Jan 31, 2013

Haratin: Slavery Still A Reality In Mauritania

Hundreds of thousands of black Mauritanians are still enslaved, despite claims by the government that the practice has been abolished.

Below is an article published by The Daily Targum:


It’s 2013 and slavery still exists. What are your personal requirements of slavery? What do you need to make it real? Do you need proof? Do you really want proof?

There is no way to describe slavery, modern or past, but we must try. We must raise awareness just as we must set up green highway signs and replace their white letters when they’re obscured by rust. We can’t lose sight of what’s important, especially when there are no exciting commercials, nor flashing lights, nor highway signs to remind us.

Here is what’s important: Mauritania is an Arab country in West Africa, just south of Morocco. Now, Morocco is beautiful. Rabat, the capital city, boasts a thriving tourism industry, which glows at nighttime. The sands below, however, groan consistently with the weight of a real, engrained phenomenon: slavery.

What makes this a phenomenon is its persistence. Mauritania’s national government tried, unsuccessfully, to abolish the practice in 1905, 1981 and 2007. Failing, descendants of black Africans (“haratin”) still serve the Arabs (“bidhan”) as slaves. It is estimated that 600,000 men, women  and children are illegally forced into slavery.

But only one slave owner has ever been successfully prosecuted.

Imagine: You wake up. You’re tied up so that you cannot move. Only once, throughout the entire day, you are untied to do your chores. In the end, you are left without muscle, barely able to move your limbs. You make no money, even though you work for years. You do not know your name. You do not know how you became a slave. You were born one.

What amazes me, after watching CNN’s feature documentary on the subject, are the interactions between masters and slaves. The amount of docile complacency is disgusting. The country’s minister, Brahim Ould M’Bareck Ould Med El Moctar, declared his country amongst the freest on earth.

I wanted to grab each side of my computer and shake some sense into these people who don’t make sense to me at all. But that’s not what I’m doing.

Instead, I’m writing this because Mauritania’s slaves don’t know who they are, but you do. You can make progress that they cannot even recognize. You can do more than simply exist.

According to Mary Pipher, clinical psychologist and author, “Young men need to be socialized in such a way that rape is as unthinkable to them as cannibalism.” Education is the gateway to change, but it cannot stop at “young men”. It must extend to Arabs and blacks, men and women and children alike.

What the world is begging us to do is simple: look, listen, and feel.

Living reminders of slavery exist. Proof of rape exists. It exists in other humans, in newborn slaves, in people who are unfairly doomed, in those who are about to grow up as domesticated animals.

This is not the chained slavery of our own Civil War. These people live like dogs, unchained because they won’t run away.

What twists my heart up is the fact that I’ll be in Morocco over spring break. While I’m excited for my trip, I won’t be able to forget the brainwashed, enslaved people who live in such close proximity. I want to save them all from their daily $2, their racist masters, their anonymity, torture, rape, and their government, which declares them free

I want my government to declare them free.

Alexa Wybraniec (author of the article) is a first-year School of Arts and Sciences student. She is a desk assistant at The Daily Targum.