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

Africa in Turmoil: Another Country at Risk

February 20, 2008


Above: map of Chad (Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.)

Chad is another African country where democracy is at risk and genocide is lurking. Chad was until recently the poorest country in the world; however,the recent discovery of major oil reserves have meant a sudden influx of cash.

Crude oil began flowing July 15, 2003 to markets via a 665 mile pipeline to the coast through neighboring Cameroon (Chad is landlocked). Part of petroleum development was an agreement between Chad and the World Bank ensuring that a portion of oil revenues would be set aside and used for health, education and infrastructure in the country.

After a controversial election in 2007, the government is now under attack from rebels. Chad military forces have so far been able to fend them off, but the rebels are regrouping and civil war seems imminent. Ever since 1966 rebels have been sporadically fighting each other, and the central government.

Chad is a West African kingdom that is thousands of years old. Up until 1900 it consisted of many tribal districts without any central government. France took control in 1900 and it became a French colony. On August 11, 1960 it became the independent Republic of Chad. The first multi-party elections were held in 1996. In 2007 violence from the adjacent Darfur region of Sudan spilled over into Chad.

The problems in Chad are linked to ethnic and economic roots. There are two major religions, Islam (53%) and Christianity (35%). The other problem is that the Sahara desert is encroaching from the north to the south of the landscape. Only about 3% of the country is arable and that is in the south. Also as mentioned before, Chad doesn’t have direct access to the sea. The only water body is Lake Chad in the southwest and it is shared with Nigeria and Niger.

In my opinion most of the civil wars in Africa are the result of the method used to determine national boundaries. The European powers controlled these countries prior to their independence. After the Second World War independence was granted. The borders of the newly independent countries were imposed by the colonial poweres, France, Italy, Belgium, Great Britain and others, regardless of traditional tribal borders. As a result within the countries are multiple peoples, many of whom are traditional enemies of each other. They are expected to become nationalist and work side by side with their sworn enemies. This is just not working.

Chad has become strategically important because of its large oil reserves. Tribal warfare is on-going and rebels are using this as an excuse to wipe out traditional enemies. The West needs to start paying attention to countries like Chad.  Congo, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Chad are bleeding. Does anyone care?

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