population of Mauritania, a northwestern country that links black and
white Africa, is estimated at 2.5 million. That number is divided
between two main groups, Arab-Berbers, thirty percent of the
population, and black Mauritanians, seventy percent.
is therefore multi-racial and multi-lingual, and one hundred percent
Muslim. Unfortunately, racial and linguistic differences have been
used as grounds for slavery and racial discrimination.
has slavery managed to survive in Mauritania into the twenty-first
century? Sanctioned by religion and law, slave status is passed from
generation to generation through birth.
(Tandia & Bakary, 2001). Unlike
the Atlantic slave trade, which was directed at Africans only, the
Islamic slave trade was directed at both blacks and whites. It was
this form of slavery that contributed to the present situation in
Africa. It permanently weakened the continent and led to its
colonization by the Europeans in the 19th century.
(M`bokolo, 1998). Muslim slave-taking from Europe commenced almost
immediately after the arrival of Islam on the world stage. With the
Christian counter-attack, which commenced in the eleventh century
with the series of military campaigns in Spain and the Crusades,
Muslim slave-raiding slowed somewhat. (Scott, 2016).
Islamic slave trade took the same amount of lives in total as the
Atlantic slave trade, however, through a far longer time scale. It
began during the seventh century (650 A.D.) and still survives today
in Mauritania. A total of 14 centuries rather than 4 as for the
Atlantic slave trade. (Harich et al.,
the extensive history of the Islamic Slave Trade, how it has shaped
the culture and minds of generations past and current, how will it be
put to a stop?
This literature review aims to give the reader a clear understanding
of each of these three points.
first part explains the extensive history behind slavery in
Mauritania and aims to give the reader a better understanding of this
deep tradition and how it has come to last the length of time it has
done. The second part explains what effect this long standing
tradition has on the people of Mauritania both physically and
mentally and how it has shaped cultures there. The third and final
part explains how slavery may be brought to a stop in Mauritania and
explains the various ways in which organizations and people have
tried to do so and are continuing to do so.
slavery began long before the Atlantic slave trade, and its purposes
were largely different. Although some slaves were put to work in the
fields, they were more valued as items of conspicuous consumption.
The Muslim elite wanted them as guards and soldiers, as concubines,
cooks and musicians, simply to show how rich they were. Some
slaves in Islam reached high ranking positions in the army. For
example, a Turkish slave led an army that defeated a Mongol invasion
of Egypt in 1260. An Ethiopian slave became a governor of a province.
Many of these male slaves were
castrated, otherwise known as eunuchs. The eunuchs were used to guard
female dormitories and private rooms. Many were governors and
generals. One black eunuch was chief administrator of Mecca and
Medina. (Hochschild, 2004).
Roman times, slaves came from internal sources, the slave population
was occasionally recruited from the outside when new territory was
conquered. This was not possible in the Islamic empire because
enslavement of their own people was banned. The result was a massive
importation of slaves from the outside.
(Lewis, 1990). The slave population of
the Islamic world was recruited from various nations including
Central and Eastern Europe where slaves there were generally known as
‘Slavs’. These white slaves were brought to the Crimean Peninsula,
located south of the Ukrainian region of Kherson and west of the
Russian region of Kuban, and, then shipped to slave markets in
Istanbul and other Turkish cities. This trade came to an end when the
Russians attained Crimea in 1783. The Islamic empire, deprived of
most of their white slaves, turned more to Africa, which through the
19th century came to provide the majority of slaves used in Muslim
countries. (Lewis, 1992). The
enslavement of Africans for production was tried in Iraq but proved a
disaster. It provoked results which
lasted for 14 years, up until 883, this ended the mass exploitation
of black labour in the Arab world. Not until the 19th century did
slavery for production re-emerge in a Muslim country one black slaves
were used on plantations to produce goods that were exported to
western markets. (M`bokolo, 1998).
