THE government of Sudan - that east African nation where civil war has raged for the last 17 years and slavery is still not only practiced but perfected - is really in trouble.
Sudan, led since 1989 - some would say the more accurate term would be "misled" - by the National Islamic Front, has aroused the ire of many. A United Nations fact-finder said slavery exists in Sudan. This paper sent two reporters to the country in 1996 and reached the same conclusion, as have human rights groups. The government of Sudan has shrugged off and dismissed all the critics, but now it has one who'll hound it to the very gates of hell itself.
Joe Madison, program director of Radio One's WOL in Washington, visited Sudan from Sept. 4 through Sept. 11 with representatives of the group Christian Solidarity International. Madison and his companions freed 4,435 slaves during the stay, a rate of 400 to 600 a day. Madison took pictures and heard stories from the mouths of escaped slaves. He returned determined to shake a complacent American public - especially the African-American public - from silence and complacency about the issue.
"I came back resolved," Madison said early last week. "I don't care where Jesse [Jackson] is [on the issue of slavery in Sudan], I don't give a flying you-know-what where [Nation of Islam leader Louis] Farrakhan is. They can catch up."
Both men will need quite a sprint to catch up with Madison. (Jackson has a way to go just to catch up with Farrakhan, who, at least, sides with the Sudanese government and insists no slavery exists there. Jackson has failed to address the issue at all. He hasn't even mumbled a syllable.) Madison has taken to Radio One's airwaves, alerting listeners, informing, exhorting them to take a stand on the issue of slavery in Sudan and provide some much needed assistance for the people of that country's southern region.
Some of the questions Madison asked in Sudan seemed designed specifically to address Farrakhan's assertion that no slavery exists there and to challenge his support of the NIF government.
"I asked several Sudanese Arabs, 'What would your message be to African-American Muslims and Muslims in general?'" Madison said. The Arabs Madison spoke to are the ones who have no quarrel with the blacks of southern Sudan, who are as devoted to Islam as Farrakhan and who do not support their government.
"Tell them we're very happy they have chosen Islam," Madison said the Arabs (who look like the "brothers in Baltimore," he observed) told him. "What the Khartoum government is doing is not Islam. We don't believe in slavery. This is an extremist government."
Madison also listened to the horror stories of those who had either escaped from slavery or had their freedom bought by CSI or Dinka tribesmen. One 9-year-old boy had all the fingers on his right hand cut off when he refused to tend goats. Another, the same age, suffered the same fate for talking back to his Arab "masters." Even grislier were the stories of the women and girls who were raped - accounts so graphic and disgusting they won't appear in this column. But Madison recounted the tale of two men who had their arms cut off.
"Five Dinka men whose wives and children were captured in a raid tracked the raiders for five days," Madison began. "They found their wives drawing water from a river. Some militiamen caught them and took them into the woods and cut off both arms of each man."
Three of the men died. Some merciful Sudanese took pity on the two survivors and got them to the closest hospital. Their wives wereeventually freed and reunited with their husbands, who now have to be fed and given drink.
These and other tales caused Madison to break down and weep. John Eibner, his CSI companion, asked him, "Are you all right?"
"I said, 'No, I'm not,'" Madison recalled. Those conversations that weren't gut-wrenching were sometimes downright embarrassing. Madison talked to a commander in the Sudanese People's Liberation Army. The discussion soon became a heated though not loud debate about what African-Americans are doing to arouse their government to take action against slavery in Sudan.
"We don't know about it," Madison said of African-Americans' ignorance of Sudan slavery.
The commander stared at Madison a moment and said, "You are educated, aren't you?"
The question wasn't asked in sarcasm or anger, Madison said, but in a tone that simply and plaintively asked, "Where are you?"
Some African-Americans are right on the money. A black sorority at the University of Delaware has raised money to send educational supplies to southern Sudan. Madison saw, with his own eyes, why such assistance is needed.
"Kids in school had no pencils, pens or paper," Madison said. "They were half-naked, had no shoes and went to school in a mud hut. The teacher had one book, one piece of chalk and a small blackboard."
Help from Americans for southern Sudanese should be multiracial and bipartisan, as Madison concluded after reflecting that "no one over there asked if I was a Democrat or a Republican. No one asked if I was conservative or liberal. They just asked for help."