Should NATO Answer for Libya’s Slave Trade?
CNN has revealed that African migrants are being sold at slave auctions in Libya for as little as $400. As the UN weighs sanctions, professor and author Horace Campbell says the NATO powers who tore Libya apart should own up to their responsibility
AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. The UN is weighing sanctions against those responsible for the slave trade in Libya. A recent CNN report filmed with hidden cameras revealed that African migrants are being solved at slave auctions in Libya for as little as $400. On Tuesday, the French ambassador to the UN called for a global response.
FRANCOIS DELATTRE: France calls for a strong expression of condemnation from the security council. The horrific images emerging in recent weeks are shocking. They underscore the urgency of improving our global policy to tackle this scourge and put an end to this human tragedy.
AARON MATÉ: But as France and other western countries demand accountability, they may want to look at their own role in Libya. In 2011, France, Britain, the US, and other NATO powers, led the intervention that toppled Muammar Gaddafi. And since then, Libya has descended into chaos. It now has three competing governments, millions of people displaced, and is a major transit point for African refugees trying to get into Europe. I’m joined now by Horace Campbell, a professor at the institute for African Studies at the University of Ghana. He’s the author of many books, including Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya.
Professor Campbell, the slave trade in Libya now is getting a lot of attention, but very little coverage is focusing on the NATO role in creating the chaos of Libya today and the commissions that have fostered the slave trade that we’re seeing. I’m wondering your thoughts on this story, as someone who’s been very critical of the NATO role in Libya from the beginning?
H. CAMPBELL: Well thank you, Aaron. The focus on the slave trade, we hope that media outlets like Real News Network will get to the heart of the matter, and not to do what CNN is doing, is to have a sensational story and leave it. If there is a slave trade that is going on, and there are people involved in human trafficking, we have to ask ourselves a number of questions. First is who is making money out of this? Second is where are the people going that are being sold? And thirdly, what are the conditions that provide for this to be a lucrative trade? And this is where you began the interview, by speaking about the destruction of Libya as a viable society, to the point where the human traffickers have sway in this society to be able to be moving from Niger through Mali, to Libya, and across the Mediterranean.
This is no fly-by-night operation. It is well organized. The government of France, Italy, the United States, and the NATO forces understand who are involved. And in fact, if we look at the map of Agadez in Niger, where the United States is building a drone base, we can see the route through which these people are trafficked. So the question of the accountability of the United States military, along with the other forces in NATO, for the destruction of the Libyan society, remains at the heart of this question of how to get rid of this human trafficking and slavery in northern Africa.
AARON MATÉ: The first point you raised, in terms of who is profiting from the slave trade today, and then we’ll get more into the NATO role. But where are these people being sold to, and for what purposes?
H. CAMPBELL: Well, when I lived in Spain, 14 years ago, I met many young Africans who were working in the southern part of Spain, picking oranges and working on agriculture plantation. Both Spain and Italy have a demographic problem, in terms of turning over a labor force that can work as cheap labor. They have cheap labor coming from Latin America and from eastern Europe, but also from Africa. One has to work with international organizations, such as the International Labor Organization to get to the root of who are the brokers for these plantation owners in Spain and Italy that benefit from the slave trade. That is one point.
The second point is that the government of France and the government of Italy and Spain are complicit along with these brokers and organizations such as the International Organization of Migration in full knowledge that this trade is going on, and it is very profitable. The point is that there is an outcry about this slave trade in North Africa, but this is a trade that is not new. It has been going on for nearly 20 years. And the way to stop it is to ensure that they stop the flow of money out of Africa, so that African societies can keep that money in Africa to be able to employ young people in Africa.
AARON MATÉ: Right. We just had this UN meeting on Tuesday where there was a lot of discussion about sanctioning the individuals responsible for the slave trade in Libya. A lot of the focus was on people inside of Libya. You’re suggesting that actually this should maybe be directed at people in Europe.
H. CAMPBELL: Both. In fact, as we speak, there is a meeting going on in Abidjan next door, between the European Union and the African Union. And the European Union and the African Union refuse to get at the heart of the matter. That is the militarization of North Africa, the militarization of the Sahel, and the role of France, along with NATO, in creating conditions of insecurity for the lives of the people, to the point where young people see no future but to try to escape from Africa across the Mediterranean Sea. So France is being very duplicitous in the question of the slave trade. And the European Union, they have this thing of Fortress Europe, where if they need migrant workers from Africa to work on plantation, they can enter into contracts with governments in Africa to properly recruit labor.
It is like the situation in the United States, where we have Mexican workers who are recruited to come to work on farms in California or in Florida, but it’s done under the table. This is a form of capitalism that requires an illicit international environment so they can flourish.
AARON MATÉ: Right. Okay. You mention militarization in Africa. Can you talk about what you mentioned earlier. There’s this U.S. base being built in Niger, and how that is connected to what is happening in Libya right now.
