It’s the twenty-first century, and African migrants are being bought and sold by smugglers in Libya. Like Kunta Kinte, except it’s 2017.
Modern-day slavery is a reality in the North African nation, and sadly, the Obama administration must take its share of the blame for this. The Obama White House’s hand in getting rid of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi paved the way for lawlessness and corruption.
The images of open-air slave markets, where African refugees are peddled in slave markets by smugglers, sold at auction to the highest bidder, are horrifying and shocking to the conscience. Sub-Saharan Africans, chiefly from Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan and Zambia, are being sold as field hands, held for ransom, sold into prostitution, raped, tortured and murdered.
Black people are merchandise, once again.
UN Secretary General António Guterres reacted with outrage, condemned the atrocities and called for action, as protests have erupted in Paris and other cities, and the hashtag #LibyansAgainstSlavery has caught hold on social media. How did this happen, and how did we get to this place?
Consider that Libya has become a failed state since Gaddafi was thrown out of power and killed, a casualty in a regime change orchestrated by the Obama administration. This is not to say Gaddafi wasn’t problematic, a strongman and a dictator, but the U.S. always likes their dictators in the Middle East, the Third World and elsewhere until they don’t.
In 2003, Gaddafi reached a deal with then-president Bush, where the Libyan strongman agreed to get rid of his weapons of mass destruction, and in exchange, the U.S. would not oust him. All bets were off in October 2011, when the U.S. and NATO-backed forces began bombing Libya and overthrew Gaddafi.
“We came, we saw, he died,” said then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who pushed for the regime change. This created a vacuum, which allowed ISIS to cross the country’s porous borders and gain a foothold. Armed militias—as many as 1,700 of them—looted Gaddafi’s arsenals, and now they’re running things. The basket case nation has competing parliaments and three rival governments. As a result, oil-rich Libya—which had free education and healthcare, was one of the most prosperous nations on the African continent—is looking like a lawless, failed state.
In the midst of civil war and chaos in Libya, the financial breakdown and security collapse, is the mass migration of people through Libya on their way to Europe via the Mediterranean. Libya is the primary conduit for African refugees making their way to Europe–fleeing poverty and civil war in their home countries–with 150,000 people making the journey each year for the past three years.
In the last four years, over 3,000 refugees and migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean. The trafficking of humans is a big business in this environment. These refugees pay gangs to smuggle them to Libya with hopes of a better life in Europe, and the smugglers sell them out. Robbed and thrown into unsupervised detention centers, as Al Jazeera reported, these Africans find themselves sold for as little as $400 a head.
America has a way of messing up things for other countries. Uncle Sam plotted to assassinate Patrice Lumumba, the leader of independence in the Congo. The CIA was involved in the overthrow of elected Chilean president Salvador Allende, who was replaced by dictator Augusto Pinochet. The U.S. helped in the coup to oust Premier Mohammed Mosaddeq in Iran and install the Shah. And after 9/11, Bush invaded Iraq and eliminated Saddam Hussein—although most of the World Trade Center terrorists were from Saudi Arabia—paving the way for ISIS.
There are complex reasons why Black people are being sold by slave traders in Libya. The Obama administration’s decision to depose Gadaffi is one of them, and we must face it.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove.