Six months after Muhammed Yusuf had been sold, tortured and forced to watch as a friend died, he found himself back at the parched, dusty bus station where his ordeal began, facing the man who had made him a slave.
Unembarrassed and unrepentant, the smuggler was still touting for business among the crowds flooding into Agadez, an oasis town on the fringe of the Sahara desert in central Niger that has for centuries been a trading centre and gateway to shifting paths across the desert.
“I told him ‘my friend died in Libya because of you’,” Yusuf said a few days after the meeting. Then, desperately hungry, he asked him for some food. The man shrugged off both appeals, and walked away, saying only: “I am sorry, but God will help you.”
Yusuf, a 24-year-old Nigerian, was one of thousands of people who had travelled to Libya looking for work, or hoping to sail to Europe, who were instead sucked into a grim and violent world of slave markets, private prisons, and brutal forced brothels.
The dangers of attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, in overcrowded, unseaworthy vessels, have been highlighted by a series of desperate rescue missions and thousands of deaths at sea in recent years. Last week, at least 245 people were killed by shipwrecks, bringing the toll for this year alone to 1,300.
Less well-known are the dangers of Libya itself for migrants fleeing poverty across West Africa. The country’s slide into chaos following the 2011 death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi and the collapse of the government have made it a breeding ground for crime and exploitation. Two rival governments, an Isis franchise and countless local militias competing for control of a vast, sparsely populated territory awash in weapons, have allowed traffickers to flourish, checked only by the activities of their criminal rivals.
Last year, more than 180,000 refugees arrived in Italy, the vast majority of them through Libya, according to UN agency the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). That number is forecast to top 200,000 this year – and these people form a lucrative source of income for militias and mafias who control Libya’s roads and trafficking networks.
Migrants who managed to reach Europe from Libya have long told of being kidnapped by smugglers, who would then torture them to extort cash as they waited for boats. But in recent years this abuse has developed into a modern-day slave trade – plied along routes once used by slaving caravans – that has engulfed tens of thousands of lives.
The new slave traders operate with such impunity that, survivors say, some victims are being sold in public markets. Most, however, see their lives and liberty auctioned off in private.
“They took people and put them in the street, under a sign that said ‘for sale’,” said Shamsuddin Jibril, 27, from Cameroon, who twice saw men traded publicly in the streets of the central Libyan town of Sabha, once famous as the home of a young Gaddafi, but now known for violence and brutality.
“They tied their hands just like in the former slave trade, and they drove them here in the back of a Toyota Hilux. There were maybe five or seven of them.”
He was too frightened to speak to the men, who were lined up near a monument known as Dar Muammar, a one-room cabin where Gaddafi had lived as a student. The spot, beside a popular bakery, was apparently chosen for the large volume of potential customers passing by, Jibril said.
Another migrant reported being auctioned off at dusty parking lots on the outskirts of town, after being driven in from Agadez, which has for centuries been a last stopping point for traders, goods and slaves heading into the desert.
Today, it is the most northerly town that West Africans can reach without papers: it is part of the huge Economic Community of West African States, which allows visa free-travel for citizens of the region. That has made it the place where most put themselves in the hands of smugglers, and many get sucked into slavery at the bases of middlemen, known in migrant slang as “connection houses”.
This, according to Jibril, is where the problems start. Some of the victims pay for their journey but are sold off anyway when they reach Libya. Others, like Yusuf, the Nigerian who lost his friend, are told they can travel on credit and pay off the trip by working in Libya. They only find on arrival they have been carried as cargo for sale.
Adama Isoomah, warned by friends of the horrors in Libya, thought he had paid for a passage to Algeria. There were no signposts in the desert to alert him to the trickery. “I know there is a desert on the way, but I didn’t know what it looked like,” he said. “After four days, they said ‘welcome to Libya’. I said, is this a dream to me or reality? I know this is where they sell people. And then I realised that the middleman had sold me.”
