The Ways of Preventing Slavery in Africa


Slavery dates back to the colonial period, whereby most of the traditional African societies were characterized with the existence of slaves and masters. However, after colonialism, the African structure of slavery disappeared and this led some African traditions like communities raiding their neighbors to capture slaves for sale to the end. Some of the famous enslavement regions on the continent were Egypt in the north of the Horn of Africa as well as the Sokoto Caliphate in the west of Africa. However, despite the modernization of Africa, slavery still exists in various forms, with some being in direct as well as indirect forms. The continuity of existence of the vice demands a lot of efforts so as to minimize if not eradicate the problem.


Slavery refers to a system that is economic or legal in nature, whereby some human beings are treated as property by their fellow human beings and therefore they can be sold or bought according to the specific law or system in question (Brace, 2004, p. 162). People become slaves through being captured, sold, or being born in a population of slaves. They have no right to refuse working or to ask for compensation and therefore they involuntarily work to serve their masters. In ancient times, slavery was acceptable in many societies although it has currently been declared illegal. However, despite illegalization of slavery, it still exists in new forms such as debt bondage, domestic servants, serfdom and illegal adoption of children for the purposes of labor as well as forced marriages and recruitment of children into war by militants (“Ethics guide. Modern slavery,” n.d.). Despite slavery and slave trade being banned in all countries, there still exist 20-36 million slaves in the globe (“Almost 36m people live in modern slavery,” 2014). Human trafficking is also a form of slavery that has seen a sizeable number of girls in modern times being used as sex slaves as well as both men and women of young age being lured for jobs abroad only to realize that they have been sold as slaves. Slavery existed prior to written records and a good example are the graves in Egypt that are estimated to be as old as 8000 BC showing some clues implying enslavement of a tribe believed to be San (Hugh, 1997). The Hammurabi code of Mesopotamia (1750 BC) that stipulated a death sentence for anyone found guilty of aiding escape of a slave is an example of an institutionalized slavery system (“Mesopotamia: The Code of Hammurabi,” n.d.). Slavery existed not only in Africa alone but also in other continents like Europe, Asia as well as America.

Prior to 1816, Europeans as well as Africans, who professed Christian faith, were captured in Algeria and forced to work, prompting the bombing of Algiers to set the hostages free (Baepler, 2013). The Swahili-Arab slave trade was very prominent in Africa whereby approximated 20,000 slaves were annually brought to Kilwa from Nkhotakota (“Malawi slave routes and Dr. David Livingstone trail,” 2011). Madagascar is also said to have had slavery and a sizeable part of the population were victims. Sokoto Caliphate, an Islamic state in West Africa that was very powerful in the 19th century, is reported to have had the largest number of slaves (2 million) in 1890s (Shillington, 2004). Slavery and slave trade was associated with deaths on transit as well as in the working fields as a result of mistreatment. It is said that some slave traders used to drill holes on the legs of slaves (behind the heels) that they would use to chain the victims to prevent them from running away. In Africa, the famous slave trade communities were the Yao, Makua and the Nyamwezi people from the Zambezi region who used to raid other communities to capture and transport hostages for sale.

In modern times, slavery still exists. A good example is Mauritania, a country that was the last to outlaw it in 1981 (“Mauritanian MPs pass slavery law,” n.d.). In the country, it is estimated that 20% of the population are enslaved in bonded labor (Sutter, 2012). This enslavement still exists despite being criminalized in 2007 (CNN, 2012). Nevertheless, not many slave owners have been prosecuted. In Sudan, the problem of slavery exists whereby people are abducted during the ongoing civil wars. The Pygmies of Congo in Congo Brazzaville as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo are owned by the Bantus through enslavement (Thomas, 2007). In 2002, the US Department of State expressed the point that 109,000 of under aged population work on the cocoa farms of Ivory Coast as child laborers (U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2005).  On the 15th April 2014, the Boko Haram militants of Nigeria raided Chibok Girls Secondary School and lured the girls out (Maclean, 2014). The girls were loaded into waiting trucks and driven to an unknown destination that is believed to be a base for the militants whereby they were forced to married and even some of them were sold to the neighbouring countries.

The modern time slavery in Africa is mainly attributed to the activities of militia who abducts people and illegally detains them as well as the activities of cartels that acts as recruitment agencies that lure youths into slavery promising them well-paying jobs abroad. Below are some of the types of modern slavery and the steps that can be taken to curb the vice.

