forever enslaved: past and present

We will be forever enslaved by the deeds of the past. There is no way that we can separate ourselves from the historic wrong-doings of our ancestors. I like to think that there is only the present and that everything hinges on the present course and action. That idea is true I feel, but we cannot forget the past and we cannot discredit working towards the future. Last month there was a rememberance of slavery at the Elmina Castle in Ghana. Hundreds of locals gathered, the British Council and UK representatives were present and the crimes committed and journeys of slaves were remembered. In the BBC article Baroness Amos, who expressed pride at being a member of the African Diaspora, said transatlantic slave trade had been “responsible for some of the most appalling crimes perpetrated by humankind against its own citizens.”

Elmina Castle, which was built by Portuguese traders in the late 1400s before being taken over by the Dutch and later the British, was capable of holding 1,000 male and female slaves at one time. I feel like commemorations like these are repeated in different parts of Africa and yet they remain only symbolic gestures where words are spoken and the only actions that follow is that of representatives traveling back to their respective countries. This is where the idea that everything hinges of the present action is needed. If we are truly dedicated to healing past crimes and reversing the effects of those actions, then how can we remain inactive?

Even as we commemorate and remember and honor those enslaved and those affected by slavery – it continues to be a prevalent issue even today. The Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) is the world’s leading producer of cocoa. When you explore deep into the cocoa plantations you will come across a frightening discovery: forced child labor – slaves. These children are enslaved, forced to harvest cocoa, kept out of school, not treated for wounds recieved from working, and kept from their families. As the BBC reports: “In 2001, under pressure from the US Congress, the chocolate manufacturers promised to start eradicating forced child labour. They failed to meet an initial deadline of 2005, were given until 2008, and now patience is running out.”

We see slavery in new forms, much as we see colonialism in new forms. Child soldiers are recruited and brainwashed to fight in conflicts of which they know nothing. Many of these conflicts are perpetuations of the ‘developed’ world’s desire for some commodity or resource. We see slavery in an economic form as well. Women selling their bodies in order to feed their families, people taking on dangerous jobs to provide for their families – this economic slavery is very much linked to the actions of the past that have come to fruition now. Economic conditions as well as past historic incidents keep us enslaved. Those of us with privilege are enslaved to the deeds of our ancestors and governments, those who are forcible held and those who suffer from economic are enslaved by the systems that are so often perpetuated by our privileged wants. We are forever enslaved by our actions – whether they were in the past, or are happening present day – we are enslaved by our deeds. Are you prepared to own your actions when the time comes?

why is the african dirt so red. . . blood spilled


Last night I finally made it out the the theater to see the latest of Hollywood’s Africa-related movies, Blood Diamond. I have to say I was a bit skeptical with Leonardo DiCaprio in the leading role. I have been very skeptical of the recent upswing in movies covering topics and issues around the African continent. Hollywood is running out of remakes and new material for movie production, maybe now they are deciding to open the world’s eyes to the harsh realities that our governments and media didn’t care to cover before. Blood is spilled on the African continent for many reasons, but none chains the West to the blood spilled more than conflicts over greed – gold, rubber, oil, and diamonds.

I was very impressed with the way the movie was produced. Bringing maps and information to the general public about conflict diamonds in Sierra Leone. Blood Diamond did not stray from bringing the suffering and blood shed to the big screen, it did not stray from highlighting the truths of such a conflict, it did not allow us to any longer duck and hide from the brutality that we fuel through our lust for shiny stones. It covered many important issues, more than just conflict or blood diamonds; it covered poverty, refugees, small arms, child soldiers, the West’s attempts to help, UN involvement, and the corruption that lies beneath it all. Blood Diamond some might say is too violent or too full of bang-bang shoot ’em up, but I would say the movie balanced the bloodshed with the storyline of a greedy diamond runner and a Sierra Leonenian (?) man and his family caught up in the profit-driven conflict.

As the movie came to a close with a heart wrenching end that nearly brings tears to the eyes, I hoped immensly that more people would not keep their ideas of Africa as just a conflict ridden land. The credits rolled and many were in awed silence, some had tears running down their cheeks, and some left with no reaction. Behind me there was a group of teenaged girls. “It was so sad, so sad,” said one. “It was horrible, I mean it was good, but horrible. I tried to hold it together, Stacy completely lost it, but I mean whatever.” I bit my lip so hard I am sure it almost bled. ‘Whatever!’ The movie, besides showing intense, bloody conflict and tear-producing situations also showed that if you really care and want to make a difference, you can. With the story line of an American journalist seeking the truth behind the diamond conflict and who runs it all, Blood Diamond showed that with passion anything can be possible. Along with telling viewers that it is their, our, responsibility to be sure that any diamond bought is ‘conflict-free’ or ‘clean’.

Foreign Policy magazine created a nice photo-essay about diamond conflicts, those affected, and the path of a conflict diamond from mine to storefront window. Foreign Policy interviewed the director, Edward Zwick about the movie. They noted that the new movie has the diamond industry worried about sales. Why is that an issue? They just might not make as exhorbitant an amount of profit as they once did. So sorry, your third Mercedes-Benz could save lives instead and supply a village with clean water and basic healthcare.


In additon National Geographic has a great article on blood diamonds and how to not buy illicit diamonds. I would recommend reading both articles by Foreign Policy and National Geographic. Likewise check out this website run by the World Diamond Council, an online source with a wealth of information on diamonds, conflict diamonds and the Kimberley Process, where the global diamond industry adopted a zero tolerance policy on conflict diamonds with the backing of the UN and many NGOs. They created the Kimberley Process is used by 71 goverments to certify that diamonds from their respective countries are conflict-free. The site also gives examples of how diamonds are helping people in Africa through healthcare, economy, and education.

This is really a great example of an African (over there) conflict that hits home and really affects us here in the West. I encourage and recommend that you all go and see Blood Diamond, read up on the issues, and learn about the positive uses and impacts that diamonds have for the people who usually suffer the consequences of conflict.