The warning bells had been sounding for months. In April this year, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) warned that its staff in Niger and Libya had ‘documented shocking events on North African migrant routes, which they have described as “slave markets”’.
But it was only when CNN broadcast a video in mid-November of a slave auction of African migrants in Libya that the world took note. Those images, evoking a ‘despicable trade … from another era’ as African Union (AU) chairperson Alpha Condé put it, made slavery the unofficial but real theme of the 5th AU-European Union (EU) summit in Abidjan on 29 and 30 November. Around 80 heads of state and government from the 83 states gathered to discuss their joint interests.
The official theme, ‘Investing in Youth for Accelerated Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development’, was upstaged by the crisis of the day. Several urgent meetings were held on the margins of the summit – involving the AU, EU, UN and the governments of Libya, France, Germany and others – to try to draft an appropriate response to the outrage.