Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Richard Baawobr Anti-Slavery Conference at EMU (28/2/2013)

125th Anniversary of the Anti-Slavery Campaign of Cardinal Lavigerie Charles (1888 - 2013)

Born in Ghana in 1959, Richard Baawobr is a priest member of the Society of Missionaries of Africa. He studied Philosophy in Ghana, Spirituality in Switzerland, Theology at the Missionary Institute of London. After his priestly ordination, he worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo then studied Bible at the Pontifical Biblical Institute (Rome) before teaching in Tanzania and in the Faculty of Theology of the Catholic Institute of Toulouse (France). He obtained a Doctorate in Biblical Theology from the latter with a Thesis entitled “Quand Jésus prend la parole. Identité du Maître et naissance du disciple en Luc 4,16-30” (2004). He has published commentaries on the Sunday Gospels (Years A B C) and on the Second Reading of Sundays for Christian Communities (Years A B C). He has also published articles in other scientific journals. Since 2004 he has been serving on the general Council of the Missionaries of Africa, first of as Vicar General and since 2010 as Superior General. 

Theme: "I am a man and nothing human is foreign to me" ...Let us break the chains!

Fr. Richard Baawobr delivering the speech at EMU

I am very happy and grateful to the Leaders of the Eastern Mennonite University, who through my colleague, Fr. Yago Abeledo, have given me this opportunity to share with you, during your lunch break, something on a subject that is dear to our Missionary Family.

We, the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) and the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa (White Sisters) are commemorating the 125th Anniversary of the Campaign against Slave Trade in Africa by our founder, Cardinal Lavigerie Charles (1825 - 1892). We launched the celebrations on the 11th November 2012 at the Church of Gesù in Rome and the closing ceremony will be on the 8th September 2013, in Ouagadougou in Burkina-Faso. The general theme for this year's celebrations is: "I am a man and nothing human is foreign to me[1] - Let us break the chains!

Celebrating this anniversary for us is an occasion to: Firstly, thank God for the achievements from this campaign, the major one being the abolition of slave trade in Africa and putting in place the laws to enforce it. The second reason is in keeping with our conviction that commitment to Justice and peace is part and parcel of what it means to share the Good news of Jesus with others. Thus the 125th Anniversary celebration enables us also to deepen our reflections and commitment to Justice and Peace, especially in the fight against modern-day slavery, following in the footsteps of our Founder. Several Chapters have invited us to integrate the commitment to JPIC in all our pastoral commitments. In our reflections, we are  focusing on these issues: New forms of slavery, Poverty, Land grabbing, Human Rights in Africa, Human trafficking, Child Slavery and Migrants.

1. Lavigerie's Anti-Slavery Campaign

1.1. The Observation of the Facts

When our Founder, Cardinal Lavigerie, was bishop of Algiers in North Africa he got reports from his Missionaries working in the interior part of Africa. In them he discovered the atrocities of slavery and how the man-hunts were devastating whole villages and were going to depopulate Africa. He was already aware of the Trans-Saharan Slave-Trade in which black slaves were taken from Africa and sent to Arab countries, as domestic workers, etc. Without making a blanket condemnation of Islam, he decried the practice of discrimination that he saw among the Arabs and especially their conception of the black race. In the 1st July 1888 Conference in St Sulpice (Paris), he gave the following impressive figures:

Five hundred thousand slaves sold each year in the markets of the interior of Africa, under conditions which I have just described. 
I am only talking about slaves who have been sold; added to these, according to the explorers and our Fathers, for every slave put up for sale, must be added the victims who have been massacred during the man hunts, or who have died from their sufferings and from hunger in the caravans en route to the slave markets. Some people say that for every slave sold, must be added four, five or even ten dead before arriving at the markets.
Cameron, in confirming these estimates, reports that in order to procure fifty women to be sold, one of these “tigers” destroyed nearby, ten inoffensive villages, each with a population of as many as two hundred people, and massacred all their inhabitants. If, in the other regions where these man hunts are carried out, the proportions are the same, this makes two million blacks killed or sold, each year. This means that in fifty years the interior of Africa will be completely depopulated. I am not astonished by this consequence, especially as my missionaries write that every day a slave caravan arrives at Lake Tanganyika. When my missionaries arrived ten years ago in the heavily populated Manyema region, the area was totally covered with villages and cultivated fields; today, Tipo-Tip’s slave traders have made most of this region, as big as a third of France, a sterile desert where the only traces of the former inhabitants are the bones of the dead people.