H. CAMPBELL: Well, there is a small town in northern Niger where the media has been reporting about the point for funneling these migrant workers, and the funnel through Agadez goes to Sabha in Libya. One of the reports I read said that international troops acted as protectors for the convoys that went from Agadez. Now if international convoys are going from Agadez to Sabha in Libya, what is the role of France, and now the United States of America? The United States of America, we’ve heard in the last month, has deployed over 800 personnel in Niger. And the United States of America, is spending $100 million in building a drone base in Agadez. Now why is the United States in Niger? Because clearly the United States is there because of their competition with France about control of this region of Africa as part of the plan of NATO, the European Union, and the United States of America to destabilize African societies, so that-
AARON MATÉ: Well, Professor Campbell, officially the U.S. will say that they’re in countries like Niger to fight terrorism and to assist local forces in their fight against terrorism.
H. CAMPBELL: Well, if you believe that, then you will believe that the United States is protecting human rights in the black communities in the United States of America. And if you believe that, you’ll believe that the United States supported the people of South Africa in their fight against apartheid. The fact is that the people in Libya who were considered terrorists, who were considered forces aligned with Al-Qaeda were the same organizations and individuals that the United States government and NATO went to work with to overthrow Gaddafi. It is also those very same forces, among Tuareg in Libya, that France recruited to go into Mali, and then the same France turned around to fight them. So Africans take this question of terror and terrorism with a grain of salt.
Clearly, there are anti-social elements. Clearly they’re extremists, but you cannot fight these extremists militarily. You need to fight these extremists by creating social economic cultural political conditions inside of Africa that marginalizes those folks. In societies that are stable, in societies where the people have a decent standard of living in Africa, the fight against extremists can be fought in non-military fashions. What the French and the United States want to do is to ensure that there is the continuation of these groups, so they can have justification for military spending in their societies.
AARON MATÉ: Okay. In terms of the intervention in Libya, and connecting that to anti-black racism, in terms of who the US and France partnered with inside Libya to overthrow Gaddafi, as you mentioned, that included people also who had, at least in the Misrata, had a pretty strong racist component, right?
H. CAMPBELL: Not only racist, but one with genocidal violence and one that completely moved against the people of Tawergha, which was a place where the people, the pigment was much darker than the other Libyans. And that is a crime that the Pan-African movement is still calling for an investigation of. And the fact is that the NATO forces, the United States, and the government of Qatar, that was the main financial support for this Misrata force. These people have not been held accountable, and those of us who called for the United Nations to have the security council have an investigation of what happened in Libya, we’re still calling for an investigation because this issue of the enslavement of human beings cannot be separated from the destruction that went on in Libya in the NATO intervention in 2011.
AARON MATÉ: Okay. This is a whole other side issue that we don’t want to spend too much time on, but let me ask you. Do you think there was any justification for some form of UN intervention in Libya? I mean, at the time, the big concern was that Gaddafi was threatening to commit a massacre, it was said, against the residents of Benghazi. Was it a legitimate thing to try to stop that through international intervention?
H. CAMPBELL: Aaron, there was an investigation by the British Houses of Parliament, a select committee of the British House of Parliament that presented its report last October about this question about the justification for going to Libya. And the British House of Parliament said that the justification for going to Libya was based on lies. So what we are calling for is for the French Parliament to carry out a similar investigation, for the Italian Parliament and for the United States Congress to do the same. President Obama said, before he left power last year, in that interview with The Atlantic magazine, that the intervention in Libya was the worst mistake of his administration. I would say to an organization like the Real News Network, that they should get the results of the investigation by the British House of Parliament that said that the intervention on Libya was based on lies.
AARON MATÉ: Those lies, by the way, they included at the time, which everybody believed, was this story that Gaddafi had given his troops Viagra to commit mass rape, which have turned out, not surprisingly, to be false.
H. CAMPBELL: Well, we will not validate these lies by-
AARON MATÉ: But it was taken so seriously at the time. It’s just striking to look back now and remember that that was widely reported as true.
H. CAMPBELL: It was taken seriously by who?
AARON MATÉ: I’m referring to corporate media coverage here, and even people in government. There are people in the US government who spread that.
H. CAMPBELL: Okay. Well I am thinking that the reason the Real News Network is trying to develop an alternative platform, it’s to ensure that the kind of misinformation and manufacturing consent that is going on in the United States can be blunted by the kind of information that comes from a network like yours. We know exactly the reasons for this disinformation in Africa. I’ll go back to the struggles against apartheid. The United States media said that the freedom fighters in southern Africa were terrorists, and that Osama bin Laden was a freedom fighter. We know from then until now that we cannot take their definition of what terrorist is.
AARON MATÉ: Well, this has been a very wide-ranging discussion, and Professor Horace Campbell, I want to thank you for it. Professor Horace Campbell is professor at the Institute of African Studies at The University of Ghana, author of many books, including Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya. Professor, thank you.
H. CAMPBELL: Thank you, but the point is that we need to make sure we’re not carried away by the media, like CNN. This enslavement in Libya and in Niger is broader than what the CNN is bringing to us.
AARON MATÉ: And I think you’ve explained why very well, and we thank you for it, professor. And thank you for joining us on the Real News.