Portuguese merchants traded with the Edo, and the Oba sent an ambassador to Lisbon.European accounts of Benin City, written during the next several hundred years, describe a kingdom rich in palm oil, ivory, and bronze statues, but also one that engaged in slavery and human sacrifice.

The Edo, like other groups in the region, practiced traditional rituals involving local gods, which the Europeans called juju, a name that spread across West Africa; as Christian missionaries converted most of southern Nigeria, juju persisted as a set of parallel beliefs.

By the late eighteen-hundreds, the British had colonized much of Nigeria, but the Oba engaged them in a trade war and refused to allow them to annex his kingdom.

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The smugglers knelt in the sand and prayed, then stood up and ordered the migrants to push off. She had travelled six months to get to this point, and her face was gaunt and her ribs were showing. Ninety-four per cent of them remain on the continent, but each year hundreds of thousands try to make it to Europe.

She wondered if God had visited her mother in dreams and shown her that she was alive. The Mediterranean route has also become a kind of pressure-release valve for countries affected by corruption and extreme inequality.

The flood of migrants is not a new phenomenon, but for years the European Union had some success in slowing it. Many migrants spent years living in border countries, repeatedly trying and failing to cross. In 2010, he demanded that Europe pay him five billion euros per year; otherwise, he said, Libya could send so many migrants that “tomorrow Europe might no longer be European.”The following year, as forces bombed Libya, Qaddafi’s troops rounded up tens of thousands of black and South Asian guest workers in Tripoli, crammed them into fishing trawlers, and launched them in the direction of Italy.

Then Qaddafi was killed, Libya descended into chaos, and its shores became impossible to police.

was close to midnight on the coast of Libya, a few miles west of Tripoli.