The new and significant moves towards a peaceful resolution
of the Sudanese civil war (1), as outlined in the July 2002
Machakos peace protocol, must go hand in hand with a concerted
attempt to cut away the dead hand of propaganda that has artificially
prolonged the conflict.
One organisation that has also been at the heart of the propaganda
war surrounding Sudan has been the self-styled "American
Anti-Slavery Group" (AASG). Headed by Charles Jacobs,
AASG is based in Boston. Jacobs has confirmed that the American
Anti-Slavery Group works closely with Christian Solidarity
International.(2) The organisation has been identified with
claims of Arab "slave" raiders "enslaving"
black women and children in Sudan, and has also been closely
involved in subsequently discredited mass "slave redemptions".
These sorts of "slave redemptions" had earlier been
dismissed by reputable human rights activists such as Alex
de Waal. As director of African Rights, de Waal pointed referred
to "(O)vereager or misinformed human rights advocates
in Europe and the US" who "have played upon lazy
assumptions to raise public outrage." He further criticised
the use of "the term 'slave raids', implying that taking
captives is the aim of government policy." De Waal stated:
"there is no evidence for centrally-organized, government-directed
slave raiding or slave trade." (3)
In February 2002, as the result of some excellent investigative
journalism, 'The Irish Times', London's 'The Independent
on Sunday', 'The Washington Post' and 'International Herald
Tribune', chose to publish, or republish, articles exposing
the deep fraud and corruption at the heart of claims of
"slave redemption" in Sudan.(4) These
articles are the culmination of long-standing concerns about
the activities of several organisations involved in what
had become a Western-financed "redemption" industry
in parts of Sudan. Claims by organisations such as AASG
to have "redeemed" tens of thousands of Sudanese
"slaves" have been sharply called into question.
Washington Post' reported that in numerous documented instances
"the slaves weren't slaves at all, but people gathered
locally and instructed to pretend they were returning from
bondage".(5) 'The Independent on Sunday' reported that
it was able to "reveal that 'redemption' has often
been a carefully orchestrated fraud".(6) Rev Cal Bombay,
whose Crossroads Christian Communications organisation in
Canada had been involved in "slave redemptions"
revealed that SPLA leaders such as Dr Samson Kwaje, in candid
comments about "slave redemption", "doubted
that even 5%" of the "slaves" had ever been
abducted, and that "they were coached in how to act,
and stories to tell."(7)
'The Irish Times' reported "According to aid workers,
missionaries, and even the rebel movement that facilitates
it, slave redemption in Sudan is often an elaborate scam."
'The Irish Times' article also stated that in many cases
"the process is nothing more than a careful deceit,
stage-managed by corrupt officials".
"In reality, many of the 'slaves' are fakes. Rebel
officials round up local villagers to pose for the cameras.
They recruit fake slavers - a light skinned soldier, or
a passing trader, to 'sell' them. The children are coached
in stories of abduction and abuse for when the redeemer,
or a journalist, asks questions. Interpreters may be instructed
to twist their answers. The money, however, is very real.
CSI can spend more than $300,000 during a week of redemptions
at various bush locations. After their plane takes off,
the profits are divvied up - a small cut to the 'slaves
' and the 'trader ' but the lion's share to local administrators
and SPLA figures."
In an open letter in 2000 senior SPLA commander Aleu Ayieny
Aleu stated that "slave redemption" had become
a "racket of mafia dimensions". He also revealed,
as an example, that one of his lighter-skinned relatives,
SPLA captain Akec Tong Aleu, had been "forced several
times to pretend as an Arab and simulate the sale of free
children to CSI on camera".(8) Aleu declared: "It
was a hoax. This thing has been going on for no less than
six years".(9) This account, 'The Washington Post'
stated, "coincides with descriptions of the scam offered
by Sudanese officials and Western aid workers, who said
the sheer volume of money flowing into the south made corruption
inevitable."(10) The newspaper also reported that "prevalent
fraud is acknowledged by senior rebel officials".
