The CNN video footage of slave auctions outside Tripoli and the continuing capture of Africans by Arabs to turn them into slaves, is not new. Arabs were instrumental in the destruction of famous African Empires.
Jimmy S. Shilue was correct in one of his articles, that “the horrible scenes in Libya are reminiscent of the 19th century, when white slave masters beat and auctioned black slaves to plantation owners. Today Arab auctioneers are doing likewise-advertising groups of West African migrants as ‘big strong boys for farm work.’ Middle Eastern Arab gunmen referred to the migrants in Arabic as ‘merchandise.’ These racist criminal gangs controlled various parts of Libya and do not care for the rule of law and human dignity.”
The Arab Islam did in fact invaded Africa from around 700AD/CE.
The empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai were powerful medieval states in West Africa. Each empire was advanced in matters regarding the administration of government and economic prosperity. During each era of their respective histories, they were powerful nations with vital trading links with the commercial world of North Africa and Europe.
Ghana was the first of the three empires to rise as a regional power in West Africa. The history of Ghana is based largely on the writings of Arab travelers who visited and traded with its people. Before the Roman Empire left North Africa in the 4th century AD, Ghana was already a powerful nation. Various countries in Europe were dependent on imports of gold before the discovery of America. The “civilization” of Ghana was advanced to such a level that a system of taxation was imposed on every load of goods entering or leaving the empire. Trading, therefore, was a highly-organized system on which the wealth and importance of Ghana was based. According to El-farzari, an Arab writer of that period, the people of Ghana were also successful in overpowering their neighbors with their advanced methods of warfare and weaponry, which were swords and lances.
The Empire of Mali emerged when Ghana’s powers declined. In the 13th century, the Mandingo speaking people began to extend their kingdom and pushed towards the south and southeast regions of West Africa. Ghana’s military forces were eventually defeated. When Sundiata Keita became ruler of Mali, it became the most powerful of all the kingdoms of The Sudan; the gold trade flourished under his reign. After Sundiata, his grandson, Mansa Musa, became ruler. During his reign, Mali became known throughout the Mediterranean world and in Europe.
During the decline of Mali, the Songhai Empire emerged. In about 1464, Sonni Ali became king of Songhai. He was an ambitious young man who led his army to capture Timbuktu, a city known for its learning centers and trade routes, in 1468. Thereafter, he also captured Jenne, another famous city like Timbuktu. After Sonni Ali’s death, one of his generals removed his son from the throne and took control of the empire by force. He, thereafter, named himself Askia Mohammed.
Mohammed was very organized and instituted a system of discipline in government. He created a number of central offices, similar to our contemporary government departments to oversee justice, finance, agriculture and other matters of importance in the affairs of the state. Under his rule, trade in gold from The Sudan region continued to flow northward into Europe.
Askia Mohammed imported manufactured goods, clothes, and salt from Spain and Germany. It was also during his reign that Timbuktu became a greater center of learning. Its university, one the first in Africa, was so famous that scholars came to it from all over the Muslim world, Europe and Asia. As a Muslim himself, Askia allowed Islamic influence to spread throughout The Sudan.
But why did these African empires collapse?
Some scholars cited the difficulties of defending the empire in the open West African region, in addition to the corrupting influence of the slave trade. While W. E. B. Du Bois stated that Sudanese civilization fell before the trip-hammer blows of two of the world’s great religions, Islam and Christianity. Another reason advanced by Es-Sadi, a Timbuktu intellectual who wrote a history of The Sudan, TARKH ALSUDAN, for the fall of the Songhai Empire was that the people had grown fat and soft on luxury and good living. He said that, “At that moment, faith was exchanged go infidelity; there was nothing forbidden by God which was not openly done…because of these abominations, the almighty in his vengeance drew upon the Songhai the victorious army of the Moors” (Edmund Z. Bargblor, Africa’s Contribution to Contemporary Western Civilization).
Jonathan Jones in his article, reported that the destruction of two important manuscript collections by Islamist rebels as they fled Timbuktu is an offense to the whole of Africa and its universally important cultural heritage. “Like their systematic destruction of 300 Sufi saints’ shrines while they held Timbuktu at their mercy, it is an assault on world heritage comparable with the demolition of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban in 2001” (Jonathan Jones).
The literary heritage of Timbuktu dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries when the gold-rich kingdoms of Mali and Songhai traded across the Sahara with the Mediterranean world. It took two months for merchant caravans to cross the desert; and while gold and slaves went north, books were going south. In his ‘Description of Africa,’ published in 1550, the traveler Leo Africanus marveled that in the bustling markets of Timbuktu, under the towers of its majestic mosques, the richest traders were booksellers (Jonathan Jones).
In 410 AD, the Empire of Rome fell. Europe was in an unhappy state of war. During this same time period, 300-500 AD, the West African Empire was on the rise. Many of Europe’s tribes (Vandals, Visigoths and Jews) fled and settled in North Africa. But something very important was taking shape that would change world history.
