New Internationalist

Slavery still widespread in Mauritania

In the small dessert country of Mauritania in Africa, under the scorching sun, slavery still exists. But so does Brahim Bilal Ebeid, a social activist who is vice-president of the anti-slavery group, Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement.

At a seminar on human rights and education in June, Ebeid talked about the reality that still grips parts of Africa.

‘This is not the modern blue-collar slavery. It’s real slavery as we know it,’ he says at the talk held on the sidelines of the 2012 Global Media Forum held in Bonn, Germany.

He talks about his country where a significant portion of the population still live as secret slaves, of people being owned by ‘masters.’ Some people are born slaves, having been born to mothers who are slaves, he says.

As his words echo around the room, so do the gasps of the audience who are unable to conceal their disbelief.

The reality is indeed stark. Some masters rape their slaves and brutally beat them but for lack of gainful opportunities elsewhere, or because they do not know any other life, some slaves end up going back to their masters.

Ebeid and his group have been consistently fighting for the abolition of slavery in Mauritania. Himself a descendant of slaves, he has been jailed in the past because of his struggle to abolish slavery in his country.

The small African country is a conservative society where the Moors ruled and enslaved the black African ethnic group known as the Haratine. Officially, Mauritania abolished slavery in 1981, making it punishable with six years imprisonment. But the practice still exists.

Ebeid tells the forum of international participants that Mauritania needs all the help it can get and that there are times when even the media is no safe recourse for Mauritania’s slaves.

What is published, he says, is only what the authorities say. And this sometimes is far from the reality.

‘The authorities deny it but search and you will find the truth,’ he urges the media.

As Ebeid ends his jaw-dropping story, the audience is silent, trying to process it all.

I approach him and wish him good luck. He smiles and says he needs all the luck he can get. He doesn’t know what the authorities will do to him when he gets home.

‘Will you be arrested?’ I ask.

‘For telling the truth, maybe,’ he says.

But Ebeid’s courage does not waver. He says he will keep on talking about slavery in Mauritania until the whole world knows about it.

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  1. #1 lissnup 17 Jul 12

    It's great to see more support for the abolitionist movement in Mauritania, but I am surprised you do not mention that Biram Obeid, the president of Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist movement, has been in prison along with 6 other members of the movement for 80 days. In fact, they were in prison at the same moment this speech was being made!

  2. #2 Iris Gonzales 17 Jul 12


    Thank you for your comment. I had not been aware of this fact when I listened to him at the forum.

  3. #3 Peter Cooper 25 Jul 12

    Unfortunately slavery still exists in many parts of the world but people are still blinded by the history and only take in the 'commercailisation' of the triangle of 'slaves' across the Atlantic Ocean as cheap labour force for the sugar plantations, cotton fields and tobacco industries with the profits going to the European venturers and plantation owners in the Carribean and United States.
    Whilst I am shamed of our history in the matter, many indigenous peoples in Africa and Arabian countries were enjoined in the enterprises in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries tha practice has not been eliminated from those countries by virtue of laws passed in Europe, Caribbean and the U.S.A. Ebied and others should be encouraged in their efforts and the world at large should have such practices KEPT TOE THE FOREFRONT AND BROUGHT TO THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE UNITED NATIONS.
    Because Saudi Arabia and like countries can hold the U.N. to ransome in such matter I very much doubt whether anything will be done in my life time.

  4. #4 Patricia 09 Aug 12

    May god forgive slave owners, because most of humanity will not

  5. #5 Patricia 10 Aug 12

    I was almost kidnapped in Boston for white slavery. A black man saved me and my friend and died for it. We got to the bathroom, broke out the ’widows window’’ I stilll have a scar from climbing out of it! I would have been sent to Africa as a slave. I was only 15 years old. I still pray for that man who died to save us. Slavery is inhuman!!!! No other way around it!!!

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About the author

Iris Gonzales a New Internationalist contributor

Iris Cecilia Gonzales is a Filipino journalist and blogger. At present, she covers economic news for a Manila broadsheet, but she also writes other stories here and there. She has been blogging since 2004 on various issues including women and children and human rights. She is among the winners in the TH!NK 3 global blogging competition organized by the Netherlands-based European Journalism Centre.

You may email her at [email protected]

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