In examining earlier, equally questionable, claims made
by the AASG, David Hecht, a BBC correspondent based in Senegal,
directly challenged the credibility of Charles Jacobs, bluntly
referring to "the misinformation of Jacobs and his
anti-slavery group".(11) Hecht focused on claims made
before congressional sub-committees in 1996 by Jacobs and
the American Anti-Slavery Group which spoke of Arab slave
raiders capturing black women and children in Mauritania.
Jacobs testified that slaves are treated as "concubines".
He also claimed that many slaves undergo exotic torture,
including "camel treatment," the "insect
treatment" and the "burning coals treatment".
The congressmen were also presented with a receipt by Jacobs
and his colleagues to be for the sale
of a slave and her baby daughter.
The then Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African
Affairs, William Twaddle, stated with regard to the allegations
made by Jacobs that they "have not credibly been brought
to our attention." He stated, for example, that the
American government had investigated the receipt for the
"slave purchase" and concluded that the signatures
were forged. (12) Jacobs claimed that there were hundreds
of thousands of black slaves in Mauritania. The State Department's
country report on human rights in Mauritania for 1996, however,
stated: "Slavery in the form of officially sanctioned
forced or involuntary servitude, is extremely rare, and
a system of slavery in which government and society join
to force individuals to serve masters no longer exists".(13)
In his study of Jacobs' claims, Hecht interviewed Hindou
Mint Ainina, editor-in-chief of 'Le Calame', one of Mauritania's
leading independent newspapers, about the claims made by
Jacobs. Hecht records that Ms Ainina scoffed at the stories
of "slave raids" described to Congress and has
never heard of the "bizarre" camel, insect or
hot sand tortures cited by Jacobs. Hecht reported that "many
in Mauritania believe these tales were concocted by members
of FLAM (Forces pour la liberation des Africains Mauritaniens),
a liberation group for non-Maur Africans as anti-government
propaganda." A senior U.S. Foreign Service official
observed: "They [the rebels] have many legitimate grievances
but slavery is not one of them." Hecht quoted Ainina
as asking of American congressmen "Do they think we
have big plantations here and white mansions on top of the
hill? They are sadly mistaken." (14)
Jacobs has been accused of "Muslim baiting" and
has referred to the Prophet Muhammed as a swindler.(15)
Prior to his involvement with AASG, Jacobs had been involved
in ultra-conservative, pro-Israeli activism. He
headed, for example, the 'Mosaic Group', described by 'The
Jewish Advocate' newspaper as "an activist group which
countered anti-Israel propaganda in community organizations."(16)
When asked about Mosaic, one of Jacobs' colleagues stated:
"Well, it's not the name that he [Jacobs] goes under
anymore. I think that sort of fell by the wayside when he
renamed it the American Anti-Slavery Group."(17) In
any instance, the AASG is clearly partisan with regard to
the Sudanese conflict, supporting and working with the SPLA
rebel movement. One of the AASG co-founders was David de
Chand, a southern Sudanese rebel official. It has been noted
that there is an ideological context for Jacobs' support
for the SPLA. Israel had historically supported and given
military aid to
southern Sudanese rebels as part of policies designed to
destabilise Islamic countries.(18)
In 2000, Jacobs became the Director of The Sudan Campaign,
a coalition of anti-Sudanese groups. The similarities between
AASG's claims about Mauritania and Sudan are clear. Just
as in Mauritania, allegations about Arab slave raiders and
claims of "slavery" in Sudan make for good anti-Muslim
propaganda. Jacobs once again alleged the existence of "concubines".(19)
Allegations of "slavery" have been closely associated
with, and have directly benefited, rebel movements in both
countries. Jacobs was also able to focus considerably more
attention on Sudan by presenting the issue as one of northern
Arab "slavers" and African Christian southerners.
