Slavery has been outlawed for decades in Mauritania, but some ex-slaves who have broken off from their former masters to form their own desert commune told IRIN their freedom exists only in theory. Mbareck Ould Mahmoude, 50, told IRIN laws banning slavery have failed to improve living conditions for victims of slavery.
“I was born into a family of slaves in 1959. I was sold to a tribe in northern Mauritania where I worked as a full-time slave. I was the first one to wake up and the last to sleep. My main daily work was to look after my masters’ cattle. By night, I milked the camels and distributed the milk to my masters’ family. I was not allowed to be educated. I would not have had the time anyway.
“The cattle I was raising died in 1973 due to the drought that year. I was then taken to the south of Mauritania [Lefrewa] where I worked in exchange for food. Most of the time it was what remained from the annual harvest. The good food is for the masters. I slept in a separate tent, but not always. If there was no room, I slept in the open.”
"My masters told me that I was free in 1979. They starting paying me US$19 monthly and $11 each to my mother and sisters to work as domestic workers.
"My mother and sisters are still working now for the same people as during the times of open slavery. They are now paid $27 a month, but that is not enough to live on.
"Now, people do not call me a slave anymore because of the law. But in reality, I am still a slave and I will stay one as long as I am poor and uneducated like the rest of my family. I feel that I am not a normal human being. I have no voice, no importance in my community and this is likely to last unless I get better pay and basic education.
"New slavery is worse than that of the old days. Today, you get a negligible amount for heavy work. You have to support yourself and your family unlike the old days of slavery, when you were called a slave but at least your food and housing were paid for by your masters.”
Read more about Mahmoude’s break from his masters’ village here.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions