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Policy Debate: Do slave redemption programs reduce the problem of slavery?


Issues and Background

The civil war in Sudan has seen southern villages raided -- the men killed, the women and children taken north as slaves. Slavery involves both a practice and victims, and there are both simple and more complex approaches to the issue...
  • You can simply focus on eliminating the practice of slavery.
  • You can simply purchase freedom for slaves.
  • Or you can deal with both aspects of the issue -- you can work to build international pressure against slavery, in the meantime freeing slaves in the safest possible way.
~Christian Solidarity International (CSI) - Canada,


Slave redeemers enrich every element of the trade: raiders, owners, and traders. Once, the main objective of roving militias and Baggara raiders was simply war booty: goats, cattle, and other valuables, with a few slaves taken to make a little extra money on the side. The price of a slave rose to $300, however, and slaves became the focus of the raids. By the mid-nineties supply had outpaced demand, and prices began to fall -- to about $100 in 1995 and then to $15 in 1997. Plunging prices threatened to put the traders out of business: paying and arming raiders, and feeding and watering their horses in a dry region, is very expensive.

What seems to have kept the slave business afloat is the high prices paid by the slave redeemers. Though redemption prices also fell, they stayed far above the $15 paid in slave markets. CSI, according to its publications, paid the equivalent of about $100 for each freed slave from 1995 to 1997 and since then has paid about $50. In effect the redeemers are keeping prices high and creating a powerful incentive for raids.
~Richard Miniter, The Atlantic Monthly, July 1999


In the U.S. and other industrialized countries, slavery is generally viewed as a part of the distant past. Slavery, however, still exists in some parts of the world. In recent years, substantial attention has been focused on the existence of slavery in Sudan.

Sudan is located between Egypt and Ethiopia. The northern portion of Sudan is populated mostly by Islamic Arabs. Southern Sudan, however, has a relatively large population of Christian and Animist black Africans. Slavery in Sudan was virtually eliminated under British control. In 1989, however, slavery resumed after the fundamentalist National Islamic Party, lead by Lt. General Umar Hasan Amad Al-Bashir, took control of the Sudanese government. The Sudanese government, located in Khartoum, has supported a jihad (a holy war) designed to convert the southern portion of Sudan into an Islamic state. As part of this process, government-supported militias have conducted slave raids in southern villagers. Their captives, mainly Dinka tribespeople, are either kept as slaves by the raiders or sold in open markets in the north.

As world attention focused on the problem of slavery in Sudan, several religious and human rights groups attempted to deal with this issue by buying the freedom of these slaves. Elementary school classes, high school classes, and college groups have also engaged in fundraising efforts to free Sudanese slaves. The purpose of these programs, of course, is to free people from the tyranny of slavery.

Several concerns have been raised, however, about the unintended consequences associated with these slave redemption programs. A simple demand and supply model of the market for slaves can effectively illustrate these concerns. The equilibrium price and quantity of slaves sold on the open market is determined by the interaction of supply and demand. With a given supply curve, slave redemption programs raise the demand for slaves. This increase in the demand for slaves leads to an increase in the price of slaves and an increase in the number of slaves sold. While slave redemption programs free some slaves, they also increase the profitability associated with capturing slaves. The resultant increase in slave raids is an unintended consequence of slave redemption programs.

Reports suggest that slave redemption programs have raised the price of slaves from $15 to $50 or more per person. In the past, elderly, sick, and young slaves were often freed voluntarily because they were not very valuable as slaves. A slave redemption program, however, raises the value of these individuals as slaves and makes it less likely that they will be voluntarily released. There have also been reports that fake slave redemptions have been staged by individuals on both sides of the conflict.

While there is growing international concern over the problem of slavery in Sudan, there is a great deal of controversy over the best method of dealing with this issue.


Primary Resources and Data

  • Christian Solidarity International
    Christian Solidarity International has a major organizer of slave redemption programs in Sudan. This web site contains information on their programs as well as statements by former slaves who were freed as a result of these programs.

  • American Anti-Slavery Group
    The American Anti-Slavery Group maintains this website that describes programs designed to eliminate slavery. It contains information on slavery in the Sudan, as well as modern forms of slavery occurring in the U.S. and India.

