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 the Slave Trade in Africa begun by their founder, Cardinal Lavigerie Charles. Our correspondent in Rome talked with Fr. Richard Baawobr, Superior General of the Missionaries of Africa.
What does today’s anniversary mean?
We launched the celebrations on 11 November 2012 at the Church of Jesus in Rome, and the closing ceremony will be on 8 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 – Let us break the chains!”
Celebrating this anniversary is an occasion for us to: firstly, thank God for the achievements of this campaign, the major one being the abolition of the slave trade in Africa and the putting in place of the laws to enforce it. The second reason is in keeping with our conviction that commitment to justice and peace is part 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 Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) in all our pastoral work. 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.
These are then the new forms of slavery...
In general, we can say that everything that dehumanises people, that violates their human dignity and rights, that reduces human beings to mere commodities that are sold and bought for a profit like any other “good,” is a form of slavery. So, the list is very long: poverty, human trafficking, human sacrifice, drug-addiction, all types of child exploitation – including sexual mutilation of female children, street children, prostitution (forced or not) – forced labour, marital slavery, forced marriage, debt bondage, etc. In order to fight these forms of slavery, it is important that we acknowledge the fundamental truth that we are born equal and that God loves us all equally, 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-humanise us.
What strategy are you using to fight today’s forms of slavery?
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. We need to do the following:
– Inform the public opinion about the existence of these forms of slavery, through conferences, talks, and other 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, 15 August 1888).
– Invite the public to put pressure on their respective governments to enact laws abolishing these forms of 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 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 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” (Church of Jesus, 23 December 1888).
– Integrate in our catechetical and pastoral activities issues related to human dignity and rights. Lavigerie rightly considered Evangelisation to be the most effective long-term means to fight slavery and the slave trade. It cannot be different today!
Many of our Provinces have planned activities to raise awareness about local forms of modern slavery. These include conferences, drama sketches, tours, publicity with T-shirts, etc. It mobilised our energies in very real ways throughout the Provinces. In all these events, the collaboration between the brothers and sisters of the same Founder is obvious and appreciated.
This year, the Protestants will celebrate the 200th anniversary of Dr. David Livingstone’s birthday (19 March 1813 – 1 May 1873). He was one of the great explorers who opened Europe’s eyes to the atrocities of the slave trade in Africa. Is there a connection between Lavigerie and Livingstone?
Lavigerie and Livingstone never met and never corresponded. However, the interest that Lavigerie had in the Evangelization of Sub-Saharan Africa, made him read Livingstone’s writings of when he was an explorer in Africa [1852-56, 58-64, 66-73]. One of the topics that Livingstone wrote extensively about was ‘slavery and slavery trade’ in Africa – especially in Central and Southern Africa. His writings and live witnesses in England greatly influenced the English to become anti-slavery activists. He proposed a solution to uproot slavery and the slave trade from Africa through Christianisation, Civilization (education and good governance) and Commerce (legal and ethical), commonly known as the “3Cs.” Lavigerie took up this vision as one can see in his ‘Secret Memorandum’ of 2 January 1878, addressed to Cardinal Alessandro Franchi (Prefect of Propaganda Fide 1874-78), on the African International Association of Brussels and the Evangelisation of Equatorial Africa. In addition, in some of his instructions to missionaries sent to Equatorial Africa, for example that of 1879, Lavigerie referred to the writings of Livingstone on slave trade.
Both Lavigerie and Livingstone are two men who loved Africa and the Africans and who, each in his own way, tried their best to combat the African slave trade. Lavigerie’s constant reference to Livingstone inspires us to an ecumenical collaboration in the struggle against modern slavery, especially in Africa. The “3Cs” of Livingstone embraced by Lavigerie are still very valid instruments to contrast today’s slaveries. (C.C.)