Thepopulation of Mauritania, a northwestern country that links black andwhite Africa, is estimated at 2.5 million. That number is dividedbetween two main groups, Arab-Berbers, thirty percent of thepopulation, and black Mauritanians, seventy percent.Mauritaniais therefore multi-racial and multi-lingual, and one hundred percentMuslim. Unfortunately, racial and linguistic differences have beenused as grounds for slavery and racial discrimination.Howhas slavery managed to survive in Mauritania into the twenty-firstcentury? Sanctioned by religion and law, slave status is passed fromgeneration to generation through birth.
(Tandia & Bakary, 2001). Unlikethe Atlantic slave trade, which was directed at Africans only, theIslamic slave trade was directed at both blacks and whites. It wasthis form of slavery that contributed to the present situation inAfrica. It permanently weakened the continent and led to itscolonization by the Europeans in the 19th century.(M`bokolo, 1998). Muslim slave-taking from Europe commenced almostimmediately after the arrival of Islam on the world stage. With theChristian counter-attack, which commenced in the eleventh centurywith the series of military campaigns in Spain and the Crusades,Muslim slave-raiding slowed somewhat.
(Scott, 2016).TheIslamic slave trade took the same amount of lives in total as theAtlantic slave trade, however, through a far longer time scale. Itbegan during the seventh century (650 A.
D.) and still survives todayin Mauritania. A total of 14 centuries rather than 4 as for theAtlantic slave trade. (Harich et al.,2010).
Giventhe extensive history of the Islamic Slave Trade, how it has shapedthe culture and minds of generations past and current, how will it beput to a stop. This literature review aims to give the reader a clearunderstanding of each of these three points. Thefirst part explains the extensive history behind slavery inMauritania and aims to give the reader a better understanding of thisdeep tradition and how it has come to last the length of time it hasdone. The second part explains what effect this long standingtradition has on the people of Mauritania both physically andmentally and how it has shaped cultures there. The third and finalpart explains how slavery may be brought to a stop in Mauritania andexplains the various ways in which organizations and people havetried to do so and are continuing to do so.
DiscussionIslamicslavery began long before the Atlantic slave trade, and its purposeswere largely different. Although some slaves were put to work in thefields, 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. Someslaves in Islam reached high ranking positions in the army. Forexample, a Turkish slave led an army that defeated a Mongol invasionof Egypt in 1260. An Ethiopian slave became a governor of a province.Many of these male slaves werecastrated, otherwise known as eunuchs. The eunuchs were used to guardfemale dormitories and private rooms.
Many were governors andgenerals. One black eunuch was chief administrator of Mecca andMedina. (Hochschild, 2004). DuringRoman times, slaves came from internal sources, the slave populationwas occasionally recruited from the outside when new territory wasconquered. This was not possible in the Islamic empire becauseenslavement of their own people was banned. The result was a massiveimportation of slaves from the outside.(Lewis, 1990). The slave population ofthe Islamic world was recruited from various nations includingCentral 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 theRussian region of Kuban, and, then shipped to slave markets inIstanbul and other Turkish cities. This trade came to an end when theRussians attained Crimea in 1783. The Islamic empire, deprived ofmost of their white slaves, turned more to Africa, which through the19th century came to provide the majority of slaves used in Muslimcountries. (Lewis, 1992). Theenslavement of Africans for production was tried in Iraq but proved adisaster.
It provoked results whichlasted for 14 years, up until 883, this ended the mass exploitationof black labour in the Arab world. Not until the 19th century didslavery for production re-emerge in a Muslim country one black slaveswere used on plantations to produce goods that were exported towestern markets. (M`bokolo, 1998). From1400 to 1600, The geographical areaalong the southern borders of the Sahara Desert, the red Sea shores,and the East African coast, were most important for the dominantIslamic influence. In sub-Saharan Africa slaves were often used inproduction more so than they were in north Africa and the MiddleEast. (Lovejoy, 2012). Fromthe late 1840s onwards, steps were taken by a number of consecutiveBritish governments to persuade the central government of the Turkishempire, to impose restrictive measures on the slave trade to theArabic empire.