Modern Forms of Slavery

Child Trafficking

This entails taking children away from their homes to other places by use of force or deception with the aim of exploiting them through provision of child labor as well as recruiting them into criminal activities like selling of drugs. In some cases, they are used for sacrifice by some cults and this has become a big threat to all under aged people.

Debt Bondage

This usually happens between an employer and an employee or between shylocks and borrowers of money. This happens when someone is forced to work in order to repay a debt and it includes contracts, the terms of which are illegal and the conditions usually favor the employer as opposed to favoring both parties. The debts are usually exaggerated while the wages for labor are minimal hence making it impossible to repay the debt and it might be passed over to the children. The difference between this form of slavery and others is that there is a mutual agreement between the two parties.

Involuntary Domestic Servitude

In involves someone working in a private residence (mainly conducting household chores) with limited or no right for movement. In some cases, mobile phone and identification/travel documents are confiscated by the employer to ensure that the employee does not communicate with people or leave the compound. The payment can be either minimal or there can be no payment at all. Physical abuse might also be involved.

Criminal Exploitation

This involves forced recruitment into illegal gangs whereby the victims are tortured and threatened with death in case they abandon the gang. Oaths as well as rituals are involved so as to indoctrinate the victim with the ideologies of the gang and to confuse his/her mind. Such gangs that practice forced recruitment are the Mungiki and the Sabaot Land Defence Forces both from Kenya.

Children Soldiers

This entails recruitment of under aged people into militia activities whereby armed conflict is involved. This usually happens when a militia is fighting against the government because such rebel groups find it easy to recruit children soldiers by force or by use of deceit. An example of such enslavement is the Lord Resistance Army in Uganda under the leadership of Joseph Kony that has recruited many children to join the resistance movement. Such children are used to fight or to provide support services for fighters, for instance, cooking, sexual services and laundry among others.

Forced Marriages

This happens in two cases. The first one is when armed militia men like the Boko Haram of Nigeria abduct girls and force them to be their wives (Maclean, 2014). The second one are the communities that practice traditional customs in an extreme manner that does not value educating girls but instead their parents marry them off to old men by force.

Forced Labor

This happens when someone is compelled to work or works for long hours with little or no pay and with physical threats to the victim or his/her relatives. This usually happens mainly in mining sites and construction sites. It also applies in cases where immigrants are forced to work by the residents of the host country.

Ways of Preventing Slavery in Africa

Creation and Strict Enforcement of Anti-Slavery Laws by the Respective National Governments

All countries through their national governments should draft very tough laws against slavery, prescribing severe punishment for offenders. The law enforcement agencies should be very strict and merciless to culprits. In Mauritania, slavery was criminalized in 2007 (“UN: There is hope for Mauritania's slaves,” 2012) but implementation of that law has never been conducted in the right way because there are very few cases of culprits being prosecuted. If implementation of such law is treated with seriousness, all slave-owners will be compelled to release their slaves what would be a success in the war against slavery. Workers should also be protected by the law from physical abuse or torture so as to improve their working conditions.

Creation of Public Awareness about Slavery

All politicians, civil societies as well as governments of all African countries should carry out massive campaigns to ensure that all people are informed about their rights. Corresponding institutions must also educate them about the various forms of slavery. The communities that still value traditional practices such as marrying their daughters by force should be educated and sensitized about the harmfulness of such traditional practices. As well as there is a need to explain them the benefits of education so that forced marriages can be brought to an end.

Improved Border Security as Well as Creation of Strict Migration Rules

All governments should enhance security along their respective borders as well as tighten their migration rules so as to avert cases of human trafficking. The immigration departments should also check emigrants as well as agencies that recruit people for the jobs offered abroad so as to find more information about the destinations in question as well as the positions offered. Diplomats of various countries should join their efforts to curb cases of people being lured into foreign countries to become slaves. This step will also reduce the number of illegal immigrants, who work without the knowledge of the authorities in the location in which they work. Therefore, they are vulnerable to mistreatment because they cannot even report the matter to authorities due to the fear of arrest and prosecution.

Sensitizing the Business Community to Handle Their Employees in the Right Manner

All employers should be taught on how to fairly treat their employees by giving them remunerations that are commensurate to the work they do as well as allocating them reasonable working hours and granting overtime payment for excess working hours. The employers should also be educated on the benefits of granting leaves to their workers as well as securing them with pension plans for the sake of their old age. This will help in changing the attitude of employers towards the employees and it will therefore make the first balance the focus on productivity of the employee and the welfare of the same person. The act of forced labor as well as violation of the rights of movement among other rights should be eliminated so that laborers are treated in a humane way.