Abahi (not his real name) is one of these modern-day slave traders, though he bridles at descriptions of his trade as trafficking. He shares cheerful selfies taken in the desert with the men he was carrying to market, and even admits to worries about the fate he drove them into. “It’s no good. Now you will see the migrants suffering and say, ‘I am the man who take them in this problem.’ It’s no good. But what can we do? Inside Libya, everything is ruled by the militias.”
He says he would never steal from migrants who paid their fare, but admits that the 27 people who cram into his Hilux for each trip are a mix of passengers and cargo, depending on who is paying. “If you take them for nothing, the boss in Sabha pays,” he says. “It’s around €400 per person.”
An illegal trade in a lawless country, there is no one model for slavery practised in modern Libya, but the shifting forms of trade and business are all united by the misery and exploitation of its victims.
Female migrants are generally sold into sexual slavery, a trade so lucrative it makes them more valuable as a commodity than men. In Sabha, the clearing house and brothel used for trafficking migrant women was well-known, said Fasan Olaside, a 27-year-old Nigerian builder who was himself kidnapped and held for ransom twice inside Libya.
“There is a three-storey building, where the business takes place,” he said. “Immediately, the women enter the building, that is it – they can’t leave. Some are forced to work there; some are sold elsewhere. It looks just like a normal house, but the local citizens know what is happening there. The person who buys them can sell them on for two or even four times as much.”
Prices for women start at 3,000 Libyan dinars, around €2,000 – more than twice as much as traffickers pay for men, said Olaside, who is still horrified by what he saw: “I was wondering how can this be possible. There were slave markets 300 or 500 years ago, but we are in the third millennium now.”
The men’s fates vary more, depending on their skill and who buys and sells them, according to former captives waiting to go home at a centre run by the UN’s International Organization for Migration. It offers free tickets and basic medical help for those on their way to and from Libya who want to return home, and tries to warn migrants of the dangers of the journey.
On a baking May day, dozens of men waiting for their tickets home said they had fled captivity in Libya. They came from countries across West Africa, including Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Gambia, Liberia and Nigeria, and described a system controlled by Libyans, but often run on a day-to-day basis by their fellow countrymen, who had joined the trade or been co-opted as guards.
They said captors looked for skilled tradesmen among new slaves, and sold electricians, plumbers and others to buyers who needed particular trades. The rest were auctioned off as labourers, or often simply held as human bargaining chips. In grim private jails, their captors forced them to call families across West Africa, demanding ransoms of hundreds of dollars.
Those whose families can’t or won’t pay are beaten and tortured, often while smugglers are on the phone to relatives, the cries of agony used to wring out faster payment. “People were tied up like goats, beaten with broom handles and pipes every blessed day, to get the money,” said Isoomah, from Liberia. “If they do not do that, the money will not come.”
Some smugglers are even more notorious. Jibril told of a private house-turned-prison that migrants have nicknamed the house of debt: “Some of them, they cut their fingers off, or brand them with hot iron.” The luckier ones were bought as workers.
The buyers are men like Tukur, a slim man of Nigerien origin, barely five feet tall and with ceremonial scars by his eyes that marked him as a member of the Hausa ethnic group. He paid for Yusuf and his friend and was named by two other migrants held in the city. The smuggler Abahi also said he knew Tukur and had on occasion sold men to him; his general concern for migrants heading to Libya did not cover those he hands over to the diminutive trader.
“Sometimes they say he is not OK, but it is not my problem. I like my money. He pay me and I go. I don’t see what he do. I just like my money and go.”
Tukur was based in Sabha, wore traditional robes and a small cap, and was flanked by two bulky henchmen who enforced his orders with cables, sticks or more vicious weapons, victims said.
