Lost in the magnificent sand dunes of the great Sahara desert lies a country on the Western Coast of Africa. The time seems to have stood still here for the last 200 years. Desert is the country’s most treasured possession but this desert holds some of Mauritania’s darkest and deepest secrets: Human Slavery.

Mauritania became the last country to abolish all forms of slavery in 1981 but it was only made a criminal practice in 2007. It is expected that at least 10%-20% of the population in Mauritania are slaves. Several activists have been arrested and well, the government denies that any slavery exists, it is being practiced widely.

Moulkheir Mint Yarba, a slave to a wealthy farmer was interviewed by CNN; she went through her journey as a slave.

Yarba was returning home after feeding the farmer’s goats and to her shock and pain, she saw her little daughter, barley old enough to crawl, dead on the desert sand with open mouth and ants all over the little baby’s body.

The little daughter was a rape child of the farmer. In Mauritania, the slaves don’t have to please with their work but have to also please the master’s personal demands. The master could be anyone from a man to a woman and the outcome of slavery in many instances is similar to Yarba’s pain.

Yarba was not working as fast her master wanted, so to teach the slave a lesson, her daughter was killed and thrown in open sands of the Sahara desert. The master said that the lady slave would work faster if she did not have the child on her back. Anyways a slave’s soul is like a dog’s soul as they say in Mauritania.

Trying to pull herself together, Yarba asked if she could take a break to give her daughter a proper burial. Her master’s reply: Get back to work. Later that evening Yarba and her relative dug a shallow pit in the capital city Nouakchott’s burial place and buried the little daughter.

The Divide?

Mauritania is a bridge between the Arab Maghreb of north Africa and darker-skinned sub-Saharan Africa. The ruling Arab-Berbers have higher-paid positions in jobs and government, while the darker-skinned Haratines and Afro-Mauritanians are under-represented in leadership positions and face many obstacles in society, from access to education to well-paid jobs.

An estimated 10% to 20% of Mauritania’s 3.4 million people are enslaved — in “real slavery,” according to the United Nations’ special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Gulnara Shahinian.

If that’s not unbelievable enough, consider that Mauritania was the last country in the world to abolish slavery. That happened in 1981, nearly 120 years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in the United States.

The time here is in a vacuum, the goats and camels roam freely in cities while dented French sedans of the late 70s and early 80s make their way.

The Guardian/ Photojournalist: Seif Kousmate

Slaves can be seen in the markets, a man or a woman with blue-collar and a gold embroidery can be seen shouting at them. There is nothing more or less the salves can do in this country which says that slavery is a crime is but is widely practiced.

No one wants the stories of these slaves out. Those who have tried have been charged under the crime of blasphemy. Mauritania is an Islam practicing country and Islam in abolishes any form of slavery.

Talking more about Yarba!

The lady would still be weeping for her dead daughter but now is suffering a physical pain herself. She suffers from a unique pain in her chest, ribs, and hips because she has to lift the master lady at her home and move from one room to another.

Slave masters in Mauritania exercise full ownership over their slaves. They can send them away at will, and it’s common for a master to give away a young slave as a wedding present. This practice tears the family apart; Yarba never knew her mother and barely knew her father.

The Guardian/ Photojournalist: Seif Kousmate

Most slave families in Mauritania consist of dark-skinned people whose ancestors were captured by lighter-skinned Arab Berbers centuries ago. Slaves typically are not bought and sold — only given as gifts, and bound for life. Their offspring automatically become slaves, too.

Her son, who is also an offspring of rape, is also a slave and has been working at another local farmer’s place.  They live in a small house on the edge of the city. One small gas cylinder and 2-3 utensils are their only possession.

The Guardian/ Photojournalist: Seif Kousmate

Crossing the Atlantic to Europe- a solution?

If it was this easy for Mauritanians then all of them would have been part of the exodus and made the tiring and dangerous boat ride across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe but it comes at a cost. A slave working in a house would have offspring as a result of rape so the master knows if the salve child makes a trip like this-this results in more rapes and a more treacherous work for the slave mother or father.

The primary propagating factor of slavery in Mauritania is the culturally ingrained racism, causing it to be supported by both perpetrators and victims. In contrast to chained slaves being transported to the United States through the slave trade, Mauritanian slaves are entirely descent-based or chattel slaves

Secrets of the Sahara: Mauritania’s Dark Side

 Generational slavery has created deep societal and cultural acceptance of dark-skinned Africans as inferior humans. In addition, several local Islamic leaders agree with and propagate the idea of slavery by teaching slaves that Allah wants them to be enslaved and obedience will lead them to heaven.

Many slaves internalize this belief, preventing them from seeking freedom. Individuals who wish to be freed from their masters are often shamed by other slaves who believe in the principle that their natural societal role is to be the servant. After being freed, some individuals are unable to come to terms with their freedom. Likewise, many freed slaves feel dependent on their former masters and believe that they must show their gratefulness with continued servitude. Regards,

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