Ending slavery in Mauritania needs deeper engagement

Published: 20/Dec/2011
Source: Open Society Foundations

By Julia Harrington Reddy

Slavery in Mauritania is not what most people envision when they hear the word. There are no slave markets; people are not bought and sold (although they may be lent out or rented). Most slaves are domestic workers, caught in a social phenomenon dating back hundreds of years that usually takes the form of a close linkage between two families, one bound to serve the other, the other bound, at least in principle, to provide for and protect.

Despite a 2007 law outlawing slavery, the practice remains fairly widespread. No one knows exact numbers, but a 2008 briefing paper by Anti-Slavery International cited estimates then that up to 18 per cent of Mauritania’s population of 3.5m might still be enslaved.

Slavery can be found affecting all ethnic groups. But most of those affected are from the group known as Haratines, who are the descendants of members of sub-Saharan African groups who were originally enslaved (in many cases, sold by their own relatives or by neighboring tribes) by Arabic speakers. Thus, they speak Arabic as their mother tongue, but, notwithstanding a lot of mixing, are generally darker in skin color than the slave owners. The owners are generally from the people referred to as “Moors”, who identify themselves as Arab, in opposition to “African” or “black”. This group is also called in Mauritania the “Beidanes”, and are as much, or more Berber than Arab. Slavery also exists and has existed within the sub-Saharan African tribes, but it is less persistent and less institutionalized then the Beidane/Haratine slavery.

Read article on Open Society Foundations website: Ending Slavery in Mauritania Needs Deeper Engagement

Themes: Discrimination, Ethnic/Racial/Religious, Statelessness
Regions: North Africa, Mauritania
Year: 2011