Further Perspectives on Slavery in Mauritania

Alle at Maghreb Politics Review takes note of yesterday’s post on slavery in Mauritania and offers some thoughts of his own on the cultural context in which slavery exists. Alle also makes the important observation that slavery in the region is not limited to Mauritania, but occurs in other Saharan and Sahelian countries. Check out the whole post.


In other Mauritania news, I’ve been asking myself whether recent diplomatic talks between Middle Eastern countries and Mauritania have any special significance. This week, Mauritania and Yemen discussed expanding their diplomatic ties, and the UAE and Mauritania are seeking ways to increase cooperation. At the Organization of the Islamic Conference meeting in Turkey this week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reaffirmed his country’s interest in Mauritania. Maybe all these meetings are run of the mill diplomatic business, or maybe all these incidents indicate that now that the elections are over, other countries are more interested in improving their relations with President Abdel Aziz.

6 thoughts on “Further Perspectives on Slavery in Mauritania

  1. Thanks for the plug.

    The diplomatic meetings, I don’t think they signify any special activity right now. Yemen is a non-entity diplomatically, for example, and the meeting seems rather routine. You’re right, however, that the elections brought diplomatic recognition, and there’s probably kind of a snowball effect to that — when people see that Gen./Pres. Abdelaziz is no longer under international sanction, his regime seems more likely to last, and therefore more valuable to keep in touch with.

    I think the main reasons for anyone to care about Mauritania are:
    1. Illegal immigration (EU, particularly Spain)
    2. Al-Qaida (US, EU)
    3. Oil, current and future findings (esp. other oil producers)
    4. Abdelaziz’s closing of the Israeli embassy (Iran, Libya, to support its continued closure)
    5. Western Sahara (Morocco, Algeria)

    Elections by themselves are not on the list.

    • Thanks, Alle, this certainly makes sense and I am trying to keep an eye on that snowball effect as you say. This is a nice list too. I would only add, given how this discussion started, that slavery is on the list at least sometimes, as regards Senegalese-Mauritanian relations and the attitudes of international bodies toward Mauritania.

  2. Sure, NGO:s and others (like you and me) have reason to monitor the country for human rights abuse, including slavery. But I haven’t seen any evidence that it has affected international decisionmaking much, or at all, and it’s not specific to Mauritania.

    Senegal — yes, they clearly have a lot of reasons to keep up with Mauritania. Algeria, Mali and Morocco too, being (in Morocco’s case, de facto) neighboring powers, with all sorts of trade, migration, cooperation etc issues.

    I’m not sure Senegal worries much about slavery, though, except to use it internationally to hammer Mauritania. The conflict with which Senegal has been involved, between Moors and Fulbe & other peoples, is not really about that, but an ethnic rift about land rights, language, identity (Arabist/Africanist), and such things — more like Mali’s and Niger’s Touareg conflict, only geographically in reverse. Slaves in Mauritania are associated with the Haratine population, which, while “black”, is part of the Moorish community. The southern peoples in Mauritania are distinct from the Haratine, and have their own similar caste systems, some with slaves/ex-slaves and all. Some southern groups (like FLAM) have tried to cultivate an overriding “oppressed black African” identity which incorporates Haratine alongside Fulbe, Wolof, Songhai etc, but rhetoric aside I haven’t seen any evidence that they’ve made much of a mark on society.

    • Fair enough. I take it from that that you don’t see the recent UN investigator’s remarks as indicative of a major interest in the problem, but rather a pro forma condemnation?

      • I would call it pro forma. Any real effort to address the problem will find serious opposition and the people at the top are more interested in symbolic action than real action, I think.

  3. Well, I’m sure the UN rapporteur is serious about it, but I can’t see a reason to expect any serious change inside Mauritania. As Kal points to, most of the people in power are drawn from the former slave owning classes and either unwilling to act or simply not interested in the issue. And even if they wanted to stop this, the government is really weak, and relies on coopting local tribal and other leaders who are part of the problem.

    But still, international attention to the issue is great, even if it’s just one piece of the puzzle.

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