Action by the Turks was not taken for over a decade,into the mid 1850s. A Royal mandate was issued in 1857 whichprohibited the slave trade of Africans throughout the Arabic empire,except in most of the western part of modern-day Saudi Arabia. In1890 the Turkish government joined with other European andnon-European powers in signing the Brussels act against the Africanslave trade. (Toledano, 1982).Althoughthe French abolished slavery in its empires in 1794 and Britain inthe following century, slavery was not fully disgraced. Bring itforward to the late 20thcentury and into the 21stcentury, said situations are yet to be resolved.
In 1986,five years after slavery was outlawed in Mauritania, a group of blackintellectuals published a manifesto to draw government attention toracial discrimination in the country. The government responded byarresting and sentencing all the authors of the manifesto to prisonterms. From 1990 to 1991, the same government arrested and murdered500 blacks while they were in the detention. One year prior, theMauritanian government deported more than 80,000 black Mauritaniansto Senegal and Mali where they live in refugee camps.(Tandia & Bakary, 2001)(Sanni,2012).Withsuch a deep relation to slavery, it is difficult to predict when andhow slavery will be put to stop in Mauritania.
“In the beginningit was very difficult for me, it was very difficult to leave mymasters. I thought there weren’t any other options and I justcouldn’t imagine I would be able to live without them”. (AFPnews agency, 2009). The Quran justifies slavery, and often mentionslaves. 33:50 “Prophet, We have made lawful to you the wives towhom you have granted dowries and the slave girls whom God has givenyou as booty”.
Booty refers to the spoils of war. Slaves had fewcivil or legal rights, for example, Muslim men were allowed to havesex any time with female slaves – sura 4:3, 4:29, 33:49. According toIslam, 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 slaveto whom I went and said, “ask the permission for me to enter””.This quote refers to Muhammad’s room, it reveals that Muhammed hadslaves working in his house.
Muhammed being the founder of Islam.(“Slaveryin Islam”, n.d.)In2014, the International Labour Organization adopted a protocol to the1930 Forced Labour Convention to more effectively addresscontemporary modern forms of slavery through more prevention andbetter protection. In 2016, Mauritania signed and made officiallyvalid this protocol. (“ProtocolP029 – Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930”,1996).
“Slaveryexists where there are slave drivers and the slave drivers are ingovernment, they have political power, they are the military andeconomic authorities”.(Equal Times, 2018). Sofar, only two cases of slavery have been tried in court. Thesentences handed down against the slave owners were minimal. Theslave masters can insult the slaves, beat them, do what they likewith them and they have nowhere to turn to lodge a complaint.
Ifthey 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 buyfood, pay rent and if you are injured you have to pay for treatmentyourself”. (Equal Times, 2017). Slavery in Mauritania has beenoutlawed a number of times dating back as far as 1901, 1905, 1961,and most recently in 1981. (TheRealNews, 2007). It only became acrime to own slaves in 2007. (Ghiggi,Borne, Jornada, Leal & Cornetet, 2017).
Currently,Mauritania is in search of and in need of growth and stability.Economic growth in the country is dominated by iron ore which ismined in the desert and transported in one of the worlds largesttrains to port docks where it is exported. The export of iron orecontributes to 25% of the countries economy. Two foreign investorshave arrived to Mauritania in the last decade to mine copper andgold. However, it is forecasted that by 8 years time, the miningoperation in Mauritania will shut down, this shut down operation willbegin as soon as 3 years time.
The Mauritanian government says it isproud of its developments in new infrastructure and improving bothfiscal stability and security in a country that scores poorly forcorruption and has been previously targeted by Al-Qaeda affiliates.The Governor of the Central Bank of Mauritania says the government ismodernizing the economy, making it more transparent but he says it isstill at risk from outside shocks. The economy is a fragile one,mostly because of the persistent droughts, terror treats andover-dependence on a single mineral. Besides that, the country hasyet to make headway tackling the deep social and ethnic fractures insociety. While the economy is running increasingly better than intimes passed, and with improving investment and security prospects,the government will need to keep control of both social and securityrisks if it is to ensure growth continues. (Financial Times, 2014). Atradition that stretches back over 1300 years is a difficult one toend, more so when the government is not doing much to end it. Thelosing candidate in Mauritania’s presidential election was jailed fortwo years in June of 2014 along with two other people who hadorganized a march against slavery.
