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Slavery crisis in Libya: Questioning the AU’s urgency

The African Union has come under fire for its perceived lax reaction to the slavery crisis in Libya. Many have argued that the AU should do more to address the crisis and help the vulnerable rather than simply issuing strongly worded statements.



Libya’s crisis has become the problem of the world. When African leaders backed the UNSC resolution proposed by France, Lebanon, and the United Kingdom, which imposed a no-fly zone over Libya; and authorized all necessary means to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas, the actions would come back to haunt them.

The resolution also supported rebel groups in Libya to oust Muammar Gaddafi, but since Gaddafi’s ouster the civilians inside and outside Libya have continued to suffer.

For many African migrants wishing to go to Europe, Libya has become the gateway for a better life. However, the political and security instability in Libya has allowed the growth of extremist militia groups, creating a haven for slavery and human trafficking.

History, some have argued isn’t linear but rather circular. What we think we left buried in the past, meets us in the future; case in point, the slavery in Libya where Africans are being sold. The situation in Libya isn’t far from the ‘trans-Atlantic slave trade,’ controlled by the Arabs.


Read: CNN report on migrant auctions in Libya causes protests in Paris

In Col Muammar Gaddafi’s absence the continent now sits with the spill-over effects of the near disintegration of Libya. Photo: Reuters

The news of the slavery in Libya for a long time went without a statement from any African head of state. Following global outrage to the crisis, only a few African leaders have commented and indeed acted on the Libya crisis. Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo said “The current slave auctions of Africans in Libya are not only gross and scandalous abuses of human rights, But are also mockeries of the alleged solidarity of African nations grouped in the African Union (AU), of which Libya is a member.”

Many Africans on social media have questioned the urgency and usefulness of the AU and how the bloc has been silent on the Libyan issue, when it should be vocal on the treatment of Black Africans. Though the AU through the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC) Moussa Faki condemned the acts and demanded an investigation, many argue that the AU should do more rather than simply issuing strongly worded statements.

For an organisation that presents itself as Pan-African and yet fails to address serious continental crisis like the slavery in Libya, many question the role of the institution. It’s become a body of shame and an extension of the incompetent leaders in many African countries. Considering that most of those sold as slaves are youths, the AU is paying lip service to its 2017 theme as “Harnessing the Demographic Dividends through investments in Youth”. The commitment towards harnessing the potential in the youth on the continent some have argued is not sincere.

The shocking videos of the treatment of black Africans in Libya demand that Libyan authorities are held responsible for the crimes against humanity going on. Libya should be sanctioned by the AU and the perpetrators should be arrested and tried.

Read: The Arabs and the black skin: Dynamics of racial identity


The constant anthem for a peaceful and prosperous Africa as preached by the AU ends up as mere rhetoric. Unfortunately, with 50 years in existence the AU hasn’t been able to solve its major problem, funding. The peacekeeping missions the AU is involved in are in conjunction with the UN.

The response to the situation in Libya shouldn’t just be political, but also economic and military intervention (if and where necessary) until the fractured country is stable to guarantee peace and security. Critics have argued that Libya is the current mess because of the West and therefore the West countries should fix it. Indeed, the moral responsibility to fix Libya is in the hands of America, France and Britain. Historically, these countries have wreaked havoc in the name of promotion of human rights and democracy.

Until Africans learn to take their problems seriously and find their own solutions, the solutions from the West will always look like better options. For now, the AU should do more to foster African unity.

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