  • London Free Press, "Mission to Sudan"
    This series of articles in the London Free Press follows the progress of a May 1999 slave redemption trip organized by Christian Solidarity International. During this trip, 587 slaves were freed. The article provides a moving discussion of the poor conditions in Sudan that have resulted from the civil war.

  • CNN, "Forum Focuses on Modern-Day Slavery in Northern Africa"
    This February 26, 1999 report discusses a symposium on modern-day slavery at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum. Much of the focus of this discussion was on slavery in Sudan and Mauritania.

  • Phillip Smucker, "Market Thrives for Sudan's 'Human Capital'"
    In this March 21, 2001 article appearing in the Christian Science Monitor, Philip Smucker describes the failure of the Khartoum government in Sudan to abide by its agreements to take actions to end slavery.

  • American Anti-Slavery Group, "UN Reports on Slavery in North Africa"
    The American ANti-Slavery Group provides this collection of excerpts from UN reports dealing with slavery in Sudan and Mauritania.

  •, "Republic of Sudan"
    This website contains information on the Republic of Sudan and links to recent online news articles dealing with the civil war.

  • Colin Nickerson, "The Price of Freedom"
    In this December 19, 1999 Boston Globe Magazine article, Colin Nickerson provides extensive background information on the slave trade in Sudan and slave redemption programs. Interviews with former slaves are included in this article.

  • Kathy Blair, "Canadians turn attention to Sudan's civil war: Slave redemptions raise questions"
    In this January 3, 2000 article appearing in Anglican Journal, Kathy Blair discusses the ethical issues associated with slave redemption programs. She notes that they provide immediate relief to some captured slaves, but provides increased incentives for further slave raids. In the article she also cites evidence of a wide range of other human rights abuses in Sudan.

  • Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, "Slavery in Sudan"
    This page, sponsored by a group supporting religious tolerance, provides useful background information concerning the existence of slavery in Sudan. It is noted that people have lost their freedom as a result of:
    • slave raids by government-supported militias,
    • slave raids by rival tribes in the south,
    • being captured as prisoners of war who are ransomed to their families, or
    • being captured and forced to serve as conscripts in the rebel army.
    It is noted that slave redemption programs provide freedom for "slaves, abductees, and prisoners of war." Slave redemption programs, however, also raise the profitability of these activities. They also often do not provide adequate follow-up support for those who are freed, but have no homes to return to (since many villages are destroyed as part of the slave raids and tribal warfare).


Different Perspectives in the Debate
  • Charles W. Moore, "The Cruel Illusion of Slave Redemption"
    Charles W. Moore, in this 1999 online essay, argues that slave redemption programs do more harm than good. He suggests that, while well intentioned, these programs raise the profitability of slave raids and increased the number of individuals captured as slaves. He suggests that military intervention is an appropriate response to the issue of slavery in Sudan.

  • Richard Miniter, "The False Promise of Slave Redemption"
    In this July 1999 Atlantic Monthly article, Richard Miniter argues that slave redemption programs adversely affect the battle against slavery. He provides a detailed history of the ethnic tensions and traditions of slavery in Sudan. Miniter argues that "[s]lave redeemers enrich every element of the [slave] trade: raiders, owners, and traders." He suggests that more direct actions should be taken to stop the slave trade.

  • Christian Solidarity International, "The Atlantic Monthly Slavery 'Hoax' Revealed"
    This August 2, 1999 Christian Solidarity International press release argues that Richard Miniter's article in The Atlantic Monthly contained several misrepresentations of the views of several of the people interviewed. It is suggested that Richard Miniter only briefly visited each location discussed in the article. Christian Solidarity International argues that the motivation for slavery in Sudan is political and not economic.

  • Christian Solidarity Worldwide, "Stories from Sudan"
    This page contains discussions of the living conditions facing slaves in Sudan, as stated by former slaves whose freedom was acquired through slave redemption programs.

  • David Moore, "Paying for people. In defense of slave redemption: ultimately, freedom is best"
    David Moore, the webmaster for the iAbolish web site, responds to criticisms of the slave redemption program in this online article.