He had rescued some children and intended to educate them and one day return them to their countries with the missionaries who would be going there.

The reports of the Missionaries, together with those of the American and European explorers of the nineteenth century like Stanley and Livingstone raised his awareness about the gravity of the situation and he felt that this silent holocaust  and genocide could not be allowed to continue.

The violence that the capture and journey to the slave markets and to the "new Countries" with new masters was also horrendous:

the slavers do not only attack isolated individuals: they organise their expeditions in the same way as a war is organised, sometimes alone, sometimes by a refinement of wickedness, allied to neighbouring tribes to which they offer part of their pillage and who, the next day become their victims in their turn. During the night, they fall on defenceless villages; they set fire to the huts built of straw. They fire on the first people they meet. The population begins to flee, looking for safety in the forest, amongst impenetrable creepers, in dried-up river beds, in the tall grasslands of the valleys. They are chased and the men who resist and the old people are killed. The women and children are taken as captives. (...) All those captured, be they men, women and children, are immediately marched off into the interior[2].
This was the lucrative Trans-Atlantic Slavery where the slaves were sent to work in fields abroad. For many, if they made the journey till the "New Countries", it was a journey of no return. The Governments who had their "Spheres of Influence" in Africa, following the Berlin Conference and the sharing up of Africa like a cake, had to be brought to stop the practice. This, he hoped would happen through the pressure of the public opinion on the decision makers!

Berlin Conference 1885
African Political Division after the Berlin Conference 1885

1.2. Getting the Official Mission from Pope Leo XIII

Pope Leo XIII
After the official ending of the White Slavery, Pope Leo XIII, turned his attention the Slavery in Brazil and was preparing an encyclical In Plurisimis (1888) in order to denounce and put and end to atrocities of the slavery in Brazil. Lavigerie visited the Pope with a delegation of former slaves from North Africa at the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Priesthood of the Pope and urged the Pope on 21st May 1888 to say something also against the slavery in Africa and to do something about it.

Pope Leo XIII listened carefully and gave full mandate to Lavigerie to lead the campaign in a "brief" dated 17th October 1888. Thus began the Anti-Slavery campaign that took him to some major towns of Europe (Paris, London, Brussels, Geneva, Rome, Napoli, etc.). He gave conferences to different people in order to:

  • present the facts as he had them from the Missionaries (Sisters, Brothers and Fathers) and the explorers;
  • convince that something had to be done to stop it;
  • raise funds;
  • to get the public opinion to obtain a change of policy from their respective governments;

At the beginning he thought that if he founded an International "Religious Knights" that would fight the raiders, it would work. But this idea was not welcomed, neither by the Governments, who saw interference in their new territories, nor by the Church who did not approve the violence it would involve. The idea of Anti-Slavery Societies that would support the campaign financially and continue to keep the pressure with the Governments is what took off in many places. This type of Society was already present in England and elsewhere.

1.3. The Humanitarian and Theological Foundation of Lavigerie's Anti-Slavery Campaign

Though not enunciated in clear terms, the references Lavigerie makes to the Scriptures and to other writings and the convictions he expressed, show what was his theological vision and how he saw the human person was.

1.3.1 "I am a man"

Church of the Gesu, Rome
Speaking in Rome on 22nd December in the Church of the Gesu, he quoted from the ancient poet Terence [3] and adapted it to the context of the Anti-Slavery campaign.

"I am a man, and nothing human is foreign to me" (....) I am a man, and injustice towards others revolts my heart. I am a man, and oppression offends my nature. I am man and what I would like people to do to restore to me freedom, honour and sacred bonds of family, I want to do to restore to the sons and daughters of this unhappy race, family, honour and freedom [4].

This, for us, Daughters and Sons of Lavigerie, is also the leading motif for our commitment in the fight against the forms of slavery of our day. This was contrary to the vision of some at the time, who taught that slaves, especially black ones, were a "sub-human race".