Police used tear gas to dispersehundreds of protesters who had gathered outside the courtroom. Thedefense lawyer of the losing presidential candidate said that theconvictions were for disturbing public order and belonging coming onrecognized organization. The current president, Mohammed currentpresident, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz denies there is slavery in hiscountry.(Reuters, 2015).Theabolition Institute, a nonprofit organization located in Chicago, isfighting to abolish slavery in Mauritania. They are working withantislavery international, the worlds oldest international humanrights organization which led the successful fight to abolish slaveryin the British Empire in the 19th century. SOS slaves, a partnerorganization in Mauritania, has also been fighting against slavery.
The Abolition Institute recently co-signed a letter with FreedomHouse urging the Secretary of State to reconsider Mauritania’seligibility for the African Growth and Opportunity Act in light ofongoing human rights abuses. The abolition Institute, along with thecouncil of Islamic Organization of Greater Chicago, recentlyorganized a show of support by the American Muslim leaders for theirfellow Muslims working against slavery in Mauritania. 70 AmericanIslamic organizations, in an open letter published in Mauritania andcovered by multiple news outlets, praised the Association ofMauritania`s religious scholars for their strong statement thatslavery is indeed an illegal act with no basis in Islamic law andthat working against slavery and its impacts is a religiousobligation. (“Faith Traditions Against Slavery”, 2017). ConclusionTheaim of this paper is to highlight the strong hold slavery has on thecountry of Mauritania, to shed light upon where it started, and whereit is today. The paper aims to provide the reader with a deepunderstanding of this historic tradition in order to betterunderstand how it can be stopped. Slavery in Mauritania continuestoday despite continued intervention from all but the Mauritaniangovernment.
However, pressure on the government is mounting more sonow than ever, thanks to heroic efforts from slaves who are startingto stand up for their basic human rights, to Non-GovernmentalOrganizations including the United Nations and other groups. Theinternet has made people from around the world more aware to theongoings in Mauritania and has bridged the gap between those whocannot do so much, via online donations to help fight the cause. Withthis, the Mauritanian government will not be able to hide slavery inMauritania for much longer. The main findings from this study suggestthat there is one reason why slavery still exists in Mauritania todayand that is because of government negligence. What this may mean isthat because of this long standing tradition of slavery, manygovernment officials potentially play a part in the slavery trade.Perhaps those officials that came before the current members ofgovernment were apart of the slave trade also. There clearly seems tobe vested interest from those in power and this can be seen throughtheir denial of the existence of slavery in Mauritania today.
Thispoint is supported by a study by Reuters (2015). Next, the studyfound that most slaves are bread into slavery and that without thehelp of outsiders they may remain in slavery for years, perhaps evencenturies to come. The voices of these slaves and freed slaves are aspolitically and socially sensitive as any government officials andpolitical parties. The awareness needs to be circulated amongstvarying group of slaves in order for them to realize the truths ofwhat has and is going on in Mauritania.
Finally, the work of everyoneinvolved in aiding these slaves will be the reason slavery will end.The tireless efforts of people and organizations from around theworld are having effect on the slave trade there. News outlets andreporters travelling to the country and questioning governmentofficials about the trade will all play on the minds of thoseinvolved and as information is transmitted globally faster now thanever, with that comes light on a previously darker situation. Thisstudy has shown that the powers that be are not always right. Thereare a number of suggestions that this study can make in order to makethe reader aware of the way in which slavery will be brought to anend in Mauritania. First, the government will need to fully enforceharsher sentences for slave traders and masters.
Moreover, thecontinued efforts of the organizations that currently work to abolishslavery are having great impacts and will continue to do so withpersistence. Furthermore, the voices and confessions of freed slaveswill bring sentiment to those families of slaves and non slaves basedin and out of Mauritania, and, will help them to feel what life islike there for the enslaved. It is hoped that with this information,the reader can gain a better understanding of a long standing slavetrade that is not so well documented in the West.