U.S. legislators blind to Sudan slavery

March 23, 1997|By GREGORY KANE

Lawrence K. Freeman is a brave man. He's probably one of the few Jews in America to call Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan a friend. Guts this guy Freeman has. Guts and passion. Maybe a little too much passion.

One of Freeman's passions is Sudan, which he thinks is a gosh-darned swell country. He and a delegation of African-American state delegates and senators visited Sudan in

September and again in January. They found no slavery, a kind, loving and beneficent government and - according to one member of the group - no civil war.

This past Thursday, Freeman, who is editor of Executive Intelligence Review and a member of the Schiller Institute, a sponsor of the delegation, and members of that second delegation held a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington.

They came to praise the government of Sudan and condemn that evil triumvirate The Sun/Gil Lewthwaite/Greg Kane that ran the "Witness to Slavery" series in this paper last June. We're all out to destabilize the government of Sudan, you see.

Just how we could destabilize a country that has been at civil war for more than 30 of its 41 years of independence members of the news conference did not make clear. But so that readers will have some appreciation of the ludicrousness of the charge, I wasn't even 5 years old when the first civil war started in 1956.

But Thomas E. Jackson, a member of Alabama's House of Representatives, charged that our purchase of the freedom of two Dinka boys was "orchestrated." Then he went a bit overboard when he made this curious analogy.

"Sudan has been robbed, beaten and left for dead like the traveler on the Jericho road," the delegate said. The Schiller Institute was playing the role of the Good Samaritan, rescuing Sudan from us varmints in the West.

Maria Elena Milton, an Arizona Democrat who also went on the January trip, claimed there was "no institutional support for slavery" in the Sudan. What, exactly, did she mean by that? She elaborated.

"Where are the plantations?" she wanted to know. Such is the danger of getting African-Americans involved in these situations. big-eared Massa Rhett and Miss Scarlett don't put in an appearance, then that's proof positive no slavery is going on.

It took three Sudanese in attendance - two from the south and one from the north - to restore some semblance of reality to the meeting. Elmigdad Gebril, from northern Sudan, asked why the group didn't visit prisons and talk to political prisoners. Milton brushed the question aside by accusing the Western media of lying about the January invasion of Sudan by Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Moses Akol, of the Southern Sudan Resource Center, chided the American elected officials for supporting a regime that came to power through violence as opposed to the ballot box.

"This government [the current Sudan regime] overthrew a civilian government, and you don't seem concerned about that," Akol observed.

After 'fessing up to not visiting political prisoners - odd, how elected officials from a democratic country could overlook such in a country reputed to violate human rights on a regular basis - delegation members admitted they did not visit the province of Bahr al-Ghazal. Bahr al-Ghazal only happens to be on the front line of the civil war, where people who have either been enslaved or have relatives who have been enslaved can be found.

Akol and Akuei Malwal, also of the Southern Sudan Resource Center, assured the elected officials and Freeman that slavery in Sudan was fact, not fiction.

"I was born and raised in Bahr al-Ghazal," Malwal told the delegation. "I have relatives in captivity even as we speak."

Once Malwal uttered these words, the issue was no longer whether slavery existed in Sudan or not. It shifted back to the evil Sun/Lewthwaite/Kane triumvirate. We entered Sudan illegally, without getting visas. Thus, our report of slavery was suspect. In other words, our report didn't count because we cheated. I suspect Freeman and the others were trying to invoke some sort of bizarre Sudanese exclusionary rule.

"These charges of slavery didn't surface until the present regime came into power," Freeman asserted. All three Sudanese, the two southerners and the northerner, assured him that wasn't true. In 1986, Akol said, two University of Khartoum professors provided documented proof that slavery existed. Malwal and Gebril supported Akol's story, blurting out the names of the two professors who were jailed for telling the government something it didn't want to hear.

Freeman and delegation members constantly hit the theme that Sudan had many good things going for it: five women on the Supreme Court, women in the state legislatures, Christians in high government posts. All of which may be true. But every government, no matter how progressive, has a flaw. Slavery and human rights abuses are evils that continue to hound the government of Sudan.

Pub Date: 3/23/97

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