The Antislavery Knowledge Network: Community-Led Strategies for Creative and Heritage-Based Interventions in Sub-Saharan Africa

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Politics


The Antislavery Knowledge Network offers the first extended effort to address slavery as a core development challenge in sub-Saharan Africa via innovative approaches from the arts and humanities that deliver community-engaged antislavery work. Focusing on the idea of "activated community memory," we champion the innovative use of heritage as a resource for social change. The network aims to demonstrate that participatory arts-based strategies, rooted in heritage, can empower Global South communities to play a central role in tackling contemporary slavery.

The Global Slavery Index estimates that there are 46 million slaves worldwide today. The UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include the target of ending slavery by 2030 and African states have recognised slavery as a key challenge to their economic and social development. An estimated 6.2 million people are enslaved in sub-Saharan Africa and slavery's ongoing presence impacts negatively on many SDG targets for Africa, include those relating to health, education, equality, decent work, and sustainable communities. This is a region experiencing rapid change, where demands for enhanced infrastructure stretch political and economic resources; rapid population growth and urbanisation threaten heritage; and unplanned development fails to address persistent patterns of poverty and deprivation that are strongly gendered. But development and antislavery policies aimed at African states have too often ignored the complex historical backdrop of slavery in the region and failed to foster community antislavery strategies that draw on heritage and memory. Slavery and antislavery interventions sit at an intersection of politically sensitive issues around history, sovereignty, citizenship, religion, mobility, and economic governance. As the Chief of UNESCO's History and Memory for Dialogue Section put it in 2015, the historical slave trade's "tenacious poison... paved the way for new forms of slavery that continue to affect millions."

Humanities-based research can provide innovative ways to navigate and address these intersecting issues through a focus on historical power dynamics and marginalised voices, and by partnering with artists, arts organisations and museums to invigorate development. Our community-based, regional focus harnesses this power of the arts and humanities to provide an alternative to the top-down focus of international legal agreements, trade and diplomacy, and intergovernmental initiatives. We build on "asset-based" and participatory approaches to development that recognize the transformative potential of existing cultural resources and heritage, and the value of co-designed and co-delivered work. We therefore move beyond the dominant paradigm of externally-designed interventions based on international rankings or standardised methods. Our approach tries to advance SDG target 8.7 (ending slavery) by strengthening antislavery strategies that re-set the relationship between development initiatives and local communities.

We will launch the network with an initial programme of three pilots in African countries shaped by historical slavery that are also sites of contemporary enslavement: Ghana, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. All three pilots will develop models for what works in different national and local contexts, via different methods of in-country partner collaboration. They will therefore lay the groundwork for a structured commissioning phase inviting new projects, of varying sizes and around three themes, that develop our core interest in establishing the value of the arts and humanities to challenging slavery. The commissioned projects will continue pioneering new participatory approaches to knowledge partnership that use arts and humanities methods. Together, the pilot and commissioned projects connect the long history of slavery, antislavery's unfinished work, and the symbols of heritage to current antislavery challenges.

Planned Impact

It would be hard to overstate the benefits of reducing vulnerability to enslavement. Our network will help some of the world's most at-risk people, with tools for communities that build antislavery resilience via arts-based engagement. As we move towards the Sustainable Development Goal of ending slavery by 2030, we hope to measure a broad four-fold impact. Firstly, there will be a greater sharing of arts and humanities-based techniques in the field of antislavery and development. We aim to unify a fragmented field. By joining together our research expertise and our partners' strategic frontline efforts, we can provide the platforms and methods for civil society organisations to deliver evidence-based arts-based programming that builds upon other organisations' past experiments and efforts. This will lead, secondly, to increased efficiency in the design and accomplishment of arts-based interventions, leading to better results in building antislavery resilience. In turn, these results will begin to answer the question of how to bring successful techniques to scale (as at present the work of prevention, liberation and reintegration reaches a very small fraction of the world's enslaved population). Third, as we foster a unified understanding of effective antislavery techniques, this will institute a virtuous cycle and enable economic growth. Most the world's slaves are in developing countries, and this enslavement supports countries' impoverishment through a vicious cycle of exploitation, low productivity, and profits flowing to criminals. Fourth, this antislavery development - and demonstrated success in community-engaged projects - will lead to increased resource for new projects, since many potential funders are waiting for a demonstration of effectiveness and the ability to scale.

Our key impact stakeholders in this process are:

* Civil society. We partner with local arts, heritage, education and antislavery organisations in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as major international NGOs who work in the region. We aim to shift the politics of antislavery campaigning towards a community-led approach by showing that the process of recovering and recontextualising marginalised heritage can fuel antislavery resilience.

* Policy makers. Rhetorical commitments to antislavery in our focus countries have not improved their implementation of international norms. Although slavery inhibits socio-economic development, increases human suffering, lowers quality of life and denies basic human rights, the issue remains under-resourced by ODA spending. Our evidence-base will show the value of arts and humanities-based community projects for contributing to the achievement of key SDG targets (including 8.7).

* The heritage and education sector. The network will encourage the prioritization of community-engaged and rights-aware heritage interpretation and management, by using lessons from slavery's history to tackle modern slavery. For UK-based heritage communities, our network will also advance exhibition content about the legacies of our colonial and trading history.

Working with these stakeholder groups as our partners, we hope to evidence key specific impacts by the end of the project, including:

1. New arts and humanities projects focused on achieving key SDG targets that draw from our methods, theories and examples.

2. Increased research capabilities for arts and humanities contributions to development studies.

3. An advancement in the debate over whether cultural activities are important to development work.

4. A shift on the part of our NGO and policy partners towards factoring in creative and cultural programmes to their work.

5. A shift on the part of our antislavery NGO partners to integrating ideas, suggestions and solutions from enslaved people themselves.

6. Enhanced institutional memory in the third sector.

7. Changes in the way that development agencies think about impact.


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