Slavery, genocide and disenfranchisement
How is it not to know what it is like to be free? To have your every waking, sleeping and living moment and your whole life and destiny in the hands of another that owns you? Yes! OWNS YOU, body and soul, you and your children, and your chidlren’s children. In exactly the same way as any piece of property – land, livestock, furniture, fabric (See ‘The dark side of motherhood’. Link below). For you and I who have never experienced it, we can only wonder, for we can never know. And this is not about history or a hypothetical question, but the here and now: Mauritania in 2012, where African Mauritanians are enslaved by their Arab compatriots.
I read a piece recently via a friend’s post on Facebook that has haunted me since. Sadly, since that post went up, not a single comment other than his own has there been. NOT ONE! Yet, his other status updates are almost all a veritable buzz of conversation. Is it that we don’t care and couldn’t care? An afghanistanisation (in the old news sense before Afghanistan became a hotspot) of the news from a corner (Mauritania) we cannot find on the world map? Or is it that those who read it are still reeling with shock? Experiencing a sense of the surreal? Well, I cannot of course answer for them, and will not ponder on the whys. Time to move from feelings to chilling and shocking facts on Mauritania today.
- FACT: Although Mauritania abolished slavery in 1981 — the last country in the world to do so — an estimated 10 to 20 percent of the population are still enslaved.
- FACT: Slavery was only criminalised in 2007, and since then, there has been only one conviction against an enslaver.
And slavery is not all: apartheid is alive and well in Mauritania, with the Arab-dominated government progressively expropriating land owned by Africans, through violent expulsions in flagrant disregard of the law, as well as outright dispossession: the Movement for Justice and Equality in Mauritania reports: “Perhaps the most common method was confiscation through registration. Blacks were prevented from establishing or enforcing their legal claims to land, which were instead allotted to beydanes [Arabs] who were able to use their influence in the bureaucracy to obtain documents for land registration.” Ironically, the country’s name ‘Mauritania’ means ‘Land of the Blacks’!
Mauritania exemplifies what happens when there is external indifference and internally, a wicked cocktail of poverty, ignorance and disenfranchisement, mixed with, and reinforced by, retrogressive tradition and entrenched racism, political dictatorship and religious leaders who condone, nay commend, slavery, that is based on nothing else but ethnic origin. Islam is the official religion, and the population is reportedly 99% Muslim, meaning slaves and enslavers alike are Muslim.
The glaring questions screaming for answers from this grim picture:
- What is Islam’s position on enslaving fellow Muslims?
- Mauritania is a member of the League of Arab States. What does the League say or do on the atrocities in Mauritania?
- Mauritania neighbours Senegal, and ‘shares’ crossborder communities such as the Wolof and the Fula (Peulh). Although Mauritania is not an ECOWAS member (but is an African Union member), where are you, Senegal, Mali, ECOWAS and the African Union on this outrage at your doorstep? Or is Mali in no position to throw stones?
- Where is the United Nations?
- Where is the rest of the world and the international media? Or is it that Mauritania is of no strategic importance or news value, so you couldn’t care less? Why does the activism against the abuses in Mauritania fail to capture — and retain –your attention? Why won’t you ‘stay with the story’, as one international media house touts itself as doing?
- Apartheid in Mauritania: How the government continues to expropriate Black-African lands
- Mauritania’s campaign of terror: State-sponsored repression of Black Africans
- Slavery’s last stronghold
- The dark side of motherhood