1400 to 1600, The geographical area
along the southern borders of the Sahara Desert, the red Sea shores,
and the East African coast, were most important for the dominant
Islamic influence. In sub-Saharan Africa slaves were often used in
production more so than they were in north Africa and the Middle
East. (Lovejoy, 2012). From
the late 1840s onwards, steps were taken by a number of consecutive
British governments to persuade the central government of the Turkish
empire, to impose restrictive measures on the slave trade to the
Arabic empire. Action by the Turks was not taken for over a decade,
into the mid 1850s. A Royal mandate was issued in 1857 which
prohibited the slave trade of Africans throughout the Arabic empire,
except in most of the western part of modern-day Saudi Arabia. In
1890 the Turkish government joined with other European and
non-European powers in signing the Brussels act against the African
slave trade. (Toledano, 1982).
the French abolished slavery in its empires in 1794 and Britain in
the following century, slavery was not fully disgraced. Bring it
forward to the late 20th
century and into the 21st
century, said situations are yet to be resolved. In 1986,
five years after slavery was outlawed in Mauritania, a group of black
intellectuals published a manifesto to draw government attention to
racial discrimination in the country. The government responded by
arresting and sentencing all the authors of the manifesto to prison
terms. From 1990 to 1991, the same government arrested and murdered
500 blacks while they were in the detention. One year prior, the
Mauritanian government deported more than 80,000 black Mauritanians
to Senegal and Mali where they live in refugee camps.
(Tandia & Bakary, 2001)(Sanni,2012).
such a deep relation to slavery, it is difficult to predict when and
how slavery will be put to stop in Mauritania. “In the beginning
it was very difficult for me, it was very difficult to leave my
masters. I thought there weren’t any other options and I just
couldn’t imagine I would be able to live without them”. (AFP
news agency, 2009). The Quran justifies slavery, and often mention
slaves. 33:50 “Prophet, We have made lawful to you the wives to
whom you have granted dowries and the slave girls whom God has given
you as booty”. Booty refers to the spoils of war. Slaves had few
civil or legal rights, for example, Muslim men were allowed to have
sex any time with female slaves – sura 4:3, 4:29, 33:49. According to
Islam, a Muslim could not be put to death for murdering a slave. Ref.
2:178. Volume 7-#734 “at the door of the room there was a slave
to whom I went and said, “ask the permission for me to enter””.
This quote refers to Muhammad’s room, it reveals that Muhammed had
slaves working in his house. Muhammed being the founder of Islam.
in Islam”, n.d.)
2014, the International Labour Organization adopted a protocol to the
1930 Forced Labour Convention to more effectively address
contemporary modern forms of slavery through more prevention and
better protection. In 2016, Mauritania signed and made officially
valid this protocol. (“Protocol
P029 – Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930”,
exists where there are slave drivers and the slave drivers are in
government, they have political power, they are the military and
(Equal Times, 2018). So
far, only two cases of slavery have been tried in court. The
sentences handed down against the slave owners were minimal. The
slave masters can insult the slaves, beat them, do what they like
with them and they have nowhere to turn to lodge a complaint. If
they go to the police, it is usually them that in up in prison.
“We are paid 2000 ouguiyas (US$5) and out of that we have to buy
food, pay rent and if you are injured you have to pay for treatment
yourself”. (Equal Times, 2017). Slavery in Mauritania has been
outlawed a number of times dating back as far as 1901, 1905, 1961,
and most recently in 1981. (TheRealNews, 2007). It only became a
crime to own slaves in 2007. (Ghiggi,
Borne, Jornada, Leal & Cornetet, 2017).
Mauritania is in search of and in need of growth and stability.
Economic growth in the country is dominated by iron ore which is
mined in the desert and transported in one of the worlds largest
trains to port docks where it is exported. The export of iron ore
contributes to 25% of the countries economy. Two foreign investors
have arrived to Mauritania in the last decade to mine copper and
gold. However, it is forecasted that by 8 years time, the mining
operation in Mauritania will shut down, this shut down operation will
begin as soon as 3 years time. The Mauritanian government says it is
proud of its developments in new infrastructure and improving both
fiscal stability and security in a country that scores poorly for
corruption and has been previously targeted by Al-Qaeda affiliates.
