Briefing from ROAPE Volume 28 Number 87
Slavery & Labour in West Africa
The middle of April this year saw a major (northern/international) news focus on the Republic of Benin. A Nigerian registered boat, the Etireno, sailing from Cotonou, was refused the right to disembark passengers and cargo in Gabon. UNICEF and other human rights organisations in Benin claimed that the ship was carrying up to 250 children of various ages who were being sent as slave (unremunerated) labour to Gabon. The Etireno was allowed to refuel in Douala and then it 'disappeared' for over a week on the short journey back to Cotonou. The Gabonese authorities, with the eyes of the world upon them, declined to accept the human cargo of children reported to be aboard. When the Etireno finally did put into Cotonou, its crew were taken away for questioning and the 31 unaccompanied children (some reports give the number as 43, some of whom were accompanied) on board were taken into care. Apart from the obvious question of the disparity between the number of children thought by UNICEF to be on board and the number eventually disembarked (did UNICEF get it wrong? was the Etireno the wrong ship and another was loaded up to the gunwales with children? did the Etireno's master put 200 children ashore at some small landing stage between Libreville and Cotonou? were the children dumped overboard?), there are much broader underlying issues to be addressed here.