from Africa in Transition

The U.S. State Department’s Annual Trafficking in Persons Report and Sub-Saharan Africa

October 04, 2017

Illegal immigrants who were abandoned by traffickers in a remote desert area wait in Dongola, Sudan, after being located by Sudanese and Libyan forces, May 3, 2014. Sudan is Tier 3 and Libya, a "special case," because it is a war zone. Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters
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Sub-Saharan Africa

Human Trafficking

Each year, the U.S. Department of State issues a report on human trafficking world-wide. The report includes a list of the countries of the world sorted into ‘tiers’ according to their compliance with a particular piece of U.S. legislation, The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. That legislation sets our “minimum standards” for the elimination of what amounts to a contemporary form of human slavery. These standards are based primarily on law, law enforcement, and judicial involvement. 

Tier 1 includes countries fully in compliance. There are thirty-five countries in Tier 1, mostly highly developed countries in Europe, North America, and East Asia, though some small Caribbean countries (e.g. Bahamas, Guyana, and St. Martin) also make the cut. No country on the African continent is included in Tier 1.

Tier 2 includes countries in which the government is not fully in compliance but is making an effort to become so. There are eighty countries in Tier 2, of which fourteen are in sub-Saharan Africa. They include the most developed countries in the region, such as Botswana, Kenya, Mauritius, Namibia, and South Africa. Also included, however, are less-developed Angola and Ethiopia.

The Tier 2 Watch List includes countries attempting to come into compliance (as in Tier 2), but where trafficking is high or increasing. There are forty-five countries in this tier, of which nineteen are in sub-Saharan Africa. They include Chad, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe.

Tier 3 is countries where the government is not in compliance and is making no significant effort to become so. There are twenty-three countries in Tier 3, of which thirteen are in sub-Sahara Africa. They include countries that, in effect, are in a war or just emerging from one, like the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, and Sudan.

The legislation authorizes, but does not require, the U.S. executive to suspend certain types of assistance to Tier 3 countries.

In Africa, there is general recognition that trafficking is a scourge, and that a high proportion of the victims are Africans. How, then, to account for the high proportion of sub-Saharan African countries on the Tier 2 Watch List and on Tier 3? The answer is going to vary from one country to another. However, as noted above, some are in the midst of, or emerging from, prolonged periods of security instability. In others, suppression of trafficking is simply not a high priority. In still others, governance in general is weak and poor, like in Zimbabwe, for example. There is also the general issue that poor countries often lack the bureaucratic, legal, and judicial infrastructure that is strong enough to meet the requirements of U.S. legislation, even if they have the political will to do so.

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