“Someone said ‘wait for the man to take you to the bakery’,” Yusuf remembered. He and his friend had paid half their fares and agreed to work on arrival to pay off the second. But their driver stole their savings and sold them both. “I didn’t realise that we had already been kidnapped. Then Tukur arrived with Abdullah and Isa. They read our names off a list of paper: me, Abdullah Bundu – my friend from Sierra Leone – and three others. ‘You didn’t pay, come this way,’ he said.”
Yusuf explained that he and Bundu had paid half, and Tukur invited them into the house for what he thought would be a discussion. Instead, it was the beginning of an ordeal that would cost Bundu his life. “As we entered the building, we heard the lock turning,” he said. Then they said, you should call your family fast and ask for money.”
Bundu died of a heart attack following prolonged beatings, and Yusuf was ordered to help take his friend’s body to the hospital, where doctors accepted without question the captors’ story that the heart attack had been spontaneous.
On the way back, Yusuf decided to risk an escape attempt, convinced that otherwise he, too, would die in the jail, where some had been wasting away on starvation rations for months. There are thought to be thousands of migrants trapped in similar private jails and extortion centres scattered across Libya, where execution and torture are commonplace.
Resting on a clinic bed, his legs swathed in bandages and his skin mottled by burn scars, Couilbaly Yahyah still doesn’t know why his captors decided to burn him alive. After he’d been a captive inside Libya for just three weeks, guards took him into a courtyard and picked up a five-litre jerrycan, whose purpose he understood only when they began splashing fuel over his body.
“They only spoke English, not French, and they were just shouting ‘money, money, money’ at me,” said the French-speaking Yahyah, who comes from Ivory Coast.
Seconds later someone lit a piece of paper and threw it at him. The pain was instant and searing, although he thinks a thick winter coat he was wearing offered a little protection. Screaming he raced around the courtyard in a crazed bid to escape the blaze, until one of the men took pity on him.
“When I was running around in flames, a guard came over and ripped off my coat, tearing it in two, and put out the fire. Without the coat and the guard, I would be dead.”
Terribly injured and wearing only his underwear, the 24-year-old was thrown out into the street to die, but saved by a passing African migrant, who took him to the hospital.
Months later the burns have left a pattern of scars on his hands and welded his left knee into a permanent crook. Both his legs are still wrapped in bandages, and he lies on a clinic bed in northern Niger with months of slow healing ahead, dreaming of the day he can go home.
“I just want to go home and see my daughter Khadija,” he says, showing a picture of a smiling toddler on his phone. She was just a few months old when he left. He had paid for a passage to Italy but was abandoned in Sabha.
“We called the smuggler from inside Libya and said ‘we are here’, but he just told us ‘I’ve spent too much on you. You should call your parents and ask for money’,” he said. “It turned out it was all a lie: he didn’t have another connection to take us to Italy.”
With no money to continue to Europe or return home, he was seized by a gang while looking for work to pay for passage either onwards or home.
The country director for the UN’s migration agency in Niger has spent years working with victims of some of the world’s most abusive and distressing trafficking networks, but found the stories coming out of Libya “shocking”.
“I think the conditions are getting worse,” Giuseppe Loprete told the Observer. “What migrants are telling us deserves our highest attention. This violence against vulnerable human beings whose only fault is dreaming about a better life is unacceptable.”
A crackdown by the Niger government has choked off much of the trade in Agadez, where it was once carried out almost openly. Dozens of smugglers are in jail, hundreds of vehicles have been confiscated, the cost of bribing checkpoint guards has soared, and fewer migrants arrive or leave.
But that is only a very temporary solution to a problem driven by desperate poverty and wild dreams that the horrors of Libya cannot yet overshadow.
The IOM is helping those who return from Libya share stories of the horrors that await there. The migrants are all desperate to spare others their fate. “If I meet someone at home who says they want to go to Libya, I will slap him,” said Isoomaah.
But in the “ghettos” of Agadez, dozens of others are still waiting for their call to the desert, buoyed by their dreams and convinced that they are smart enough to escape slavery.
