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Ending Hereditary Slavery in Mauritania: Bidan (Whites) and Black “Slaves”

Due to the long pervasive presence of descent-based racial slavery in Mauritania despite numerous abolition decrees, the nation has acquired the nickname “slavery’s final stronghold.”

For that reason, this article will cover the Mauritanian economy, the official government position on slavery, and the reasons why formal efforts to abolish slavery in the country failed.

It also offers suggestions for how to put an end to slavery and conditions that are similar to slavery in the nation.

The largest percentage of hereditary slavery is found in Mauritania, a desolate, scarcely populated region in North West Africa.

According to the Global Slavery Index, 90,000 of the nation’s 4.75 million residents are believed to be living in hereditary slavery.

In actuality, this is violent, descent-based chattel slavery that treats people like property. Up to 500,000 more people live in “slave-like conditions” or modern slavery.

In Mauritania, racial slavery also exists. 4 The Arabic-speaking Arab-Berber elite of Mauritania, an exclusive and predatory group that self-identifies as White (Bidan), brutally rules the state and economy of a nation with a predominantly impoverished populace.

They make up no more than 30% of the total population. Black people from Mauritania’s Arab-Islamic language and cultural region are the slaves (Black Arabs or Sudan).

Haratins are Black people who have been freed from slavery, which has been practiced in Mauritania for many generations (Haratin pl. Hartani, male, Hartania female). 40% of the population is made up of Haratin and Black slaves.

Black people who have been freed from slavery are sometimes referred to as haratins.

Although they share the same ethno-racial background as the Arabized Haratin, non-Arabic speaking Black Mauritanians of the Halpulaar, Fulani, Soninke, Wolof, and Bambara ethnic groups were never subjected to slavery by Mauritania’s Whites.

They represent 30% of the nation’s population. In Mauritania, the generic term for all Black people is “Abd, “Abid (slave, slaves).

Mauritania’s continuous, racialized, inherited slavery is described by academicians and activists Zekeria Ould Ahmed and Mohamed Ould Cire as follows:

Due to the country’s longstanding nomadic traditions, which persisted until the late 1970s, exploitation (including sexual exploitation), forced labor in the agricultural and cattle breeding industries, and the sale and grant of slaves were all commonplace aspects of the local social order.

In the past, [black] slaves were regarded as private property that might be lent out, given away, sold, or used for personal gain.

They were not permitted to inherit or own property, get married without their masters’ permission, or give a witness statement in court.

Because of this, slaves—especially the women—lived in a state of “social dead” and were subject to economic exploitation.

Female slaves were expected to bear children for their owners because slavery was hereditary under the Mauritanian system and carried through the mother’s line.

Black people who are still in slavery in the modern Arab-Berber civilization of Mauritania can still be sold, rented, swapped, given away, lynched, beat, castrated, raped, and exported into slavery in other nations since they are still seen as their master’s property.

Mauritania still has active slave markets, most notably in the city of Arar. Currently, Black slaves in Mauritania work the country’s oasis and arable lands in addition to herding animals and gathering dates and gum Arabic.

Despite numerous official efforts to eradicate it, hereditary racial slavery still exists in Mauritania.

Slavery was abolished by the colonial French government in 1905, but it was never put into effect. Slavery was declared illegal by the constitution at the time of independence in 1960 with the term “equality for everyone.”

By presidential proclamation, Mauritania became the final nation to abolish slavery in the globe in 1981. To enforce the ban, however, no criminal statutes were passed.

Despite numerous official efforts to eradicate it, hereditary racial slavery still exists in Mauritania. Slavery was abolished by the colonial French government in 1905, but it was never put into effect.

Slavery was declared illegal by the constitution at the time of independence in 1960 with the term “equality for everyone.”

By presidential proclamation, Mauritania became the final nation to abolish slavery in the globe in 1981. To enforce the ban, however, no criminal statutes were passed.

The Mauritanian government established a law authorizing the persecution of slaveholders in 2007 as a result of international pressure.

That law, however, has not always been upheld. Compared to the small number of Mauritanian white “masters,” a great deal more anti-slavery human rights activists have faced legal action.

