By Sebhat Ayele MCCJ
According to the English dictionary, Slavery is “the state or condition of being a slave; a civil relationship whereby one person has absolute power over another and controls his or her life, liberty, and fortune”. In other words, it is a condition of life when a person has “no say” at all on his/her life. Evidence of slavery predates written records, and has existed in many cultures since time immemorial. Slavery is rare among pastoralist or hunter-gatherer populations like the Karamojong or Turkana. Mutual Cattle raiding is their main blueprint. Slavery requires huge economic surpluses and a high population density to be feasible.
According to Wikipedia, Slavery is any system in which principles of property law are applied to people, allowing individuals to own, buy and sell human beings, in a form of property. In such conditions, a slave is unable to refuse or withdraw unilaterally from such an arrangement and works without remuneration. As stated above, the slave has no say on his/her fate. Many scholars now use the term chattel slavery to refer to this specific sense of legalized, de jure slavery. It applies to the mentality that slaves were actual property who could be bought, sold, traded or inherited. In a broader sense, however, the word slavery may also refer to any situation in which an individual is de facto forced to work against their own will. Scholars also use the more generic terms such as un-free labour or forced labour to refer to such situations.
As it will be expanded below, that is why the headline of this article is homegrown slavery. Slavery is unfolding in front of our eyes by several individuals and institutions. While slavery was institutionally recognized by most societies, it has now been outlawed in all recognized countries the last being Mauritania in 2007. Nevertheless, there are an estimated 45.8 million people subject to some form of modern slavery worldwide. The most common form of slave trade now is human trafficking as it featured among our cover stories last month.
Bible and Church Teaching
The Bible contains several references to slavery, which was a common practice in antiquity. It reflects the social status of those times. The Bible stipulates the treatment of slaves, especially in the Old Testament. There are also references to slavery in the New Testament. Israelite slaves were to be offered release after six to seven years of service, except when the male Israelite slave chose to remain with his wife; the male slave, the female slave and all children would consequently endure bond-slavery throughout their lives (cfr Ex 21:2-6). And on the fiftieth, a Jubilee Year was proclaimed to release all the slaves through the land to all its inhabitants. “It shall be a jubilee for you” (Leviticus 25:1-4, 8-10).
As some scholars say, in the Old Testament, there was some sense of justice, as well. It all depends on the social context. Passages in Leviticus, for instance, show us the importance of treating “aliens” and foreigners well, and how, if they believe, they become part of the people of God. Moses, as well, instructs: “He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death”. (Exodus 21:16).
As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the issue of slavery was one that was historically treated with concern because it goes directly against the Teaching of the Master. Throughout most of human history, slavery has been practiced and accepted by many cultures and religions around the world. Certain passages in the Old Testament sanctioned forms of slavery. In a different perspective, The New Testament taught slaves to obey their masters, but this was not an endorsement of slavery, but an appeal to Christian slaves to honor their masters and accept their suffering for Christ’s sake, in imitation of him. In proclaiming baptism for all, the Church recognized that all men were fundamentally equal. This was in the mind of the Popes and Church legislators, though some may not believe.
As any other legislation, even the concept of slavery took centuries to be adjusted in order to reflect the full Teaching of the Master according to the Gospel values. After the legalization of Christianity under the Roman Empire, there was a growing sentiment that many kinds of slavery were not compatible with Christian conceptions of charity and justice; some argued against all forms of slavery while others, including the influential Thomas Aquinas, argued the case for penal slavery subject to certain restrictions. The Christian west did succeed in almost entirely enforcing that a free Christian could not be enslaved, for example a captive in war, but this itself was subject to continual improvement and was not consistently applied throughout history. The Middle Ages also witnessed the emergence of orders of monks who were founded for the purpose of ransoming Christian slaves. By the end of the medieval period, enslavement of Christians had been largely abolished throughout Europe although enslavement of non-Christians remained permissible, and had seen a revival in Spain and Portugal.
From the start, Pope Francis has made human slavery – this “plague on the body of contemporary humanity” – a priority in his papacy. In April 2015, he convened a plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences for the sole purpose of finding ways to use the Church’s influence to combat human slavery. He has taken the topic head-on in his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, and in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. He dedicated his entire speech for the 2015 World Day of Peace to the issue, and it was a central theme of his address to the United Nations in New York City. Beyond all this, Pope Francis has made combating human slavery a top diplomatic priority for the Holy See.
As a result, the Holy See played a critical role in lobbying behind closed doors at the UN to have the eradication of human slavery added to the Sustainable Development Goals. These are the international body’s top priorities for the next fifteen years, an expansion on the millennium goals laid out at the dawn of the new millennium.
As the title of the article goes, local and homegrown slavery is worse than cross border slavery, though it carries different names. In many African societies, including Uganda, house maids are paid miserable or never paid at all. Leadership reported on several occasions that young girls are brought from villages to urban centers and exploited to the maximum including instances of sexual abuse. In some occasion urban settlers bring relatives from upcountry for free labor. It can have several ways of justification, but it is real slavery in the Evangelical sense. There are several occasions when house maids decide to leave the house when their masters are at work due to harsh working conditions.
Another form of slavery is perpetuated by Government institutions. Civil servants often suffer miserable salaries and arrears stretching several months. They cannot pay water, electricity, and other bills because the government does not pay them in time. Several health workers and teachers demonstrate often because of salary issues. Whereas the huge salaries of 456 MPs in Uganda are released immediately with a lot of other allowances, the miserable salaries of nurses and teachers are often delayed.
This is also homegrown slavery which more painful to the people on the ground.
Another form of slavery is obviously perpetuated in many African countries by foreign companies like Chinese among others. Mining and oil exploration companies are among those who exploit Africans in their own land while they pay their countrymen and other foreign nationals expensively. Bisha Mining Company in Eritrea, for example uses workers from the national service who are unpaid, while they pay their South African and Canadian staff massively. The same is also happening in Karuma Hydro Electric Project in Uganda. The government signed the agreement with a Chinese Company in the River Nile at Karuma Bridge. The Chinese Company is exploiting thousands of Ugandan citizens with its multiple delays with no obvious reason but corruption.
By way of conclusion, the homemade ground is more devastating to local citizens both morally and economically. The priority of all stakeholders in human rights, therefore should be to stem out homemade slavery before everything else. Before aiming high, there is need to strive to uproot the painful homegrown slavery. “CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME”!!!
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