This is what Lavigerie noted in his conference in St Sulpice in Paris on 1st July 1888:

that humanity is made up of two distinct races: that of the believers, destined to rule over the others; and that of the accursed, as they call them, destined to serve. In this second category, they say that the Negroes are the lowest of the low, on the same level as animals. According to Leo XIII, in their eyes they are described as beasts destined for the yoke: Nata jugo jumenta [5]

It is easy, and even tempting to buy into current and popular conceptions of humanity. Lavigerie stood his ground on the conviction the all human beings are equal irrespective of where they are born and the colour of their skin. They have the same rights as everybody else.

1.3.2. "All are brothers ... freed by Christ ... love one another"

Beyond the humanitarian grounding, Lavigerie saw a theological reason. As he spoke in the Cathedral of Algiers on 20th June 1879, at the departure of the second caravan of Missionaries, he reminded his missionaries:
It is this freedom that St. Paul proclaimed in Rome where Nero was ruler and where two million slaves were kept in irons. Paul said: “Among you there are neither Greeks nor barbarians, slaves nor citizens; you are all brothers, you are all free with the freedom which comes from Christ” (Cf. Gal 3:4) [6].
He had already had reports from Equatorial Africa about the scourge of Slavery! As he sent them forth he blessed them saying:
Following the great Apostle and in the midst of so many people weighed down by their burdens, you will proclaim the holy freedom which comes from Jesus Christ. Your voice will resound like a thunderbolt, or rather hope and love will rise up in the darkness. Yes, I bless you in the name of the faith which you are going to spread far and wide; in the name of the charity which by your hands must cure so many wounds; in the name of the holy freedom which you are going to preach and which will bring about the end of so many evils; in the name of the light which you are going to carry into the darkness; and so as to destroy all these evils, in the name which sums up and which sanctifies all these great things, I bless you in the name of Jesus Christ, your master and mine; for Jesus Christ is the faith, the charity, the freedom, the light, all these good things which people look for with so much ardour and which they do not find, because they look for them outside Him![7]
As he taught in Saint Sulpice on 1st July 1888, slavery is a crime because it denies the fact that "all humankind are born in the image of Jesus Christ, they are new christs and hence brothers (and sisters)"[8]. They have been freed by Christ. At the same occasion he insisted that:
To oppress one another and to deprive people of their freedom is a sacrilege, because this freedom is “nature’s most precious gift”. Jesus Christ taught this truth when he said that on the last day we shall all be rewarded, if we “have gone to the aid of prisoners”, because “in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine you did it to me.”[9]
Though the biblical reference is not given, his audience would have recalled that it was from the parable of the Last Judgement (Mt 25:31-46).
All this was well summed up in his own Episcopal motto: "Charitas". Love and God and of neighbour, especially of the poor, go hand in hand. One cannot be true without the other (1 Jn 3:23; 4:20-21). This challenge is actual even today!

1.4. The Lavigerian Method
Cardinal Lavigerie used a very pragmatic method in his Anti-Slavery Campaign. He fed his humanitarian and theological vision into very practical steps. The Media played a very important role.

1° He gathered the information available from the correspondence of his Missionaries on the field in the interior of Africa;

2° He shared that information with:
  • the political and religious leaders of the time;
  • he gave conferences, homilies, organised Congresses, to diffuse that information to the wider public and to the Press so that they could put pressure on the political leaders and bring about a change of policy;

3° He tried to get the audience to move beyond admiration and applause to concrete plans of action.

He appealed directly to the consciences of simple people and decision makers alike so that it would be a matter of all. In some cases he met with approval, in others he met with opposition.

In spite of the atmosphere of mistrust between religions, he did not shy away from making it an Ecumenical and Inter-Religious venture. He got Anglicans, Protestants and Muslims involved in the fight against this common humanitarian scourge. Because of the Papal mandate and financial support, he, however, tried to ensure that the leadership in the Anti-Slavery Societies he founded, was in the hands of Catholics.

David Livingstone
Lavigerie got an interesting insight in his Anti-Slavery Campaign from Dr. David Livingstone (1813 - 1873). Lavigerie and Livingstone never met and never had any correspondence between themselves. But, the interest that Lavigerie had in the Evangelization of the Sub-Saharan Africa, made him read the writings of Livingstone who, as an explorer had been in Africa (1852-56, 58-64, 66-73). Among the topics that Livingstone extensively wrote about was 'slavery and slave trade' in Africa - especially in Central and Southern Africa. His writings and life witness in England influenced very much the people of England to become anti-slavery activists.

