can we do to make sure this never happens again?

The resurgence of modern-day Libyan slavery is rooted in poverty, Islamic extremism, and the after-effects of U.S. and European military intervention.

North Africa via Google Maps

Right now, thousands of immigrants from all over Western Africa are traveling to Libya with the hope of immigrating to Europe for a better life. Lured by fake private labor offices, they receive a rude awakening when they realize they’ve been tricked by criminal gangs intent on selling them into slavery. Many Africans die or are executed during the desert trek to their eventual destination. Others are forced into prostitution or held for ransom.


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The atrocities have not gone unnoticed by the international community. “I am horrified at news reports and video footage showing African migrants in Libya reportedly being sold as slaves,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently said. “I abhor these appalling acts and call upon all competent authorities to investigate these activities without delay and to bring the perpetrators to justice, Slavery has no place in our world and these actions are among the most egregious abuses of human rights and may amount to crimes against humanity…I urge the international community to unite in fighting this scourge.”

Still, the question remains: How did Libya become a place where slavery is permitted?  Ironically the decisions made by a Black man, Barack Obama, and a white woman, Hillary Clinton, to take out a Pan-African leader, Muammar Qadaffi, led to both the resurrection slavery for Africans, and a reversal of progress in women’s rights.

Was it because Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton did not learn from President Bush’s mistakes in Afghanistan and Iraq and thought that he could bring peace to Libya through war? Or did the U.S. and its allies invade and take out Qadaffi for more sinister reasons?

While Qadaffi was a controversial figure, one thing nobody can deny was his support for Africans, and people of African descent, all around the world. While the USA and the CIA were supporting Apartheid in South Africa, Qadaffi backed the ANC, later becoming great friends with Nelson Mandela.

Qadaffi was a Pan-Africanist—he supported the idea of a unified African continent and worked to strengthen bonds of solidarity between all people of African descent. He was very influential in the formation of the African Union and a staunch opponent of U.S. and European imperialism. He was also an advocate for women’s rights in Libya, which were stripped after Qadaffi’s death in 2011, which Hillary Clinton laughingly took credit for, saying “We came, we saw, he died.” 

The American government has accused Qadaffi of supporting terrorism, including the Lockerbie Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988, but there is some dispute over that point. According to former Mossad agent Juval Aviv, it was the American CIA who conducted the bombing to cover up a drug operation, casting Libya and Qadaffi as the scapegoat.

In the prelude to the attack that would kill Qadaffi, he would again be accused of a dastardly act. Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, claimed that Qadaffi supplied his troops with Viagra to conduct mass rape on civilians. Several human rights organizations reportedly found no basis for Susan Rice’s claims. But other emails and reports showed that it was in fact the U.S.-backed rebels who were raping civilians.

Wikileaks revealed emails between Hillary Clinton and her close confidant, Sidney Blumenthal, suggesting that the true motivation for the invasion of Libya was to seize control of Libya’s oil reserves and to stop Qadaffi’s plans to establish a universal African currency. Blumenthal also had a vested interest in the military contractors who were poised to benefit from their invasion.

Those same emails also show that the anti-Qadaffi Islamic Libyan rebels that the U.S. and Europe supported (on some enemy-of-my-enemy logic) were known to kidnap and torture Black Africans. Qadaffi had been using mercenaries from Nigeria and other African countries to fight against U.S.- and European-backed rebels in a civil war. The rebels would not only kidnap and torture the mercenaries, but anybody with dark skin and sub-Saharan African features. Lupe Fiasco emphasized these points in a recent Instagram post and called on his followers to double-check their facts.

When the rebels finally captured Qadaffi in October 2011, they beat him and sodomized him with a bayonet before shooting him to death. A few months after Qadaffi was killed, video footage began circulating showing Libyan Rebels keeping Black Africans in cages, along with reports of beatings, torture, and mass executions. The human rights organization HRI would accuse the former rebels of ethnic cleansing and genocide of Black Africans.

The first reports of slavery’s return to Libya came in April of this year. “The men on the pick-up were brought to a square, or parking lot, where a kind of slave trade was happening,” reported Livia Manante, an IOM(International Organization for Migration) officer based in Niger. Locals—Manante described them as Arabs—were buying black sub-Saharan migrants. “If the number of migrants goes down, because of death or someone is ransomed, the kidnappers just go to the market and buy one.”

A slave trade existed in Libya under the Roman Empire and during the Islamic period before 1000 B.C., but under Qadaffi Black Africans and women had rights and privileges. By supporting Islamic extremist rebels and creating chaos after the fall of Qadaffi, the U.S. and its allies helped create an environment where human trafficking, slavery, Islamic militias and civil war would run rampant. Africans are not the only people suffering after the overthrow of Qadaffi. Women, who had relatively strong human rights under Qadaffi’s regime, are now subject to Sharia Law enforced by ISIS militants—now they are not allowed to leave the house without a male escort.

As a direct result of American military intervention, Libya is now a failed state in the midst of a civil war that has not stopped since Qadaffi was murdered. The same racist rebels who put those Africans in cages still hold considerable power in the country. Shout out to Killer Mike for making this point on social media.

So what lessons must we learn from the return of slavery to Libya? First and foremost, we must hold all of our leaders accountable for their foreign policy decisions. It shouldn’t matter whether they are a black man, a white woman, or a loudmouth bozo with orange skin and a toupee.

Another issue that must be addressed is the crushing poverty that forces African migrants to risk their lives and freedom. While not as blatant as in Libya, human trafficking is present all across the globe, especially for impoverished refugees trying to escape from oppressive conditions in their home countries. While there are many ways to fight this universal tribulation, learning from the mistakes of the past would be a good start.

As Marvin Gaye once put it, “War Is Not The Answer.”