Additionally, the victims of the abuse receive nothing while the slavers receive payment for releasing the captives.

The Mauritanian government established three special courts in 2015 in response to pressure from the international and some domestic mobilization, although they have only just begun hearing cases.

Mauritania’s white-dominated state and administration maintain that slavery is no longer practiced there, despite the clear evidence to the contrary, and that any mention of it indicates Western manipulation, animosity toward Islam, or involvement with the global Jewish conspiracy.

This article will try to shed some light on why the formal initiatives to end slavery in Mauritania have fallen short.

Other factors include the persistence of fictitious kinship ties between Whites, Haratins, and Abid (Black slaves), a slave economy in a desert climate, the rigidity of the Mauritanian state and government, and traditional social structures such as tribalism and caste.

Before offering suggestions to put an end to slavery and conditions that are similar to slavery in Mauritania, the second section of the essay briefly analyzes the economy of the country and the official government’s position on slavery.

Reasons Mauritania Still Has Racialized Hereditary Slavery

Culture and Ideology: White Supremacy, Sharia, and the Islamic Law

In spite of formal abolition, the slavery in Mauritania continued regardless. The Bidan (Whites) of Mauritania continue to get away with the cruel exploitation and enslavement of Black people for a number of reasons.

Islam distinguishes between sharia, which is its divine rule, and fiqh, which is a flexible (and flawed) human interpretation of sharia.

Within the Malaki school of jurisprudence in Mauritania, fiqh has developed a terrible interpretation of Islamic law that authorizes the enslavement of Black people.

This particular interpretation of sharia law is established in the Mauritanian constitution, which white slaveholders—as well as representatives of the Mauritanian legal system—use to defend their entitlement to the free labor of enslaved Blacks despite state legislation to the contrary.

Enslaved Black people are denied the education necessary to construct their own concept of Islam by White Arabs and Berbers, according to Bidan.

As a result, abandoning their white “masters” would be a sin for many devoted Black people in Mauritania, and being enslaved by them is a requirement of their religion.

As a result, Bidan’s interpretation of sharia in Mauritania conflicts with state law, which protects everyone’s right to freedom.

Leading abolitionist in Mauritania and head of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA), Biram Dah Ould Obeid, oversaw the burning of the Maliki books that served as justification for the enslavement of Black Mauritanians.

The 2012 “symbolic book-burning” shook Mauritanian society to its core and sparked widespread protests against it as an example of the perversity of ordinary perceptions of Islam in the country.

Obeid and the IRA argued that Mauritania has two contradictory sorts of legislation that uphold slavery.

The Maliki scriptures from the 9th to the 16th century that serve as the basis for the slave regulations that are enshrined in the constitution frequently take precedence over principles of equality for all Mauritanian residents.

The slave laws of Mauritania legalize and codify slavery. They declare that people of color are less valuable than other races, and they permit the ownership of black people as well as the castration and rape of black men and women.

Imams, police, and judges in Mauritania are currently being trained using these religious texts. Obeid was first given a death sentence for the book burning because he was charged with apostasy.

Also read: Archaeologists Discover New Species of Humans In African Cave

Notably, in Mauritania, accusations of heresy have only ever been made against those who support human rights, equality, and abolition; those who engage in slavery and anti-Black bigotry while posing as Muslims have never faced the same accusations.

Tribalism and Caste in a Hierarchical Social Structure

In Mauritania, traditional social order contains tribal and occupational components in addition to white supremacy, with Black people who were once in slavery (the Abid) and liberated slaves (the Haratin) continuing at the bottom of the social hierarchy.

Over the years, Black people who had been held as slaves were included to the lowest white tribes and the nation’s caste structure.

A tribal, hierarchical social structure based on the idea of inequality at birth underlies Bidan society’s practice of slavery.

Black people who were held as slaves in Mauritania over the course of centuries became subordinate members of white tribes in a setting where chances of survival outside of the tribal system are remote.

The Mauritanian social structure also includes a caste system. The progenitors of the modern-day Bidan established themselves as the dominating caste of military and religious tribes centuries ago.

Abid and Haratine became the lowest caste in the Mauritanian hierarchy after being forcibly forced to perform nearly all of the nation’s household, agricultural, and herding labor for free. White griots, artisans, and herders sit between the two castes.

