Debt and Slavery: the History of a Process of Enslavement


McGill to hold international conference featuring address from Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka

It’s heard often enough: slave to tobacco, slave to email, slave to junk food, slave to alcohol. Arguably, the word “slave” has been so overused as to lose all significance. But even such colloquial uses of the term hint at its deeper meaning, rooted in restriction and oppression.

“Implicit in all those clichés,” says Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, “is a psychological and sometimes even physical reality of constriction, of drastically reduced or entirely denied volition, that no other word appears to be able to capture. The condition, ‘slave,’ is a denial of the freedom of action, of the freedom of choice.  It is bondage, be it of the body or of the human will.”

On May 9, McGill University’s Indian Ocean World Centre (see for details about the Centre) will welcome Mr. Soyinka to deliver New Plantations for Old, a lecture that will cap off an international conference, Debt and Slavery: The History of a Process of Enslavement, which will be held May 7-9 and will explore issues surrounding slavery, from historical perspectives to debt bondage to the modern sex-slave trade.

Akinwande Oluwole “Wole” Soyinka is a Nigerian writer and poet considered by many to be Africa’s most distinguished playwright. In 1986, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature – the first Sub Saharan African so honoured. During the civil war in Nigeria, Soyinka appealed in an article for cease-fire. For this he was arrested in 1967, accused of conspiring with the Biafra rebels, and was held as a political prisoner for 22 months, during which he managed to write a significant body of poems and notes criticizing the Nigerian government. In October 1969, when the civil war came to an end, Soyinka was released from prison. He has continued to write, teach, and speak out against political and social injustice since then, and has been visiting professor at the universities of Cambridge, Sheffield, Yale and, most recently, Duke.

Wole Soyinka’s open public lecture will take place at 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 9, in Room 232 of the Leacock Building. Unfortunately, he will be unavailable for interviews.

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