The complex problem of slavery in Mauritania

Over winter break I was in Mauritania, a vast country slightly bigger than Egypt but with a population 24 times smaller than Egypt’s. Whenever I told people where I was going they usually paused to ask where Mauritania was. I was a little more disturbed when Mauritanian gendarmes had no idea where Kenya was.

The country of 3.4 million has a serious identity crisis. The ruling elite has Bedouin ancestry and styles itself, and the country, as Arab. About two thirds of the country is black –  divided between Arabized blacks (blacks Moors or Hratines; mostly comprised of *former* slaves) and Africans; in proportions of 40% and 30% respectively.

I can attest to the fact that racism is very much alive in the country.

Another old evil, slavery, is also still refusing to go away in Mauritania. As John D. Sutter reports on CNN.com, about a fifth of Mauritanians live in slavery. I last wrote on the subject myself back in 2007.

In the next post, friend of the blog Erin Pettigrew (PhD Candidate in History, Stanford) responds to the CNN piece. Erin is an expert on the Sahel in general and Mauritania in particular.

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