The Real Outrage about the Libyan Slave Trade Is...

Over the course of the past few weeks, a CNN exclusive video showing a slave auction in Libya has rightfully raised international outrage and condemnation. The world was stunned to see black people bid on and auctioned off like lamps at an estate sale. The photos circulaiting the internet are even more painful to see. 

The real outrage, however, is that everyone already knew this was happening:

A 2011 newspaper article chronicling the human rights abuses in Libya

A 2011 newspaper article chronicling the human rights abuses in Libya

In 2011, I was working for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) when a shortsighted operation by then-President Obama's Administration, UK, and France removed the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi from power (a move Obama now calls the biggest mistake of his presidency) and the Sahel quickly descended into a hellhole.

Even someone with the most basic understanding of North African politics could have explained to the Administration back then that, while no saint, Gaddafi had been the lid that kept the worst elements in North Africa under control. He also posed no threat to the US, NATO, or anyone else for that matter- he actually worked with them on many occasions. He was just minding his own business hiding behind his all-female bodyguards, eating grapes on his throne,  and being generally oppressive to his rebel opponents in Benghazi (yup, that Benghazi). While there was a humanitarian case for intervening in Libya, there was no strategic reason to do so. Common sense (or at least just looking at Iraq post-Saddam) should have told the West to leave it alone - the consequences of taking out Gaddafi would be far worse than the current situation.

Why? Because @@ you can never really control how power vacuums are filled.@@  Also because thousands of trained men with heavy machinery released on the streets need something to do and that something is never good. Almost from the moment Gaddafi was killed, Libya descended into anarchy with rival militias vying for power while ISIS, Ansar al-Sharia, and Al Qaeda gained influence in the country- as if just one terrorist group wasn't bad enough. As Paul Melly of Chatham House wrote Gaddafi’s fall “triggered the sudden return to Mali of the thousands of Tuareg fighters that Libya had recruited since the 1990s. The disintegration of the dictator’s security forces flooded the Sahara with weaponry, easily affordable by Al-Qaeda and its allies who were flush with income from drugs trading and hostage ransoms.” The security situation in the entire region deteriorated, creating a  snowball effect in neighboring countries like Niger where four American soldiers and at least four of their Nigerien counterparts were killed in an ambush last month.

The powers afforded to the interim government, The United Nations-backed Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), don't extend beyond the few square feet of the room they sit in. What's left of the country that's not in the arms of terrorists is ruled by the  Libyan National Army who doesn't trust the GNA no matter how many long titles and accolades the UN bestows upon them.

At the same time, what is now called "the migrant crisis" in Europe was beginning to take form in 2011 before becoming the full-blown crisis it is today. Hundreds of thousands of people from Africa, Syria, Palestine, etc. were trying to take advantage of the power vacuum created by the fall of Gaddafi to get into Europe. Gaddafi had previously operated a €50 million border control system funded by European countries that essentially made Libya's coast impenetrable to migrants trying to cross to Europe. It was (and still is) an inhumane system that would have given Donald Trump wet dreams. Without him there, migrants paid smugglers for a spot on rickety boats to Europe in droves.

It is precisely this chaos- this power vacuum- that ISIS and other terrorist groups exploit to fund their billion dollar war industry and subsequent terrorist attacks. You can buy anything from fighter jets to Colombian coke to slaves to nuclear weapons in the Sahel because those militias have nothing but time and money to blow. 

From a 2015 IOM report found here. TIP stands for Trafficking in Persons

Now back to IOM: In 2011, the IOM office in DC called an emergency briefing. Our colleagues working in Libya at the time came to the DC to ring the alarm.  They were coming across more and more victims of human trafficking in Libya, African migrants being held and sold in deplorable conditions by Arab militias, sometimes even sold by the very smugglers paid to grant them safe passage to Europe. They came to the US to ask Congress, the State Department, and the UN for help because they didn't have enough resources or manpower to deal with the well-armed and well-funded militias kidnapping migrants, enslaving, and trafficking them. They were trying to help people escape and reunite with their families, but the traffickers were asking for ridiculous amounts of ransom.

Every door they knocked on politely shut in their faces.

Every. Single. One.

No one cared. 

Now, @@7 years later- that's 7 years a slave- a CNN video validates what world leaders already knew@@ and it is taking all I have not to call out some of the politicians who are now feigning surprise...

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he was "horrified" and he "called upon all competent authorities to investigate these activities without delay and to bring the perpetrators to justice" Seriously?! The authorities? You are the authorities! Who are you going to call? Slavebusters?!

@@The outrage of the Libyan Slave Trade is that it is a heart-wrenching example of the very real consequences of bad foreign policy decisions@@ as well as institutional failures to protect the vulnerable people caught up in those policies made from DC with no thought to the realities on the ground elsewhere. 

The outrage of Libya is that it joins Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Iraq as one ongoing clusterf*ck of the human tragedy of the war on terror. 

The real outrage of Libya is that, in the absence of political authority that the West created, @@the West must now try to muster up the moral authority to end a slave trade that funds the amorphous wars it's fighting.@@


Another great analysis can be found here from Africa Is A Country