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A reader’s response—and more

This first appeared on January 6, 2007 in Weekly Trust, Abuja, Nigeria. Farooq A. Kperogi After reading my series on American Green Card lot...

This first appeared on January 6, 2007 in Weekly Trust, Abuja, Nigeria.

Farooq A. Kperogi

After reading my series on American Green Card lottery winners, which ended last week, a reader wants me to give audience to his thoughts on what he called the “new slave trade” that once again brings pains to Africa but brings gains to the West. It’s an insightful and thoughtful rumination on the history, nature, pattern and consequences of Africa’s brain drain and the West’s brain gain.

I will like to point out, however, that there are not as many Nigerians in the United States as the writer claims. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 164, 691 Nigerians in the United States as of the year 2000. Even if this number has doubled between 2000 and now and we take into account the possibility, indeed the reality, of illegal Nigerian immigrants, we still cannot have more than a million Nigerians in America at the most.

I have also decided to share with you an Associated Press story on the decision by America’s first Muslim Congressman, Keith Allison, to use the Qur’an for his swearing-in ceremony.

The New Slave Trade
By Salisu Suleiman (

As usual, your style has kept us gripped to Weekly Trust. Your series on the state of some Nigerians in the US reminds me of an essay I wrote some time ago which is attached. You may publish if you wish to.

In the 400-year period between 1500 and 1900, perhaps 30 million Africans were forcibly taken from their homes and sold into slavery. It is estimated that of these, 17 million were sold into slavery on the coast of the Indian Ocean, Middle East and North Africa; 12 million were taken to the Americas; 5 million across the Sahara and East Africa to other parts of the world. Some estimate that 20 percent of slaves chained in the holds of the slave ships died before reaching their destination.

The slave trade formed part of a lucrative triangle developed by European countries. It involved exporting manufactured goods to the west coast of Africa where they would be exchanged for slaves (often forcibly obtained). The slaves were then sold for huge profit in the Americas where the money was used to buy raw materials such as sugar, cotton, coffee, metals and tobacco that were eventually shipped back to Europe for more profit.

While I do not want to digress by pointing out how the slave trade developed Europe and the Americas (particularly North America) while leaving Africa short of human and material resources necessary for development, it is worth noting that slavery created and then relied on a large support of shipping services, ports, finance and insurance companies. New industries were created, processing the raw materials harvested or extracted by slaves in the Americas.

Before the Industrial and Commercial Revolutions (which partly resulted from the slave trade), wealth was measured in terms of agriculture. The quantity of land and the amount of labour available to work on it was the major determinant of wealth. In this area, Africa was denied the opportunity to maximize its human and natural resources to any appreciable level because the strong and able bodied people who would have done so were being evacuated to develop strange lands.

Thus, the marriage of land and labour never quite happened in Africa except at the sustenance level.

In fact, so vicious was the slave trade that it is estimated that at least 4 million died in slave wars and raids before ever leaving Africa. In West and Central Africa, it led to huge population upheavals.

Coastal tribes fled slave raiding parties and captured slaves were redistributed to different regions in Africa. (The civil wars and genocide of today bear historical link to this artificial relocation of people).

At any rate, when the Industrial Revolution made human labour (slaves) uneconomical, the Europeans (and later Americans) began to look for what to do with them and eventually arrived at the idea of abolition. (Was there any other option?) It is fanciful to claim that the abolition of slavery was predicated on humanitarian grounds, but the reality is that slaves had become an unwanted liability. With time, following political and sometimes military (U.S. civil war) developments, the slave trade was finally abolished. Or so we thought.

Incidentally, the creation of Liberia and Sierra Leone as settlements for former slaves was not for humanitarian reasons. It was done to reduce the Black population in America. (Without the resettlements, there might have been an African American President of the US?) Meanwhile, I will not belabour readers by taking them through the arguments on how Europe underdeveloped Africa.

Walter Rodney has more than taken care of that. But the fact remains that this barbaric cruelty of man to man significantly explains the reasons behind the strife, poverty and underdevelopment of Africa today (Very easy to blame somebody else for your problems?). Sadly, that is beside the point. The crux of the matter is: There is a New Slave Trade today. Oh, it is subtle and called by different terms, but at the end of the day, it will have the same consequences as the slave trade.

