Slavery today-- yes, it is still happening

Date: 
Tue, 2002-05-07

African Slavery in the 21st century is the subject of this date's Registry. Yes, slavery of black Africans still continues. Currently, Arab-Berbers in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania continue to carry out the centuries-old practice of enslaving black Africans.

Mauritania has been as vigorous in condemning slavery as any civil rights activist might wish. At least three times last century, slavery was outlawed there, first by the French, who banned it in 1905, then under the new Constitution drawn up after independence in 1960, and a third time in 1980, under the government of President Mohammed Khouna Ould Haidallah. Nevertheless, at present, the country is said to contain the world's largest population of chattel slaves. Depending upon age and physical condition, they are reportedly sold for as little as $15, given as gifts, or traded for cars, camels, or other goods.

Research has uncovered this practice and has documented and analyzed the hatred that the Arab minority holds for blacks, both slave and free, in a country where everyone is Muslim. It is in this part of the world where the use of religion and language successfully enslaves blacks, using a process by which Arab masters produce submissive slaves. There are stories that reveal the capacity for hope and courage and among some former slaves too. Many have become abolitionist leaders as well.

These modern slaves often serve as maids or cooks, farm laborers or cattle herders. Many were taken too young to remember their homes or families. Some who have tried to escape have been branded, or have had their Achilles tendons cut; some have been castrated. Many, both male and female, are regularly raped. Yet, the international community's influence is limited. The Organization of African Unity does not interfere in the internal affairs of its member states. The rules of the World Bank dictate that economic considerations, not human rights issues, determine support.

The Sudan receives open support from Libya and other countries. It is a nation of 33 million people, Africa's largest country, located between Egypt and Ethiopia. It is greatly divided between northern and southern areas of the country. The north is largely Arab and Muslim; the south is largely black Africans and arge Christian and Animist minorities. Over all, the country is about 70% Muslim, 20 to 25% Animist, and 5% Christian.

The northern population largely speaks Arabic; the southerners speak a variety of languages. Many in the North advocate Shari'a (Islamic law) for the entire country; southerners favor a secular federal government. When Sudan gained its independence in 1956 from England and Egypt, many felt that it could not peacefully survive on a long-term basis. A more sensible and stable political arrangement might have been needed to create two countries: a north and south Sudan. Slavery is a result of Sudan’s instability.

Mauritania, part of what was once French West Africa, continues to receive aid from the French government, which argues that quiet diplomacy and economic development will prove more effective in improving human rights. Mauritania and the Sudan remain remote in the eyes of most Americans, and their people handicapped by the realities of geopolitics and economics. The average annual per capita income in both places is roughly $500. They offer no sugar or oil or cotton or tea to use for a boycott.

These facts are well known to Western governments and to the United Nations, and reports on slavery do appear in the Western media from time to time. Yet they have failed to ignite the popular resentment that fired up the abolitionist and anti-apartheid movements. Slavery has continued over centuries but many African nations have been silent on this subject and the role that neocolonialism plays in continuing an unspeakable practice.

Another factor is the state of denial in the United States' black community. First, there is not enough connection or even respect, between African Americans and Africans. An initial brotherhood between the groups turns out to be based on a nostalgic desire by the Americans about Africa and it soon dissolves. Secondly, many African Americans look to Islam for an alternative to their racially prejudiced experience under Christianity.

This set of attitudes stops many from focusing on developments in Africa, preferring to believe that if it's Islamic, it's okay. Many African American converts to Islam look to Muslims for a social model. The reality of Muslims sponsoring slavery in Mauritania and Sudan triggers cognitive disagreement, which blacks in America are unable to resign themselves to. The time has come for African- American Muslims to address the fact that their fellow Muslims not only keep slaves but also are making new ones.

In March 2004, a lawsuit in Rochester, Minnesota, was filed by a Nigerian woman who said she was enslaved from 2001 to 2003. Ejine Francisca Uzonwanne accused Doctor Jenny Barry George of false imprisonment and violating federal minimum wage laws. Her claims violate the 13th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery.

Reference:
Slavery in Modern Times
by Shirlee Newman
Copyright, 2001
Sagebrush Education Resources
ISBN: 0613341333

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