By 700 AD, the prophet Muhammad had his first revelation: spread of Islam through jihad. Islam reached the Sudan during 700 AD. The first ethnic groups the Muslims encountered in West Africa was the Mande along the Senegal River. The natives gave them the island in the middle of the river and the Islmists built a monastery to recruit and train their new converts for jihad. Many of them accepted the new religion. Other African patriots like Kusiela and Kahina refused and fought bravely to protect Africa. On the Songhai front, the Islamist met a stiff resistance. Earlier in 200 AD, the Berbers had moved in and taken over Dendi (birthed from my womb). The people of Songhai wanted to maintain their way of life and refused to stay in Dendi. As a result, they abandoned their city and built another city, which they named Kukya (A Kwa word meaning: wrapped in death). The new recruits with little or no knowledge of their new religion became a destructive force. One such individual was Tarsina.
In 1020, Tarsina embraced the Islamic faith. As leader of the Lemtuna tribe he vowed to convert his entire tribe to Islam. He quickly changed his name to Abdullah Abu Mohammed- “combining his purely material objectives with a newly found religious passion, he set about raiding non-Muslim settlements. Tarsina died. His son in law, Yahia ibn Ibrahim, succeeded him. Yahia was a devout Muslim. He quickly made a pilgrimage to Mecca. Yahia returned from Mecca with a teacher (Ibn Yasin) to teach the Koran to his people. Islam had taken strong roots in West Africa. But it was not easy. The people were prepared to be Muslims only in name. Yasin became frustrated. But he did not return to his home country. Instead he and his brother, Abu Bekr, established a monastery on the Senegal River. The group became known as Almoravids. Soon the small monastery on the Senegal had 1,000 converts. Having failed to win large converts through reason and persuasion, Ibn Yasin resorted to violence and intimidation” (Dr J.C. deGraft-Johnson: Moslem Invasion of Africa).
In 1042, Yasin left his monastic retreat and led his followers in a holy war against the infidels. They destroyed everything in their path! The Almoravids accordingly became masters of the tribes of West Africa. Then in 1056 AD, Yahia, the Commander-in-Chief of the Almoravids, died. His brother Abu Bekr (namesake of Prophet Muhammad’s confidant) took over as Commander. In 1076 AD, Abu Bekr, in command of Almoravid forces in alliance with the Mossi from Yatenga, attacked, dismembered and looted West Africa’s attempt at self-government. The destruction of the Ghana Empire resulted in a mass migration that affected every tribe and ethnic group in West Africa to this very day. The first group to flee the violence and swallowed by the rainforest were the Ashantis. Some scholars believe the Ashanti and the Akan people in today’s Ghana are 1,000 miles from their original home in the Ghana Empire.
This pattern of mass migration continued throughout much of history until colonialism. The history of West Africa is a history of mass migration (African Glory, The Story of Vanished Negro Civilizations).
Maj. William Kwabiah of the Ghanaian military was correct when he wrote: “While in the past two decades, the region of West Africa has experienced various armed conflicts; a new security threat that has emerged is the growing threat of violence by radical Islamist groups. This phenomenon has assumed prominence in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States of America. Against the background of a politically unstable region, impoverished by poverty, disease, conflicts, and a high rate of illiteracy, a foothold by radical Islamist groups could destabilize the whole region.
“The recent escalation of violence perpetuated by radical Islamist groups in the northern parts of Nigeria and other countries poses a grave threat to the region as Nigeria is home to approximately half the population of the region. Some measures that governments, in concert with other stakeholders, can take include poverty alleviation measures, economic development of deprived areas, socio-political reforms, inter-faith dialogue and consultations, prevent institutionalization of Sharia Law, promotion of good governance and inter-governmental cooperation” (Maj. William Kwabiah: University College of Management Studies, Accra, Ghana, 1992).
Samba Camara echoed in his report: “The auctioning of black bodies in coastal Libya reminds us of slavery, the scars of which remain fresh in the Black-Atlantic consciousness.” Slavery, he said, that “once legal commodification of the black body, was driven by a thirst for capital. Today, the same global-scale rush for profit – and its ensuing (geo) political hypocrisies – have led to a NATO-led, chaotic post-Qaddafi Libya, where de facto statelessness makes permissible barbarities like human auctioning” (Samba Camara, The Herald Sun).
The slave auctioning of African migrants demonstrates how humans are deprived of all dignity. All civilized nations should not tolerate this form of ideology and prejudice that reduce people as if they are goods to be bought and sold. Indeed, the people of Libya have disgraced and dishonored Africa.
About the author:
Edmund Zar-Zar Bargblor is an educator. He is a graduate of Cuttington University, Liberia; Howard University, Washington, D.C.; and Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel. He is a former Deputy Managing Director of the National Port Authority (NPA) of Liberia. He can be contacted at: [email protected]