Patient World Peasants Indigenous Organization succeeded
|August 28, 2008||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Patient World Peasants Indigenous Organization succeeded
96 Indigenous Slaves Freed in Congo
Advocacy Project, a US-based organization that supports the campaign to end slavery, released this 2008 article on August 18 which was circulated by OneWorld. The writer, a graduate student at American University, is volunteering as an AP Peace Fellow with the WPIO in Uganda this summer and plans a documentary.
by Juliet Hutchings
In certain parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), traditional leaders and wealthy community members sometimes enslave poor, indigenous people, forcing them to work for little or no pay, denying them their civil and human rights, and — in the case of enslaved women — subjecting them to sexual abuse.
The World Peasants Indigenous Organization (WPIO) launched its innovative Ten-to-One Campaign after their traditional approach to combating slavery — aggressive advocacy to “shame and denounce” slave owners — was met with strong opposition and even a violent backlash in one case. In contrast, the Ten-to-One Campaign sends teams of 10 influential locals, like teachers and religious leaders, to meet with slave owners in one-on-one sessions to raise their awareness about human rights and slavery.
In March 2008, the US-based Advocacy Project reported: “WPIO has succeeded in freeing 36 pygmy families since 2003, and helped another 120 succeed in claiming wages or school fees.” Following his meetings with a WPIO team, one traditional ruler from Lugendo wrote: “After very long discussions with them [WPIO] I am proud to say that I have understood. I accept that everybody who served me is free…I am giving (them) one cow each and lands.” [The article was posted here.]
Now a three-month campaign by the WPIO has resulted in the release of 96 people who had been held as slaves in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
During the “Ten for One Peace Campaign,” 50 people who were working as forced miners for companies in Lulimba were freed, along with 46 people from 12 indigenous families who had been enslaved for generations.
The son of a pygmy* man owned by a mining company, Burhabale Cisangani was born into slavery.
Orphaned at age 7, he was forced to do hard labor in the Lulimba area of Congo for masters who made him work even when sick and forbade him to marry. For 28 years, this was the only life he knew.
But this spring, Mr Cisangani became a free man, thanks to the courageous efforts of the World Peasants/Indigenous Organization (WPIO), a partner of The Advocacy Project (AP) based in Uganda.
Earlier this year, a team of twenty-five WPIO activists spent three months visiting 240 families and a number of companies in five territories in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during their “Ten for One Peace Campaign.” The campaign resulted in the release of almost 100 people who had been held as slaves.
“Victims of slavery have been routinely destroyed by sexual exploitation and other human rights abuses,” WPIO Director Freddy Wangabo wrote in a recent press release of the campaign’s results. “More collective sacrifices and responsibility are needed for the interest of humankind to protect pygmies… and the other poorest communities in the country.”
In some areas of the DRC, wealthy people and traditional leaders (mwami) are known to capture pygmies and other poor, indigenous people and force them into slavery. The captured people are known as badja and are considered the property of their masters. According to the WPIO, the tradition of enslaving pygmies goes back many years and is linked to a social hierarchy that treats pygmies as “animals without tails.”
In this context, the traditional human rights advocacy strategy of shaming the perpetrators proved ineffective, because pygmies are not valued by the rest of society. Instead, the Ten for One Peace Campaign uses teams of influential locals, including teachers and religious leaders, to intensively lobby individual slave-owners one at a time.
In the course of a week during the campaign, ten people speak to a slave-owner, with the final speaker being a WPIO representative who asks for the badja’s release. At the same time, WPIO staff and volunteers speak to the badja, informing them that they are supposed to be paid for their work, that they are allowed to send their children to school, that they can own cows and livestock and work for themselves.
During the most recent campaign, WPIO activists met with 447 people, including more than 300 indigenous slaves and nearly 150 local leaders, businessmen, and wealthy citizens of the region. Fifty people who were working as forced miners for companies in Lulimba were freed, along with 46 people from 12 indigenous families who had been enslaved for generations.
Under an agreement arranged by the WPIO, the mining companies agreed to let the freed workers mine for two weeks for their own benefit, and use the materials they collected to start their new lives. Each of the 12 released families received a portion of land as a step toward an independent future.
Mr Cisangani was able to mine $21,000 in precious stones during the two weeks, and he then used the money to buy some land and build a small house. He has also opened a small shop and employs three other people. The WPIO, with information from the mining company, also helped Mr Cisangani to find his relatives, who didn’t know he existed.
*AP recognizes there are some who feel the term “pygmy” is derogatory. However, AP follows the lead of WPIO in using the term.
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