AFRICA'S SLAVES TODAY by Jonathan Derrick


Email this review


A study of literal slavery and other forms of forced labor in Africa in the 1950's and 1960's. As the author himself says, referring to the sub-Sahara region of the Sahel, ""When conditions are as bad as this, it is almost frivolous to pay too much attention to slavery."" He further observes that the entire continent is afflicted by inadequate agriculture, while slavery itself represents ""a marginal phenomenon."" Nevertheless, in the manner of the League of Nations abusetabulators satirized in the '20's by Evelyn Waugh, he proceeds to focus on various morbid and picturesque byproducts of backwardness such as the sale of children, small-scale slave kidnapping, and also bride purchase and prostitution. The actual treatment of contemporary slavery in Ethiopia and particularly in the hellhole of Saudi Arabia has far less bite than descriptions by other writers who discuss it in passing. Chapters on the decline of old slave trade and colonial Black African slavery fail to explain that the British generally preferred free labor as more profitable. The survey of forced labor in the Belgian Congo, South Africa, the Portuguese colonies and Liberia is indignant and compassionate, and even goes so far as to indict hoary specific targets such as King Leopold and Firestone Rubber. Moreover, ""Can one be sure that all the people who do farm training in the official party youth movements of Kenya, Malawai and other places are volunteers?"" (Why didn't Derrick find out?) And even on the narrow subject of slavery, why is he satisfied with his recurrent ""may still prevail today""? Mainly, the reader must agree with his final understatement that ""Neither in Ethiopia nor anywhere else should slavery be seen in isolation, and its abolition should not be seen as a panacea for a country's particular ills."" Now that much of Africa has been classified as ""Fourth World""--part of the billion human beings that should be allowed to die of starvation and disease in the next ten years, according to some zero population growth spokesmen in the West--the question goes beyond any consideration of ""particular ills."" A reference provocative by default.

Pub Date: May 19th, 1975
Publisher: Schocken