Caste has a subtle influence over each of us, frequently guiding us outside the realm of our awareness as a way to respect large segments of humanity.

It establishes the rules, expectations, and prejudices that have been used to defend violence against entire groups of members of our species and embeds an unconscious ranking of human attributes in our bones.

The perspective and treatment of Black people in Mauritania are determined by caste.

False Kinship between Whites and Blacks

Numerous connections in Mauritania are still founded on tradition due to the tribal structure of the community; for instance, fictive kinship between past owners and former slaves from the same tribe still has significance for both parties.

The interests of Haratin and enslaved Blacks are primarily undermined by familial sympathy and a shared Arab-Islamic culture.

Some people have come to accept subordination as a result of it. Due to deference, it aids minority Whites (Bidan), who make up 30% of the population, in controlling the political economy of the nation.

Haratin, who make up 40% of the population, largely supports them politically and socially.
Some eminent Haratin families—defined as emancipated Black enslaved people from the Arab-Islamic cultural sphere—have really held “Black slaves.”

As long as they advocate for White interests in regards to slavery, anti-Black racism, and other policies, a small number of people are appointed to important government positions.

Despite the fact that the majority of them had no ties to the nation, a sizable portion of Haratin took part in the 1989–1991 forceful expulsion to Senegal of 70,000 Black Mauritanians who did not speak Arabic.

Involvement of the State and the Political Economy of Slavery

It is significant that traditional, descent-based chattel slavery is still pervasive in more remote, rural parts of the Sahara (The surface area of Mauritania is 90 percent desert).

The economic foundation of these regions is the work of Black people who were once held as slaves.

Slaves cultivate the grain under them, care for the palms, and herd the animals, making life possible.

A racist hierarchy and hereditary slavery-based social system are further reinforced by isolation and the lack of alternatives for finding food and water.

Many enslaved black Mauritanians legitimately worry that they would perish if they left their white “masters,” who dominate practically all land, oases, and water supplies, due to the scarcity of alternatives in a desert and a hostile Mauritanian state and government.

Many members of the current Mauritanian state elite, which is almost entirely white and includes government officials, presidents, diplomats, ministers, mayors, governors, senators, judges, and religious leaders, are also “Black slave” owners.

Local officials, particularly governors and mayors, fail to register and respond to complaints made by Black people who are still in slavery.

As a result, those who detain, prosecute, and adjudicate cases of ongoing slavery have a strong interest in seeing it through.

These oppressors use their positions of authority to uphold the legacy of their race-based hereditary servitude.

The slavery in Mauritania is connected to various types of racial discrimination. The white Arab-Berber aristocracy uses its influence over the Mauritanian government to further its material interests.

They use the national treasury as if it were their own bank account. Black Mauritanians face severe discrimination in employment and educational prospects due to constant racism, which inhibits them from overcoming the legacy of slavery.

Working on farms as slaves or sharecroppers (who, in addition to giving white Moors the majority of the harvest, must pay the Islamic tax for the poor, zakat, “to their masters”), Haratin is essentially shut out of the country’s land market.

Racism and slavery are maintained in Mauritania by state violence in support of the oppression, exploitation, and enslavement of black people.

The military, national guard, and police, which are dominated by white Arab-Berbers, uphold the status quo.

Haratin are brought to police stations and national guard offices when they rebel against any of the numerous forms of slavery practiced in Mauritania, where they are then beaten into obedience.

In Mauritania, lynching and torture are commonplace in towns, villages, and camp sites in the desert.

Several Haratin were collectively lynched in 1999 at Guerrou, a city in South-Central Mauritania, by white senators and judges.

The white state elite of Mauritania use an ideology of denial and quiet to draw attention away from the racial enslavement that exists there.

Every time the subject of Haratin’s enslavement is raised with Mauritanian officials, they respond with defensiveness and denial while couching their arguments in terms of societal cohesiveness and national security.

The Bidan have made it forbidden to talk about slavery in order to maintain the status quo.

Last but not least, Mauritania’s special courts and laws that make slavery in Mauritania illegal have not been put into effect.

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