Traditional slavery in the Sahel
The Sahel Blog has a post up about slavery in Mauritania, a major but neglected human rights issue in the West Africa and Sahel region, where millions of people are still subject to various forms of hereditary social discrimination, ranging from outsider status to outright slavery. While there is a black/white element to it in some areas, one shouldn’t confuse this with US traditions of skin-color based labor slavery among captured peoples. It’s more an outgrowth of traditional tribal culture, local adaptions of ancient Islamic rulings on slavery, and hereditary social stratification in nomad communities, and it has existed in various forms as a fact of life for hundreds of years. It’s quite repugnant nonetheless, of course, but understanding the context is important to realizing how deeply-rooted and hard to destroy these notions are.
Also, it’s not only among the Moors of Mauritania. The caste-like traditions that underpin these practices also apply to varying degrees to the closely related Sahrawi and other communities in Western Sahara, Morocco and Algeria (including among the Tindouf refugees, as this report from Human Rights Watch makes clear) as well as among non-Moorish, non-Arab Touareg communities in the wider Sahara, and also among several African peoples in Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, etc. This is not to mention how traditional practices sometimes mix with modern slavery practices, tied to labor exploitation, warlordism, and such phenomena.