In the United States of America, this year marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation that made it clear on January 1st 1863 that “all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free”.
The abolition of slave trade marked a point of no return in the collective history of mankind as America moved towards civil rights.
But while slavery in most parts of the world is a thing of past, Mauritania remains an exception.
As you read this column on this remarkable day of March 25, 2013, there are people who belong to people, inherited as property, worked like donkeys, tortured at will, not because it is lawful but because it can be done.
In Mauritania, Blacks can be killed, “perfectly killed without being accountable to anyone without having to apologise for anyone,” to quote from Aimé Cesaire’s poem Partir in his book Cahier d’un retour au pays natal.
Although slavery has been made illegal several times (no pun intended), the practice remains widespread and is tolerated throughout the country. And slaves are still taught such nonsense as: your paradise is under your master’s feet.
Light skinned Mauritanians, known as Arabs, have continued in an absurd tradition that penalises the Black majority composed of Haratines, Fulani, Wolof and Soninké.
Anti-slavery in Mauritania
As for abolitionists, they continue to face legal intimidation and arrest by the country’s law reinforcement who, in my point of view, are awaiting the umpteenth abolition of slavery in Mauritania’s constitution.
Mauritania is not only a land that is very much attached to its culture of slavery, it is also known for its lugubrious stance on racism. Racism is almost a bedrock of the Mauritanian Arab culture.
Since gaining independence from France in 1960, the leaders of Mauritania have built a country in which Black Mauritanians have been relegated into the ranks of second-class citizens.
From 1984 to 2005, the country was led by one of its worst dictators in the country’s recent history.
Under Maouya Ould Sidi Ahmed Taya’s regime, more than 120,000 Black Mauritanians were deported to Senegal and Mali and more than 3,000 Black Mauritanians were led to the slaughter.
These injustices reached their apogee on the 28th of November, 1991, when the government publicly executed 28 Black Mauritanians without cause or legal trial.
This was to serve as a warning for all Black Mauritanians. Those who remained in the one-time West African country, which left the mostly Black ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) between 1999 and 2000, have continued to be persecuted.
Mauritania now considers itself part of North Africa.
Yearning to follow in the footsteps of African Americans who broke the shackles of slavery 150 years ago, Mauritanian slaves’ greatest aspiration is to one day sing: “free at last, thank God we are free at last”.