Livingstone proposed that in order to uproot slavery and slave trade from Africa there was need for "3Cs": Christianisation, Civilization (education and good governance) and Commerce (legal and ethical). This vision was taken up by Lavigerie and it is reflected in his 'Secret Memorandum addressed to Cardinal Alessandro Franchi (Prefect of Propaganda Fide 1874-78) on the African International Association of Brussels and the Evangelisation of Equatorial Africa, 2nd January 1878. Also, in some of his Instructions to the Missionaries sent to Equatorial Africa, e.g. that of 1879, Lavigerie made reference to the writings of Livingstone on slave trade.

Tomb of Livingstone (Abbey of Westminster)
In his Anti-Slavery conferences in Paris, London and Brussels, Lavigerie quoted Livingstone on the atrocities and gravity of slave trade in Black Africa. And, while in London, before his conference at Prince's Hall on 31st July 1888, Lavigerie made a pilgrimage to the tomb of Livingstone in the Abbey of Westminster. This is how he narrated this event:

At the head of those who declared this new war was the intrepid, the noble Livingstone. As an old African myself, I wanted to visit the tomb of the great explorer, under the vaults of Westminster. You have buried him in the midst of your greatest men. You were right, for Livingstone, by his courage, by his high intelligence, by the abnegation of his life, is the glory of this century and of your country. But if you are the heirs of his glory, you must be the executors of his last wishes. So, it is with an emotion that brought tears to my eyes that I read the final words he wrote and that England has had officially engraved on his tomb, by order of the Government: “I cannot do anything more,” he wrote in the neglected environment where he was going to die, “than to wish that the most abundant heavenly blessings descend on those, whoever they may be, English, American or Turks, who contribute to making the frightful plague of slavery disappear from the world. [10]

Therefore, in both Lavigerie and Livingstone, we have two men who loved Africa and the Africans and who, each in his own way, tried his best to fight against the African Slave Trade. Lavigerie's constant reference to Livingstone inspires us to ecumenical collaboration in the struggle against modern day slavery especially in Africa. The "3Cs" of Livingstone embraced by Lavigerie are still very valid instrument to fight against today's slaveries.

In these two points - love of Africa and Africans - all of us we have a lot from Cardinal Lavigerie in the fight against the modern forms of Slavery.

2. Modern Forms of slavery

2.1. Types of Modern Slavery

In general, we can say that all that dehumanizes people, all that violates their human dignity and  rights, all that reduces human beings to being mere commodities that are sold and bought for profit as are any other “goods”, is a form of slavery. So, the list is very long: poverty, human trafficking [11], human sacrifice, drugs-addiction, all different types of child exploitation;  sexual mutilation of female children, street children, prostitution (forced or not), forced labour, bonded labour, marital slavery, forced marriage, debt bondage, etc.
In order to fight these forms of slavery, it is important that we acknowledge a fundamental truth that we are born equal and that we are all equally loved by God, irrespective of our gender, culture, colour and social condition. Like the prophets of old, to announce the Good News necessarily brings us to open our eyes and those of others to the different things that de-humanises us.

2.2. Some Contributing Factors

Ernest Ravenstein's theory of "push - pull" factors [12] combined with the human needs can explain in some cases (migrants and some forms human trafficking) the initial to some things that later on turn out to be forms of slavery. Unfavourable conditions in one place push people out and what they see as "paradise" at the other end, pulls them there". They might even see those who are "pulling them out" as benefactors, till they discover their real motives, but by then it is too late.

2.3. Strategies in fighting today's forms of slavery

Here we have a lot to learn from our Founder. We do not have to re-invent the wheel, but rather to be bold and courageous as he was.

