Mauritania remains the last outpost of the distasteful practice of slavery. Although the government abolished the practice in 1982, little was done to stop the country’s well to do, black and barber alike, from enslaving their own fellow citizens. According to the Open Society Justice Initiative, about 20% of the population- close to 500,000 people – have been enslaved over the last three decades.
This grim situation might soon change. There have been signs of progress in this desert country since its first ever democratic elections in March of 2007. The new government has shown its commitment to ending the vice by passing a much awaited legislation to criminalize slavery in August of this year. This was followed in November by an announcement by the finance minister of a 19 million euros plan for the reintegration of former slaves into the community. The money will be channeled towards poverty alleviation and empowerment of the rural poor who have bore the brunt of this most heinous violation of human rights.
Human rights groups are “very pleased,” with the development but at the same time one wonders why it took so long for the government of Mauritania or other regional organizations to take action and end this most abhorrent practice.