  • Anne D. Zimmerman, M.D., "The Sudan Story"
    Anne D. Zimmerman, in this Christian Solidarity Worldwide webpage, provides a discussion of the history of the civil war and slavery in Sudan. She also provides arguments for slave redemption programs. She notes that hoaxes and corruption often occur in slave redemption programs and suggests that caution must be used to ensure that these programs have the desired consequence.

  • Doug Gavel, "Sophomore Skips Orientation to Free 4,000 Slaves in Sudan"
    This September 28, 2000 article in the Harvard University Gazette describes the experience of a Harvard sophomore who participated in a slave redemption program,

  • PBS NewsHour, "Crisis in Sudan"
    This webpage contains a transcript of a NewsHour discussion of the issue of slavery in Sudan. Participants in this program include Sudan's Ambassador to the United Nations, a U.N. special representative for children in armed conflict, and a representative from World Vision Sudan (a relief agency). A RealAudio broadcast of this segment is also available at this site.

  • Human Rights Watch, "Slavery and Slavery Redemption in the Sudan"
    This March 1999 Backgrounder Paper discusses the abuse suffered by slaves in Sudan. Problems associated with slave redemption programs are discussed. They raise concerns over fraud and the increased incentives for slave raids that may result from, slave redemption programs.

  • Jim Jacobson, "Statesmanship and Sudan: What Should America Do?"
    In these remarks at a 1999 conference organized by the Claremont Institute, Jim Jacobson argues that slave redemption programs encourage slavery. He suggests that paying for the release of slaves is akin to paying ransom to free individuals that have been kidnapped. Ransom payments to kidnappers increase the profitability associated with kidnapping and encourage more kidnappings in the future. Jacobson suggests that the U.S. government should participate in negotiations concerning the protection of human rights in Sudan. Since Egypt is concerned over water rights involving the Nile river, it is suggested that they also participate in these negotiations. He also argues that relief agencies would be better able to reduce slavery by providing southern villages with used trucks and jeeps that could assist villagers in escaping from raiding parties.

  • Teresa Malcolm, "Activists Decry Slave Redemption in Africa's Sudan"
    Teresa Malcolm discusses the arguments raised by critics of slave redemption programs in this April 2, 1999 National Catholic Reporter article. She cites arguments by a variety of religious, humanitarian, and human rights groups that suggest that slave redemption programs increase the problem of slavery.

  • Sudan Embassy, Canada, "Collecting Money Prolongs a War"
    This January 13, 1999 press release issued by the Sudanese Embassy in Canada denies the existence of slavery in Sudan. It is suggested that slave redemption programs are misguided.

  • Dave Kennedy, "This Just In: Slaves for Sale"
    In this 1999 Boston Phoenix article, Dan Kennedy discusses an ad campaign designed by a Boston company to help attract attention for slave redemption programs.

  • Linda Slobodian, "The Slave Trail"
    Linda Slobodian's eight-part Calgary Sun report on the slave trade is provided online on this website. She discusses the history of the slave trade, the slave redemption programs, and the political, social, and economic conditions existing in Sudan. The Calgary Sun provided $2,000 to free slaves as part of this project. Slobodian argues that the benefits of slave redemption projects outweigh the possible costs.

  • Christine J. Gardner, "Slave Redemption: Americans are Becoming Instant Abolitionists. But is the Movement Backfiring?"
    Christine J. Gardner discusses the slave redemption movement in this August 9, 1999 Christianity Today article. She interviews teachers who sponsored slave redemption fundraising drives, provides a history of slavery in Sudan, and discusses the history and evolution of slave redemption programs. Gardner also examines the arguments against slave redemption programs in this article.

  • American Anti-Slavery Group, "Slave Redemption and the Responsibility of NGOs"
    This webpage, created by the American Anti-Slavery Group, contains excerpts from articles discussing UNICEFs position on slave redemption.

  • Dan Connell, "Sudan: Recasting U.S. Policy"
    In this November 2000 policy brief, Dan Connell examines U.S. policy towards Sudan. He argues that U.S. policy towards Sudan has "veered among extremes for decades, driven largely by shifting geopolitical imperatives." Connell suggests that U.S. policies designed to punish Sudan for human rights violations have not been effective. He argues that the U.S. "should support an international arms embargo against the Sudan government" and "support the consolidation of competing peace initiatives." Connell believes that nonmilitary sanctions are ineffective.

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