“Those who say they will take you for free, they will sell you. So if we don’t have money, we will not go,” said Paaliou Jobe, a 30-year-old Gambian who is living in a half-built house in the town with six countrymen, the youngest of them only 16.
And he added: “If you have a bad connection man, you are sold. If you have a good connection man, you are safe. We want to go. That is our dream.”
Chaplin of the Kumas Central Prison, Rev. Canon Paa Kwesi Ansah, has revealed an acute shortage of medicines has hit infirmaries of Prisons across the Ashanti Region.
According to him, the situation which has been frequent, is affecting healthcare delivery to inmates of prisons in the region.
Rev. Ansah blamed the shortage on insufficient budgetary allocation from the government.
The Chaplin speaking at a short ceremony to receive foodstuff and cosmetics from a philanthropist, indicated that officers are sometimes forced to use their own money to buy drugs for the inmates.
The items worth GHC30,000 was donated by the owner of St Monica’s Company, Mama Serwaah Nyarkoh.
Emmanuel Macron has promised to restore France's global standing, as he was inaugurated as the country's youngest president at the age of 39.
At an elaborate ceremony at the Élysée Palace in Paris, he said his presidency would "give the French back the confidence to believe in themselves".
He vowed to see the EU "reformed and relaunched" during his time in office.
He takes over from François Hollande, whose five-year term was plagued by high unemployment figures.
Mr Macron was proclaimed France's new president a week after his resounding victory over the National Front's Marine le Pen, with 66% of the vote in the run-off poll.
The former investment banker, who had never contested an election before and only formed his centrist movement a year ago, has vowed to shake up the country's political order and reinvigorate its economy.
Tight security was in place across Paris for the ceremony at the president's official residence, with hundreds of extra police on patrol.
France has been under a state of emergency since terror attacks in 2015 and a large section of the city centre was closed to traffic all morning.
'World needs France'
During his inaugural address on Sunday, President Macron pledged to restore the confidence of the French people in their country's future.
"The division and fractures in our society must be overcome," said the centrist politician.
"The world and Europe need more than ever France, and a strong France, which speaks out loudly for freedom and solidarity," he declared.
He said he would convince the people that "the power of France is not declining - that we are on the brink of a great renaissance".
He was presented with a necklace once worn by Napoleon I, as a symbol of his position as Grand Master of the Legion of Honour (a title usually given to the leader of France).
Before the ceremony began, he spent nearly an hour with his predecessor, who handed him the country's nuclear codes. It was Mr Hollande who launched the new president's political career, appointing him first as adviser and later economy minister.
Despite historic low approval ratings, the former president tweeted after leaving the palace: "I leave a country in a much better state than I found it."
At 39, Mr Macron is France's youngest leader since Napoleon and the first to be born after 1958, when a presidential system was set up.
His En Marche political movement was formed just last year and as a new party - La République En Marche - will be fielding candidates across France in June's parliamentary elections.
He has promised to "work for everyone" and sees his programme as straddling both left and right.
Mr Macron's first week in office will be busy. He heads for Berlin on Monday to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel and to demonstrate his commitment to the European Union.
He is also expected to name a prime minister on Monday morning.
Mr Macron faces major challenges including high unemployment, especially among France's young, and low growth.
He says his main aims are to boost investment and to set up a "new growth model" that increases social mobility and helps the environment.
Later on Sunday, Mr Macron visited the Arc de Triomphe and laid a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier.
The President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, has stated that the government’s avowed fight to clamp down on illegal mining activities in the country is not informed by xenophobia but rather a national commitment to protect the integrity of the environment.
He said the war against galamsey was a battle Ghanaians must win noting that there was a powerful vested interest by faceless individuals who were encouraging the menace which must stop.
President Akufo-Addo who was speaking when he met the Media Coalition against Galamsey at the Flagstaff House last Friday, said the government recently found it necessary to engage the diplomatic community and other interest groups to seek their support to fight the menace collectively.