And in Sudan the whole issue has been a very lucrative one
for "slave redeemers", with hundreds of thousands
of dollars in cash allegedly changing hands. The AASG has
also shamelessly exploited the naively of school teachers
and schoolchildren (20) as well as Harvard University undergraduates
in its campaigns.(21) In addition
to claims of slavery, Jacobs has also described Sudan as
a "terrorist, genocidal" state (22) engaged in
a "holy war".(23)
It has clearly been easy for the AASG to get its claims
into print, particularly within local newspapers and television
stations whose journalistic standards have been less than
demanding. John Stauber, the
founder of the Center for Media and Democracy, and director
of "PR Watch", observed:
"Much of what you see on national and local TV news
is actually video news releases prepared by public-relations
firms and given free to TV stations and networks. News directors
air these PR puff pieces disguised
as news stories because it's a free way to fill air time
and allows them to lay off reporters. Of course, it's not
just television that's the problem. Academics who study
public relations report that half or more of what appears
in newspapers and magazines is lifted verbatim from press
releases generated by public-relations firms." (24)
This is precisely what has happened with regard to the
"slave redemption" activities organised by the
American Anti-Slavery Group. There is considerable evidence
that Charles Jacobs and his American Anti-Slavery Group's
carefully-designed "PR puff pieces" have found
fertile ground in Boston. (25) Jacobs has managed to secure
national media coverage for his claims.(26) The Boston ad
agency of Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos launched a
campaign on behalf of AASG. Adverts were aimed at "grabbing
readers with a provocative, even
offensive, approach" and sought to place these ads
in national papers such as 'The New York Times' and 'The
Washington Post'. A senior vice-president at the ad agency,
Todd Riddle, said of the ad campaign "[i]t
puts a spin on the old slave auctions." (27)
The work of die-hards such as Charles Jacobs, and groups
such as the American Anti-Slavery Group, direct beneficiaries
of continuing conflict in Sudan, must be criticised for
the self-serving activities that they so clearly are. They
are running against the tide of peace and progress in Sudan.
1 See, for example, "Rebels Welcome Sudan Peace Plan",
News Article by BBC News, 5 July 2001. See, also, "Sudan
Opposition Welcomes Deal", News Article by Associated
Press, 21 July 2002; "US Says Deal
Between Sudan, Rebels is 'Significant Step' Towards Peace",
News Article by Agence France Presse, 22 July 2002; "Sudanese
Joy Over Peace Between Government and Rebels", News
Article by Deutsche Press Agentur, 22 July 2002; "Sudan
Truce Monitors Optimistic on Peace Prospects", News
Article by Reuters, 23 July 2002.
2 "Statement of Charles Jacobs, Ed.D., President American
Anti-Slavery Group, Boston, Mass.", Testimony before
the sub-committee on international operations and human
rights of the Committee on International Relations, U.S.
House of Representatives, Washington-DC, 27 May 1999.
3 Alex de Waal, "Sudan: Social Engineering, Slavery
and War", in 'Covert Action Quarterly', Spring 1997.
4 "The Great Slave Scam", 'The Irish Times',
23 February 2002; "Scam in Sudan - An Elaborate Hoax
Involving Fake African Slaves and Less-than-Honest Interpreters
is Duping Concerned Westerners", 'The Independent on
Sunday' (London), 24 February 2002; "Ripping Off Slave
'Redeemers': Rebels Exploit Westerners' Efforts to Buy Emancipation
for Sudanese", 'The Washington Post', 26 February 2002;
"Sudan Rip-Offs Over Phony Slaves", 'International
Herald Tribune', 27 February 2002. "Slave Redemption"
has also been extensively questioned. See, for example,
Richard Miniter, "The False Promise of Slave Redemption",
'The Atlantic Monthly', July 1999; 'The Reality of Slave
Redemption', European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London,
March 2001; 'The Use of
Intertribal Raiding as "Slavery" Propaganda in
Sudan: A Statement of Concern to Mrs Mary Robinson, The
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights', European-Sudanese
Public Affairs Council, London, March 200, all available
at www.espac.org. Christian Solidarity International's Sudan
activities have long been seriously questioned. See, for
example, 'Time to Speak out on Christian Solidarity International
and Sudan: An Open Letter to Anti-Slavery International',
European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, June 2001;
'Prejudiced and Discredited: Christian Solidarity International
and Sudan', European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London,
2000, available at www.espac.org;
David Hoile, 'Sudan, Propaganda and Distortion:
Allegations of Slavery and Slavery-Related Practices', The
Sudan Foundation, London, March 1997.