The world today is faced with the realities of integration of trade and capital flows facilitated by the rapid growth of information technology and hitherto closed societies and economies in Russia, Eastern Europe and China. Globalization has triggered a development revolution that includes mobilization of human and material resources across the borders of an increasingly seamless world. And as usual, Africa is once again at the receiving end. (We also receive toxic wastes too dangerous for other parts of the world).

The world is moving rapidly into the knowledge society where capital is measured not in terms of agricultural or industrial capacity, but in terms of knowledge, expertise, professionalism or simply, information. To create wealth today, what is required is not vast quantities of agricultural land and labour, or huge stacks of industrial goods. (Perhaps China is an exception?.

Today, information is wealth. It is no coincidence that the two richest people in the world today are Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, none of whom is a farmer or industrialist. Their wealth is based not on what they produce but on the ideas and information they have and use to manage their businesses. The issue at stake is that today, millions of Africans are once again on the move to Europe, Middle – East and the Americas.

Highly skilled African professionals in every field are leaving the continent for other parts of the world, some call it Brain Drain and of course it is! Since brains constitute wealth and it is the mass movement of trained and skilled Africans that is the new slave trade. Unfortunately, this new slave trade has the capacity to stunt African development far more than 400 years of the Old slave trade ever did.

Today on a daily basis, the trained personnel required to help keep hopes of African development alive are on their way to different parts of the world. Doctors, pharmacists, lawyers, scientists, university professors, nurses, dentists, IT specialists, finance, real estate and even sports professionals are all moving out in droves.

This time, it is not the crack of whips, nor the clang of chains that compels them to move into foreign lands. Nothing as dramatic as that. It is the lure of the greenback. And as practical reality has shown, it has a more convincing drive than the slave raiders ever possessed.

In the new triangular modem (the language has to be in tune with the times), we do not see chains and guns nor sorrow in the faces of those leaving their homes (at least, not at first). But the consequences remain the same. And the gap between developed and African countries has widened and continues to widen, further accelerated by the vast movement of the continent’s best trained professionals. (The more things change, the more they remain the same?).

According to latest figures, there are 3.25 million Nigerians living in America today, counting 4 generations. Of this number, there are over 115, 000 Nigerian medical professionals, 87, 000 pharmacists, 49, 000 engineers, over 250, 000 legal, financial, real estate and related business professionals. These figures relate only to Nigeria out of Africa’s over 50 countries. Who cares to compile the data?

And predictably, their destinations remain the same: Europe, The Middle East and North America. While the slaves of yonder years were chosen because of their physical strength, those of today are chosen because of their intellect and professional expertise. The consequences for Africa are the same, or worse.

Whoever said the slave trade was over? For when the consequences of what we euphemistically refer to as Brain Drain begin to be felt in 50 or a hundred years from now, who shall we blame? Cry, Africa.

Congressman to be sworn in using Quran
By FREDERIC J. FROMMER, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, will use a Quran once owned by Thomas Jefferson during his ceremonial swearing-in Thursday.

The chief of the Library of Congress' rare book and special collections division, Mark Dimunation, will walk the Quran across the street to the Capitol and then walk it back after the ceremony.

Ellison, D-Minn., contacted the library about the book last month, Dimunation said.
Some critics have argued that only a Bible should be used for the swearing-in. Last month, Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Va., warned that unless immigration is tightened, "many more Muslims" will be elected and follow Ellison's lead. Ellison was born in Detroit and converted to Islam in college.

Ellison spokesman Rick Jauert said the new congressman "wants this to be a special day, and using Thomas Jefferson's Quran makes it even more special."
"Jefferson's Quran dates religious tolerance to the founders of our country," he added.

An English translation of the Arabic, it was published in 1764 in London, a later printing of one originally published in 1734.

"This is considered the text that shaped Europe's understanding of the Quran," Dimunation said.

It was acquired in 1815 as part of a 6,400-volume collection that Jefferson sold for $24,000, to replace the congressional library that had been burned by British troops the year before, in the War of 1812.

"It was a real bargain," Dimunation said.

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