Slavery’s Last Stronghold – Mauritania, North Africa

April 13, 2012

Map of Mauritania - photo LonelyPlanet

Mauritania in northwest Africa is the last country in the world where slavery is still practiced and in fact condoned. This country is primarily Muslim in religion and desert-like in geography. It is estimated 10 to 20% of the population live in slavery. In the year 2012 of the 21st century this is shocking to say the least.

The country supposedly abolish slavery in 1981. Yes that’s right 1981! However, it is still widely practiced, even though the government denies it exists. In fact the nation only made slavery a crime in 2007.

How and why does slavery still exist in 2012? Here are some reasons,

  • the government does little to discourage it.
  • it is difficult to enforce laws because the country is huge and largely empty in the Sahara Desert.
  • local Islamic leaders (imams) speak openly in favor of slavery.
  • racism is rampant, lighter-skinned people have historically owned darker-skinned people in the country. The “White Moors” are a light-skinned Berber people who speak Arabic. They are the power class in the country and have traditionally owned slaves. The “Black Moors” are darker-skinned people who also speak Arabic. They have historically been enslaved by the White Moors.
  • the population is poorly educated. Most slaves don’t even understand they are enslaved.
  • to most of Mauritania’s slaves the idea of being owned and treated as property is normal and has been for centuries.

Here are some facts about Mauritania taken from the CIA World Factbook:
Population: 3.4 million
Enslaved Population: 340,000 to 680,000
Year Slavery Abolished: 1981
Year Slavery became a crime: 2007
Convictions against slave owners: One

Area: 400,000 square miles
Location: western Sahara Desert, Northwest Africa

Languages: Arabic, French, regional languages
Official Religion: Islam
Literacy rate: 51%
Unemployment: 30%
Population Density: 8 people per square mile
Percentage living on less than $2 per day: 44%

Government: Republic currently under military rule
Legal system: Mix of Islamic and French civil law
Gained Indepence from France: 1960
Military coup: 2008 (overthrew first democratically elected leader)

What will it take to bring this country and its people into the modern world where they can live free and determine their own destiny? The only way this situation will change is if other countries pressure them to change. Rooting out and eliminating this institution so deeply rooted in the tradition and history of Mauritania will take the supreme effoct of all freedom-loving countries. Write your government representatives and make them aware of this issue and your concern for it. Slavery is reprehensible and unacceptable to the human race.

Further Reading:
CNN Online Article

CIA World Factbook

Lonely Planet

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