The Slave Route: breaking the wall of silence

In the context of the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition (23 August), UNESCO celebrates this year the 25th anniversary of the “Slave Route Project: Resistance, Liberty, Heritage”. This will be an opportunity for UNESCO and its partners to present the achievements of the project, analyze obstacles encountered and define new prospects in the current international context. To mark this anniversary a series of events will be organized in Benin in August 2019, the country where the project was launched in 1994.

This celebration will have a very special resonance as 2019 is proclaimed by Ghana  as the "Year of Return", and also marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first captive Africans in the British North American colonies in 1619.

The Slave Route Project, flagship project of UNESCO, has become a reference and a major actor on an international scale. It has succeeded in inscribing the question of the slave trade and slavery on the international agenda and has played a decisive role in their recognition as crimes against humanity.

By emphasizing the ethical requirement and promoting a scientific unbiased approach, the project was able to reconcile historical research with the duty to remember. It has developed a holistic vision of the question by simultaneously addressing its different dimensions: historical, memorial, creative, educational and heritage.

Installation by artist Dominique Zinkpe for the UNESCO Slave Route Project © Charles Placide Tossou

It took twenty-five years of courageous and often pioneering actions to break the wall of silence and to fight the erasure or denial of a past that is, nonetheless, well documented by numerous written and oral archives, countless tangible and intangible testimonies.

Twenty-five years of advocacy to convince governments, universities, media and civil society organizations of the need to assume this history without false pretenses and to pass it on to new generations by all means.

Today the project is at a new crossroads. It must meet the expectations raised by the proclamation of the International Decade of People of African Descent (2015-2024) on the one hand, and the return of racial prejudice and rising discrimination on the other. Above all, it must convince all those who think that too much has already been said about slavery and that it is time to turn this page of history. The project will have to demonstrate why and how exploring this tragedy can help us to establish the link between a tragic past, a complex present and a future to be invented together. Finally, the Slave Route Project must contribute to the debates on the burning issues of reparations, reconciliation and living together that are increasingly stirring up societies affected by slavery.

Exhibition Modern Times: the memory of slavery and contemporary art UNESCO Sept 2015 © UNESCO / P. Chiang-Joo