Promoting Peace and Stability

All African countries should promote peace and seek for help from outside if necessary so as to reduce cases of armed conflict and rebellion. The reason of this is that such militant activities are the ones that fuel formation of gangs and armed rebellion movements that are involved in abducting male children to recruit them into the rebellion’s military squad. Girls are also captured by them and forced to become wives hence enslaved. If such efforts are made, the number of criminal gangs will reduce and therefore cases of abduction and enslavement of minors will decrease. A stable political and economic environment will help reducing unnecessary migrations that drive the migrant people into the traps of slavery.

Creation of Community Empowerment and Poverty Reduction Projects

Governments of respective countries should empower their citizens economically through creation of jobs both in the formal and informal sectors. They also should educate the youths on investments and further offer them friendly loans for business projects. This effort will minimize poverty among the youth and help to eliminate their gullibility and the likelihood of being lured into slavery under false promises of well-paid jobs. This will reduce the migration of youths into areas that are notorious for enslaving people. There is also a need to educate them on job creation and the benefits of self-employment so that they can be their own bosses and therefore enjoy their freedom.

Use of International Treaties      

The inter-governmental organizations as well as the non-governmental ones like the United Nations Organization should come up with treaties that every member state should sign and commit itself to fighting against slavery. If any country violates the treaty, severe sanctions should be posed so as to compel the state to accord the treaty the respect. It is unfortunate that such organizations have agreements regarding war and environmental issues among others but the topic of slavery and slave trade has never been treated with the seriousness it deserves. In serious cases of violation of such treaties, force should be used by an alliance of countries bound together by the agreement just like the way Algiers was bombed to free the European and African Christians from slavery (Baepler, 2013). If such a treaty is formulated, it will cause a significant reduction in the cases of slavery as it will compel the countries involved to deal with the vice accordingly.

Addressing the Structural Causes of Enslavement

The issue of bonded labor exposes the ignorance on the side of the employee who enters into an agreement with the employer without considering the benefit of such an agreement for both parties. All laborers should be educated on labor laws by their respective governments and be encouraged to only sign agreements, the terms and conditions of which are acceptable by the national laws as well as the labor laws. The issue of the minimum wage should also be properly addressed so as to eliminate exploitation of workers by their employers through underpayments. Working hours should be stipulated by the law as well so as to safeguard laborers from being turned into machines by their bosses.

Lawful Inspection of Work Places as Well as Help of the Rescued Slaves in Rescuing Others

The African governments should empower labor organizations and give them the mandate of visiting work places, especially private households, to assess the working conditions of servants as well as rescuing them if they are found to be mistreated or their rights are restricted. Given that many domestic servants suffer under the privacy of their employer’s homes, the labor unions need to regularly pay them a visit so as to ensure that they are well treated and take legal action against the employer if mishandling the employee was noticed. The former slaves who are well acquainted with how people are lured into slavery should help to educate other people so that they are made aware of the ploy that the slave masters use to trick them. The ex-slaves should also be interviewed in order to reveal to the labor unions the kind and the extent of harassment that their bosses inflict on them. This will compel the employers to improve working conditions for house servants hence eliminating slavery.

2.10 Creation of a Proper List of Workers

All African governments should compel all the employers to register their employees in the labor unions as well as the ministries or departments of labor. This is a way of accounting for every person who is involved in the workforce and this will assist in safeguarding the rights as well as the welfare of such an individual. Many employees undergo suffering in informal employments that are not even known to the government hence making it hard to ensure their rights. Registration of workers will make it easier to monitor them in all their employment locations hence enhancing the fight against slavery. This will also make it easier for the government to identify slaves and take the necessary steps.

Registration and Institutionalizing of Marriages and Marriage Systems

Marriage bills should be introduced and debated accordingly by the law makers and passed as laws in African countries to ensure that all marriages are recorded by the registrars of persons so as to solve the issue of forced marriages as well as marriage of minors. This will be the best way to deal with communities that are in a deep captivity of traditions that are detrimental to the well-being of the people. The administrative officers must ensure that all marriage partners are married by consent and there are no forced marriages that turn young girls into slaves of the old illiterate men.

2.12 Promotion and Subsidization of Formal Education

Africa is characterized by large populations of uneducated people due to poverty that makes education unaffordable as well as remoteness of some areas that makes it hard to provide education services to residents of such regions. The African governments should address this problem so as to ensure that such populations are emancipated from the problem of illiteracy that is the root issue of child labor as well as forced marriages. Formal education will also promote innovativeness and business ideas hence making people capable of realizing and utilizing their potential and therefore becoming self-reliant and immune from slavery.