“We are not against Chinese or any other citizens but what we are all seeking is to protect the integrity of our environment to secure a better future for unborn generations,” the President submitted.
The media coalition which comprises the state-owned media, the National Commission on Civic Education (NCCE), OccupyGhana, the Private Newspapers and Publishers Association of Ghana (PRINPAG) and other interest bodies is led by its convener, Mr Kenneth Ashigbey, who are in a campaign to clamp down on galamsey in the country.
It has set out the objective to name, shame and push for prosecution of persons involved in the illegal mining activity and courting the support of the citizenry to join in the combat to end the galamsey menace.
Their call on the President was to inform him their mission as well as appraise him on progress made since the coalition was put together and seek presidential support in the campaign against galamsey.
Welcoming the coalition, President Akufo-Addo said the government would soon unveil a national plan against galamsey to be announced by the Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Prof. Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng.
He indicated that the comprehensive plan detailed a well-coordinated strategy to ensure the end of galamsey in the country and urged Ghanaians to support the government to see the plan through to its logical conclusion.
Expressing appreciation to the coalition for mobilising the social conscience of the people, President Akufo-Addo said he was happy to see various interests groups put together to be part of the campaign which for him was a demonstration of how seriously the coalition had taken the menace.
“If we do not make a collective effort to stop it, this would not be a land to pass on to the next generation. Once you have started this campaign, I urge you to pursue it to its very end,” the President tasked the coalition.
He asked the coalition to see the campaign not as a spirit but a cross-country race which should involve all Ghanaians.
President Akufo-Addo underscored the need to create alternative source of livelihoods for illegal miners and to achieve that his administration would create a productive economy to create opportunities for all to be absorbed into channeling their energies to better use.
He expressed optimism that with a sustained campaign against galamsey destroyed lands would be reclaimed and polluted waters shall also again be restored to become a good source of drinking water.
The coalition has declared the last Friday every month as Red Friday at which every Ghanaian is expected to be adorned in red attire in solidarity with the fight against galamsey.
The next one falls on May 26, 2017 and in accordance with the tradition, the President assured the coalition that he would solidarise with them in the appropriate colour.
Earlier, Mr Ashigbey who is also the Managing Director of the Graphic Communications Group Limited, commended the President for demonstrating political courage to fight the menace adding “it would stand you in good stead in our history.”
He said the media had been part of a leadership failure in bringing the galamsey issue to an end and that now was the time for the media to hold the leadership of the country accountable hence the formation of the coalition.
Mr Ashigbey pointed out that the coalition has set for itself certain key performing indicators to define the success of its campaign which he enumerated to include ending galamsey as soon as possible, the restoration of polluted water bodies, ensuring the provision of a sustainable alternative livelihood for illegal miners and naming, shaming and push for jail terms against persons involved in the practice.
Deploring the alleged involvement of various security officials in the galamsey practice, the media convener asked that the detailed plan to be announced by the government should be done timeously to monitor its success.
He told the President of plans by the coalition to hold town hall meetings at galamsey riddled communities including Kyebi and Akropong to educate the people against the practice and also meet with the Chief Justice.
Mr Ashigbey lauded the Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Georgina Theodora Wood for setting up fourteen courts to deal with galamsey cases.
Source: Flagstaff House
The Alliance for Women in Media Africa, (AWMA) is advocating for the establishment of free day care centres at markets to ease the pressure on kayayei and teen mothers in need.
The statement also urged government to extend the school feeding programme to benefit them.
The alliance in a message released in celebration of Mother’s Day said, “free day care and feeding facilities for these child mothers will ease their burden and provide a safe haven for their babies. Whilst we wait for a workable policy to deal with the kayayei situation and teenage pregnancy in general.’’
It added: ‘’ If Ghana is to eradicate maternal and under-five mortality, these interventions are critical. We will also like to say congratulations to all mothers for the sacrifices they make and continue to make to raise the nation.’’
