Mauritania is the last country on earth where the old style of chattel slavery is still practiced. The status of slave is passed from one generation to the other, and slaves are passed from one slave-holding family to the other. An estimated 10 to 20 percent of the country’s 3.4 million population is said to live in slavery.


According to an exclusive report from CNN, a large majority of those enslaved do not even realize that they are slaves. Mental slavery is a term that comes up in relation to formerly enslaved people of African descent in the Americas. The African- American abolitionist Harriet Tubman is quoted to have said, “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more, if only they knew they were slaves.” Centuries later and in a different country, the situation is similar for enslaved Mauritanians who do not comprehend the concept of freedom or slavery, despite some facing untold horrors.


From the CNN’s extensive report, it is clear that a lack of education and abject poverty encourages the stronghold of slavery. Notions such as universal human rights are unknown to both slaves and slave holders who believe that the inherently unfair nature of things is the way things are and should be.


History is intertwined deeply with Mauritania’s history and continues to affect everyday life today. Racism is another reason slavery continues to this day. The slave owning class are the so-called White Moors, who are light-skinned and Arabic speaking Berbers. On the other hand, slaves are dark-skinned and of African descent. Slaves who are Black Moors are made to believe they are less worthy. due to their dark skin. In all this, there are black ethnic groups in Mauritania that are not traditionally enslaved.


When it comes to slavery, Mauritania has always lagged behind. It was the last country to abolish slavery in 1981. In Mauritania, slavery was not a crime until 2007. It is the last nation that still practices slavery, and what is most disturbing is that the custom does not seem to be close to dying, despite work by activists and international pressure. While the government continually denies that slavery exists before the global audience, it arrests activists and clamps down on foreign journalists looking to expose the reality of slavery. So far, only one person has faced justice for owning slaves.


A veil of secrecy overlays the sensitive topic of slavery in the country, and it is propped up by the government which does not actively move to end slavery. Instead, talking about slavery carries a risk to those discussing. In addition to this, activists working against slavery face arrest and torture for their work.


What must be done to end slavery in Mauritania? Is the international community enough to stop this abhorrent practice?Let us know by leaving a comment below or by reaching me on Twitter @rafeeeeta