alexa We Kenyans remain unwilling to confront our history of slavery - Daily Nation

We Kenyans remain unwilling to confront our history of slavery

Thursday November 23 2017

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‘Out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history – money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery – the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God that will make him happy’. - C.S. Lewis, British novelist and poet

I may not know much about happiness and its pursuit, but I can say one or two things about poverty, history and slavery

It was quite distressful to read about the sale of humans, well Africans, in Libya as slaves in an open market.

The trade and traffic in humans has never left our human existence, but it has always been some sort of underground movement that was so mysterious, giving each the illusion that it is one of those things that happen to ‘others’, not quite to us. At the moment Kenyans may be thinking ‘poor Senegalese’ but these crimes are not very far from home.

According to the National Crime Research Centre, trafficking in Kenya supports first the labour market, followed by child trafficking and then trafficking for prostitution.  

Kenya is rated internationally as a tier-two country as far as the prevention of human trafficking is concerned. 

Tier-two countries have not fully complied to the requirements of the trafficking of victims protection act. Traffic in human beings is not legal in any country in the world, but law has not been able to deal with the physical and psychological issues surrounding human captivity.

Most nations in the world have not been able to deal with the difficult heritage of slave trade or to address the issues arising from it. In Kenya for example slave traders are still referred in very complementary terms as ‘long distance’ traders in our recorded history.


Historians have lacked the moral courage to rewrite history and name these villains for what they are – selfish, heartless criminals who dehumanise other beings to the extent that they can buy and sell them as commodities on the open market.

But this is not a special situation in Kenya. It applies widely in Africa. Independent governments act as if slavery did not happen.

As such they have not been able to give the two primary causes of human trafficking, poverty and unemployment, the attention they deserve.

Pictures in the media show youth being sold in the slave markets, youth who left their countries to seek a better life but ended up in the hands of scoundrels. What kind of desperation makes these youth take such risks?

Even if they are not captured by human traffickers, the next option is to take a rickety boat and go on a lethal voyage across the Mediterranean to reach Europe.

It is a journey which many before them have attempted and ended their lives in the process. This youth know this but still want to attempt the journey.

What are they running from that is so bad at home that death may seem like a better option? Abject poverty? Lack of hope for a future in their African countries? Or a future so dark that death becomes one of the options?

Of course it is unlikely that any one of them starts the journey without hope of reaching their destination, but still the risks seem to outweigh the possibilities of success from the start.

This brings one to the conclusion that this is not a journey made by the greedy, but by the desperate.


It is noteworthy that this situation has happened in Africa to Africans but each time we do not see it coming. The first time, we blamed the gun and the Bible. I'm not sure what Africa's excuse is this time.

Many African countries have refused to address the parts of their history that are difficult. As they say, until the lion learns to write, every story will glorify the hunter.

African has hidden her face from her difficult history, allowing others to tell her stories in ways that are not representative. The lessons to be learned have therefore been lost in the narratives of ‘others’.

Africans must face the matter of slavery and their own role in this painful history. The African habit of laughing and loving in the face of pain must stop at the national level. Youth need to be given options of gainful employment in their homelands.

The youth in the slave markets may not be Kenyan by nationality, but they are Kenyan by deed and by the very act of desperation.

The horror stories that have emerged from domestic workers in the Middle East bespeak of slavery, but I guess we are all waiting for an actual market video like the one which emerged from Libya to accept that the slave market is alive and well.

The African Union is outraged! Are they outraged enough to create hope for African children right here in Africa?

Twitter: @muthonithangwa