5 "Ripping Off Slave 'Redeemers': Rebels Exploit Westerners'
Efforts to Buy Emancipation for Sudanese", 'The Washington
Post', 26 February 2002.
6 "Scam in Sudan - An Elaborate Hoax Involving Fake
African Slaves and Less-than-Honest Interpreters is Duping
Concerned Westerners", 'The Independent on Sunday'
(London), 24 February 2002 7 "Slave
Redemption", Email message from Rev Cal Bombay to the
European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, 8 April 2002.
8 "The Great Slave Scam", 'The Irish Times',
23 February 2002.
9 "Ripping Off Slave 'Redeemers'", 'The Washington
Post', 26 February 2002.
10 "Ripping Off Slave 'Redeemers'", 'The Washington
Post', 26 February 2002.
11 David Hecht, "'Slavery' African Style", The
Wisdom Fund, 14 February 1998. This article was based on
a letter on "slavery" in Mauritania to 'The Washington
Post' which the newspaper declined to publish.
12 David Hecht, "Virtual Slavery", 'The New Republic',
12 May 1997.
13 'Country Report on Human Rights for Mauritania', United
States Department of State, Washington-DC, 1997.
14 David Hecht, "Virtual Slavery", 'The New Republic',
12 May 1997.
15 Ismail Royer, Sudan 'Anti-Slavery' Campaign is Outgrowth
of pro-Israel Lobby", Iviews.com, available at www.iviews.com
16 'The Toronto Star', 23 December 1989.
17 Ismail Royer, Sudan 'Anti-Slavery' Campaign is Outgrowth
of pro-Israel Lobby", Iviews.com, available at www.iviews.com.
18 Ismail Royer, "Sudan 'Anti-Slavery' Campaign is
Outgrowth of pro-Israel Lobby", Iviews.com, available
See, also, The Washington Post', 28 April 1998.
19 "Halting Sudan's Slavery and Slaughter", 'The
Boston Globe', 8 November 1999.
20 See, for example, "Students Buy 2 Sudanese Out
of Slavery", 'The Denver Post', 24 April 1998; "Colorado
Fourth Graders Leading Charge to Gain Freedom of Sudanese
Slaves", News Article on NBC Nightly News, 21
December 1998, and "Bloomsburg High Grad Fights Slavery
in Sudan", 'Press Enterprise' (Bloomsburg, PA), 14
21 See, for example, "Sophomore Skips Orientation
to Free 4,000 Slaves in Sudan", 'The Harvard University
Gazette', 28 September 2000; "Student's Journey to
Sudan Shed Light on Slavery", 'Pittsburgh Post-Gazette',
16 April 2002.
22 "Statement of Charles Jacobs, Ed.D., President
American Anti-Slavery Group, Boston, Mass.", Testimony
before the Sub-Committee on International Operations and
Human Rights of the Committee on International Relations,
U.S. House of Representatives, Washington-DC, 27 May 1999.
23 "Should Wall Street Be Open to Slavers?",
'The Boston Globe', 8 September 2001.
24 "War on Truth: The Secret Battle for the American
Mind. An Interview with John Stauber", 'The Sun', March
1999, available at www.whale.to/m/stauber.html
25 See, for example, articles such as "In Campaign
to Liberate Sudan's Child Slaves, Money Talks", 'The
Boston Globe', 19 February 1999; "Harvard Teen Says
He Heeded 'Calling' to Free Sudan Slaves", 'The Boston
Herald', 15 September 2000.
26 The activities of the AASG have been featured in publications
including 'The Wall Street Journal', 'The New Yorker', and
'The Boston Globe'. Jacobs has also appeared on ABC's "World
News Tonight", CBS' "This Morning", and National
Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation"
27 "This Just In: Slaves for Sale. A Boston Ad Agency
Teams up with an Anti-Slavery Organization for some Compelling,
and Disturbing, Advocacy", 'Boston Phoenix', 1999.