Find below the full statement Build day care centres at markets and make it free for teen mothers and extend school feeding to same:
The Alliance for Women in Media Africa, (AWMA), will like to use the occasion of Mothers day to highlight the plight of teenage mothers especially those without support who are struggling. The situation of the kaayayeis (head porters) is most deplorable. They often have to carry huge loads whilst carrying their often malnourished children. For several hours in the day these babies and toddlers are exposed to the vagaries of extreme weather. Free day care and feeding facilities for these child mothers will ease their burden and provide a safe haven for their babies. Whilst we wait for a workable policy to deal with the kayayei situation and teenage pregnancy in general. If Ghana is to eradicate maternal and under-five mortality, these interventions are critical. We will also like to say congratulations to all mothers for the sacrifices they make and continue to make to raise the nation.
signed: Shamima Muslim Alhassan.
The First Lady Mrs. Rebecca Akufo-Addo has admonished Ghanaians to help in the fight against maternal and infant mortality.
In a special Mother’s Day message, the First Lady stressed the need for individuals to support her “Save a Child Save a Mother” campaign, which seeks to build a new unit for the Komfo Anokye maternity block.
Find below the First Lady’s full Mothers’ Day message
MOTHERS’DAY MESSAGE FROM THE FIRST LADY OF THE REPUBLIC MRS. REBECCA NAA OKAIKOR AKUFO-ADDO
Today is mother’s day and I salute all mothers and mother figures. Motherhood is a tough job. Mothers never rest. A mother would move heaven and earth for her child. Mothers shape our lives, nurture our talents and inspire us to achieve greater heights. Every mother deserves to have this special day.
As a mother, I am mindful of the struggles mothers go through, as we work tirelessly to instill discipline, protect and create opportunities for a better life for our children.
I wish to use this opportunity to urge all mothers to keep up the good work even in the face of challenges, knowing that in due course we would all enjoy the fruit of our labour.
I also urge everyone to appreciate all the mothers in our lives. Because they are simply phenomenal.
Whether this woman is your mother, grandmother, aunt, sister, foster or adoptive mother, please remember to say thank you today. These women deserve your appreciation.
As we celebrate mothers’ day, I wish to remind all Ghanaians of the needless deaths of mothers and children at the Komfo Anokye Hospital. No woman should die giving life to another and no mother should lose a child she has carried for nine months. As we honour mothers, let us all resolve to contribute to the save a child save a mother project by contributing in cash or in kind to the special fund to build a new unit for the Komfo Anokye maternity block.
Please pay your cheque or cash into the Save a Child Save a Mother account, at Access bank.
Happy Mother’s to all our phenomenal women.
May 14, 2017
Mothers’ Day: First Lady rallies support to reduce maternal deaths
May 14, 2017
Two Persons have been confirmed dead and one other person is in a critical condition at the Bolgatanga Regional Hospital in the Upper East Region, following clashes in a renewed chieftaincy dispute on Saturday night.
Reports indicate that there were sporadic gun shots in the area.
According to an eyewitness account, two houses belonging to the two factions in the Bolgatanga chieftaincy dispute, Naba Raymond Alafia Abilba II, and Naba Joseph Abeka Nonge-Buuri, were set ablaze Saturday night at about 8:00 pm in Atulibabiisi, a suburb of Bolgatanga.
The Fire Service according to information gathered, managed to quench the fire but properties were destroyed.
The police has deployed men to the area to maintain law and order.
President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has appointed Frances Essiam as the Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Cylinder Manufacturing Company (GCMC).
Her appoint was confirmed in a letter by the Minister of Energy, Boakye Agyarko.
She was active in the 2016 campaign where she formed Women for Change, went round the country and campaigned for Nana Addo.
A letter dated 8 May signed by Energy Minister Boakye Agyarko communicated the appointment to Ms Essiam.
“You are, therefore, appointed as Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Cylinder Manufacturing Company Limited. Please accept my congratulations on your appointment,” the letter added.