  • Inform the public opinion about the existence of these forms of slavery, through conferences, talks, and other different means of mass media. According to Lavigerie 'informed public opinion' was a key instrument in this fight: “My first appeal then, is to public opinion. It is the queen of the world. Sooner or later, it forces all the powers to follow it and obey it.” (St. Gudule, Brussels, 15th August 1888).
  • Invite the public to put pressure on their respective governments to enact laws abolishing these form slavery (if they do not exist) and put structures in place to reinforce these laws. The collaboration of others is indispensable.
  • Collaborate with all who are committed to fight against modern-day forms of slavery, irrespective of their religious affiliations. Lavigerie said: "Slavery, as it is practised in Africa, is not only, in fact, opposed to the Gospel, it is contrary to the natural law...Now the laws of nature apply not just to Christians but to all men. That is why I appeal to all, without distinction of nationality, or party, or religious confession." (Chiesa del Gesù, 23rd December 1888).
  • Integrate in our catechetical and pastoral activities issues related to human dignity and rights. Lavigerie rightly considered Evangelisation as the most effective long-term means to fight against slavery and slave trade. It cannot be different today!

Many of our Provinces have planned activities in the line of raising awareness about local forms of modern slavery. These activities include conferences, drama sketches, tours, publicity with T-Shirts, etc. It has mobilised our energies in very real ways throughout the Provinces and in all these events, the collaboration between brothers and sisters of the same Founder is obvious and appreciated.

By Way of Conclusion

During the XXVII Chapter, there was a desire among some capitulants to propose that as Society we choose a target group that would mobilise our energies in terms of our commitment today to Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation and Inter-Religious Dialogue and Ecumenism. It was felt that this would be helpful for the whole Society. After much discussion, the proposal was not taken. However, individual Provinces were to identify the target groups that would mobilize their missionary energy and commitment[13].

Upon hindsight we can that our Founder still ensured that his major concern at the end of his life came to the fore in the Missionary Family that he founded. The concern was now no more limited to the Sons of Lavigerie alone, but as it should always be, it involved the Daughters also. The celebration of the 125th Anti-Slavery Campaign has mobilised the missionary energies of our Family and will strengthen us as we commit ourselves in Jesus' name as daughters and Sons of Lavigerie to continue the fight against whatever diminishes our humanity. "I am a man, and nothing human is foreign to me".

        Fr. Richard K. Baawobr, M.Afr.
Superior General
Fr. Richard Nnyombi, M.Afr.
 JPIC & ED Coordinator

[1] Quotation from Terence in the Conference in the Church of the Gesu on 22nd December 1888.
[2] Jean-Claude Ceillier and François Richard, Cardinal Lavigerie and the Anti-Slavery Campaign (Society of Missionary of Africa - History Series n° 11), Roma, Istituto Salesiano Pio XI, 2012, p. 38.
[3] Terence, Heautonotimoroumenos, v. 77: homo sum, et nihil humani a me alienum puto, in  Jean-Claude Ceillier and François Richard, Cardinal Lavigerie and the Anti-Slavery Campaign (Society of Missionary of Africa - History Series n° 11), Roma, Istituto Salesiano Pio XI, 2012, p. 96.
[4] Jean-Claude Ceillier and François Richard, Cardinal Lavigerie and the Anti-Slavery Campaign, p. 96.
[5] Jean-Claude Ceillier and François Richard, Cardinal Lavigerie and the Anti-Slavery Campaign, p. 37.
[6] Jean-Claude Ceillier and François Richard, Cardinal Lavigerie and the Anti-Slavery Campaign, p. 31.
[7] Jean-Claude Ceillier and François Richard, Cardinal Lavigerie and the Anti-Slavery Campaign, p. 33.
[8] Jean-Claude Ceillier and François Richard, Cardinal Lavigerie and the Anti-Slavery Campaign, p. 33.
[9] Jean-Claude Ceillier and François Richard, Cardinal Lavigerie and the Anti-Slavery Campaign, p. 33.
[10] Jean-Claude Ceillier and François Richard, Cardinal Lavigerie and the Anti-Slavery Campaign, pp. 52-53.
[11] Maggi Kennedy, "Human Trafficking…. 21st Century Slaves-the silent epidemic... Our Story-our Challenge", Conference given at the Church of the Gesu (Rome), November 2012.
[12] Anselm Mahwera, Migration, Security and Human Rights issues among deported and unauthorized Migrants in Mali, Nairobi, Institute of Peace Studies and International Relations - Hekima College, 2012, p. 8.
[13] Society of Missionaries of Africa, Capitular Acts. XXVII General Chapter. Rome 10 May – 12 June 2010, Rome, Istituto Salesiano Pio XI, 2010; pp. 33 (B. 2) & 35 (C. 3).