The Anti-Slavery Knowledge Network – building resilience in sub-Saharan Africa

Professor John Oldfield

Professor of Slavery and Emancipation

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

john.oldfield@hull.ac.uk

The Wilberforce Institute is involved in a number of collaborative research projects, among them ‘The Anti-Slavery Knowledge Network’ (AKN), led by the universities of Hull, Liverpool and Nottingham. As its name implies, AKN is about knowledge and knowledge sharing, in this case in sub-Saharan Africa. The aim of the project, funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, is to show how the arts and humanities can help to build resilience in communities vulnerable to human trafficking, forced labour and child exploitation through strategic, heritage-led interventions: such things as community radio, music, storytelling, performance and film.

In the initial phases of AKN, we set up a number of pilot projects, including a series of projects in Freetown, Sierra Leone, where researchers at the Wilberforce Institute already had close contacts, among them Lansana Mansaray (‘Barmmy Boy’), a talented young filmographer who runs a cooperative called ‘We Own TV’. Eager to get these projects started, in February 2018 I visited Freetown, taking this opportunity to introduce our work to the British Council, DfID and government ministers. I also made contact with local NGOs, community groups, heritage clubs and members of the Sierra Leone Historic Monuments Commission, some of these groups later becoming our partners.

One of the people that Barmmy introduced me to while I was in Freetown was Brima Sheriff, a filmmaker, activist and former Human Rights Commissioner. Brilliantly talented, Brima Sheriff began his career with Amnesty International, eventually becoming Director of the Sierra Leone Section. It was this work that drew him to the attention of the Sierra Leone government, which in 2012 made him one of its Human Rights Commissioners. An outspoken critic of human rights abuses in Sierra Leone, Brima subsequently fell foul of the ruling party, which in 2017 rather unceremoniously removed him from office. When I interviewed him in 2018, all of this was still very much on his mind and provided the backdrop to a conversation that ranged widely over local politics, human rights and the future prospects of Sierra Leone.

By the end of our interview, we had over an hour’s worth of material. Barmmy later edited this down into a series of shorter films, two of which can be accessed via the links below. In the first of these, Brima speaks eloquently about the relationship between the arts and humanities and what we might call social development, drawing on his extensive experience as a filmmaker. The second video deals with the subject of contemporary slavery in Sierra Leone, a problem that Brima sees as being rooted in his country’s social structure (especially family life and the role of women) and its peculiar demography. Shot in his own home and against the noise of the busy street outside, these are intimate films in which Brima speaks frankly about some of the challenges facing Sierra Leone in the twenty-first century.

This work was undertaken with the support of the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Further information about ‘The Anti-Slavery Knowledge Network’ and the projects we are supporting in Africa can be found at: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk//poliitcs/research/research-projects/akn/

I would also like to thank ‘Barmmy Boy’ for all his hard work on this project, not only in setting up my interview with Brima Sheriff but also in editing the material and producing these short videos. As it turned out, this was the first interview that Brima had given since stepping down as Human Rights Commissioner, and for that I am immensely grateful. Brima Sheriff is a compelling figure: impassioned, eloquent and forthright. We hope that these videos will bring his unique voice to wider audiences and help to raise awareness about slavery and human trafficking, modern-day scourges that continue to have a devastating impact on communities across Africa and beyond.

The two films made during the project can be viewed here:

Fighting Injustice: The Role of the Arts and Humanities in Sierra Leone 

Slavery and Human Rights in Sierra Leone 

Brima Sheriff talking to John Oldfield in Sierra Leone in 2018

The Wilberforce Institute and Sierra Leone

Professor Trevor Burnard

Director of the Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

trevor.burnard@hull.ac.uk

The city of Kingston-upon-Hull has been twinned with Freetown in Sierra Leone for forty years. That twinning is a natural fit given the close history of both places with the age of abolition in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and with major abolitionists, black and white, in Britain, Canada and Sierra Leone. The Wilberforce Institute has developed close links with a variety of institutions in Freetown and values very highly its connections with individuals and societies in that city and in the country of Sierra Leone.

One of our primary links in recent times has been through an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project, led by John Oldfield of the Wilberforce Institute in conjunction with the Universities of Liverpool and Nottingham. This project, the Antislavery Knowledge Network has developed community-led strategies for creative and heritage-based interventions in Sub-Saharan Africa. It includes individual projects such as one working with film makers in Sierra Leone to shed light upon vulnerable seaside communities.

A recent event connected with the Wilberforce Institute is worth noting. We have been involved with the Wilberforce Lodge in Hull (it is based in Beverley but has a strong Hull connection) in informing members of this Masonic lodge about the person after whom both the lodge and the Institute are named. As part of its outreach activities this year, I was delighted to attend an online meeting between the three Masonic Lodges named after Wilberforce – one in Hull, one in South London and another in Sierra Leone. We took part in what we might term a Covid-inspired event, which was an online meeting between members of the three lodges, in which they shared their history and outlined their philanthropic aims and objectives, many of which connect with the vision of the Wilberforce Institute. We were delighted to receive from the Hull lodge a very generous gift of a book series – The Cambridge History of Violence – which is now added to our library at the Wilberforce Institute.

We very much hope these links continue and develop, especially once life returns to whatever normality is going to be in the future.

Book presentation by members of the Wilberforce Lodge to Professor Trevor Burnard outside the Wilberforce Institute.