The Governor of the Central Bank of Mauritania says the government is
modernizing the economy, making it more transparent but he says it is
still at risk from outside shocks. The economy is a fragile one,
mostly because of the persistent droughts, terror treats and
over-dependence on a single mineral. Besides that, the country has
yet to make headway tackling the deep social and ethnic fractures in
society. While the economy is running increasingly better than in
times passed, and with improving investment and security prospects,
the government will need to keep control of both social and security
risks if it is to ensure growth continues. (Financial Times, 2014).
tradition that stretches back over 1300 years is a difficult one to
end, more so when the government is not doing much to end it. The
losing candidate in Mauritania’s presidential election was jailed for
two years in June of 2014 along with two other people who had
organized a march against slavery. Police used tear gas to disperse
hundreds of protesters who had gathered outside the courtroom. The
defense lawyer of the losing presidential candidate said that the
convictions were for disturbing public order and belonging coming on
recognized organization. The current president, Mohamed Ould Abdel
Aziz denies there is slavery in his country.
abolition Institute, a nonprofit organization located in Chicago, is
fighting to abolish slavery in Mauritania. They are working with
antislavery international, the worlds oldest international human
rights organization which led the successful fight to abolish slavery
in the British Empire in the 19th century. SOS slaves, a partner
organization in Mauritania, has also been fighting against slavery.
The Abolition Institute recently co-signed a letter with Freedom
House urging the Secretary of State to reconsider Mauritania’s
eligibility for the African Growth and Opportunity Act in light of
ongoing human rights abuses. The abolition Institute, along with the
council of Islamic Organization of Greater Chicago, recently
organized a show of support by the American Muslim leaders for their
fellow Muslims working against slavery in Mauritania. 70 American
Islamic organizations, in an open letter published in Mauritania and
covered by multiple news outlets, praised the Association of
Mauritania`s religious scholars for their strong statement that
slavery is indeed an illegal act with no basis in Islamic law and
that working against slavery and its impacts is a religious
obligation. (“Faith Traditions Against Slavery”, 2017).
the Mauritanian government wants to bring real growth to the country,
it will have to take a much firmer stance on punishment for slave
masters and traders. By doing so, it can encourage foreign investment
in the country.
aim of this paper is to highlight the strong hold slavery has on the
country of Mauritania, to shed light upon where it started, and where
it is today. The paper aims to provide the reader with a deep
understanding of this historic tradition in order to better
understand how it can be stopped. Slavery in Mauritania continues
today despite continued intervention from all but the Mauritanian
government. However, pressure on the government is mounting more so
now than ever, thanks to heroic efforts from slaves who are starting
to stand up for their basic human rights, to Non-Governmental
Organizations including the United Nations and other groups. The
internet has made people from around the world more aware to the
ongoings in Mauritania and has bridged the gap between those who
cannot do so much, via online donations to help fight the cause. With
this, the Mauritanian government will not be able to hide slavery in
Mauritania for much longer. The main findings from this study suggest
that there is one reason why slavery still exists in Mauritania today
and that is because of government negligence. What this may mean is
that because of this long standing tradition of slavery, many
government officials potentially play a part in the slavery trade.
Perhaps those officials that came before the current members of
government were apart of the slave trade also. There clearly seems to
be vested interest from those in power and this can be seen through
their denial of the existence of slavery in Mauritania today. This
point is supported by a study by Reuters (2015). Next, the study
found that most slaves are bread into slavery and that without the
help of outsiders they may remain in slavery for years, perhaps even
centuries to come. The voices of these slaves and freed slaves are as
politically and socially sensitive as any government officials and
political parties. The awareness needs to be circulated amongst
varying group of slaves in order for them to realize the truths of
what has and is going on in Mauritania. Finally, the work of everyone
involved in aiding these slaves will be the reason slavery will end.
The tireless efforts of people and organizations from around the
world are having effect on the slave trade there. News outlets and
reporters travelling to the country and questioning government
officials about the trade will all play on the minds of those
involved and as information is transmitted globally faster now than
ever, with that comes light on a previously darker situation. This
study has shown that the powers that be are not always right. There
are a number of suggestions that this study can make in order to make
the reader aware of the way in which slavery will be brought to an
end in Mauritania. First, the government will need to fully enforce
harsher sentences for slave traders and masters. Moreover, the
continued efforts of the organizations that currently work to abolish
slavery are having great impacts and will continue to do so with
persistence. Furthermore, the voices and confessions of freed slaves
will bring sentiment to those families of slaves and non slaves based
in and out of Mauritania, and, will help them to feel what life is
like there for the enslaved. It is hoped that with this information,
the reader can gain a better understanding of a long standing slave
trade that is not so well documented in the West.