NOUAKCHOTT – Slavery is still very much alive in the Arab-Muslim world and particularly affects black people from sub-Saharan Africa who are considered “slaves by nature,” according to the Mauritanian Nelson Mandela.
The practice is suffered by tens of millions of people not only in Africa, fostered by extreme poverty and migration towards Europe, the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, where mass Asian migration has sought job opportunities.
Mauritania was the last country to formally abolish slavery, but anti-slavery activist and opposition presidential candidate, Biram Dah Abeid, told EFE in an interview that it is still going on.
“Slavery is a practice that remains very present in the Arab-Muslim world, particularly of black people of sub-Saharan origin who are considered slaves by nature,” the presidential candidate said.
Dah Abeid, who has been recognized by the United Nations and the US Congress, knows what he is talking about. He belongs to the Haratin community, descendants of black Arabian slaves.
After his father, who was born into slavery, got his freedom, Biram became the first member of his family to go to school.
The activist has done time in jail but that hasn’t stopped him.
In June, he will run as a candidate for the Mauritanian presidency for a second time after claiming 8 percent of the vote in the last election.
Slavery was abolished in 1980 in Mauritania but it was not penalized until 2007. Since 2015, the country has been considered a crime against humanity.
Abolitionists say slavery is still common, mostly in rural areas and domestic service.
“In Mauritania, just as under ‘apartheid,’ there is a minority that uses skin color to rule over others, an unwritten state racism ‘de facto’ institutionalized.”
The international community has reacted to this brutality only symbolically, rather than confronting it as South Africa did with economic sanctions and diplomatic boycott.
Beyond Mauritania, the mass exodus of the sub-Saharan population that left in search of a better life has spread slavery along the African transit route of these human beings.
“They are sold in Libyan markets. In Mauritania some groups are the property of others since birth,” the candidate said.
This modern slavery includes abuse, mutilation, working without rest or a salary and systematic violations, he added.
But the USA and European Union turn a blind eye, according to Biram.
“The EU is the main socio-economic partner for Mauritania and it has sacrificed its values on slavery and human rights for the sake of an economic, mercantile diplomacy,” he said.
The USA “has a military and security alliance with Mauritania and has given priority to the fight against terrorism.”
Biram is also critical of the African Union, which he says protects dictatorial heads of state on the continent and is “complicit” in crime committed not only in Mauritania, but also in Niger, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Sudan in northern Africa, which extends to the Middle East and Persian Gulf.
The candidate said: “We have all the chances to win (the Mauritanian elections) because we are the people’s candidacy.
“We represent an aspiration for change, for an end of state racism that touches more than 80 percent of Mauritanians of sub-Saharan origin, foreigners in their own country.”
He also stands for the slaves and former slaves of his country, 20 percent of the inhabitants, and for the Berber-Arab majority.
They all “have felt the arbitrariness of the speculators’ tribe gravitating around General (Mohamed Ould) Abdel Aziz.”
President Abdel Aziz is supporting his friend, Defense Minister Mohammed Ould Ghazouani for the June election. He will have completed his two constitutional terms in office.
But Biram warns that “the dictator’s regime will do its utmost to stage an electoral coup d’etat” and foresees his supporters will have to resort to “civil disobedience and a non-violent uprising” to avoid it.