Wednesday, July 16, 2008
continue to be enslaved in northern Mali, according to Malian human
rights organisation Temedt, despite a widespread belief that slavery no
longer exists in the country. Read more in the Hear our Voices on Iddar Ag Ogazide.
government believes slavery ended with independence, when many of the
people who had been living as slaves in the colonial period were
freed,” said Temedt President Mohammed Ag Akeratane, “but I would
estimate there are still several thousand people living in slavery or
slavery-like conditions in modern Mali.”
According to Temedt,
which means “solidarity” in the Touareg language Tamasheq, slavery
continues in the north in the region of Gao 1,200km north of the
capital, Bamako, and around the town of Menaka 1,500km north of Bamako.
Most of the slavery takes place between the Berber-descended
Touaregs and the indigenous Bella people who live in this region,
although the Peul and Songhai communities have also been known to use
slaves in the past, according to Temedt.
Ag Ogazide, a Bella, said he lived as a slave in Ansongo, 80km south of
Gao, where he worked for the Touareg Ag Baye family for 35 years
without receiving a salary or an education. The Ag Bayes bought his
great-grandmother and inherited his family members from one generation
to the next. In March 2008 Iddar finally could not take any more and
hatched a successful escape plan - he is currently living in Gao.
wife Takwalet, who escaped with him, told IRIN: “Life was hard there.
Everything I did was against my will. I did all the cooking, pounding
[of millet], getting water, fetching the wood and sweeping the house. I
never received money; I didn’t even get any clothes.”
discussions on slavery are complex in Mali, with many people arguing it
does not exist. Some Gao residents said individuals might stay with
their “masters” more out of economic necessity than anything.
the Bella have become largely assimilated into Touareg culture, keeping
similar cultural traditions and speaking the same language (Tamasheq),
and many of the Bella are known as Black Tamasheq. The Touareg masters
and the Bella people have lived in a complex caste system for many
decades and some say little has changed in this power relationship -
much of the northern region’s property and livestock remains in the
The towns of Menaka and Ansongo are harsh and
isolated, with few jobs and economic opportunities. “Conditions are
tough in the north, but the Bella people are free to leave their
masters if they wish,” said an unnamed source in the Malian
government’s Territorial Administration department. “There is not an
obligation, or formalised slavery," he said.
is that some Bella people may feel unable to strike out on their own
and leave the protection of their rich master, who feeds them but does
not pay them. “If people came out to declare openly that they were
slaves, then of course the state would do something,” said the source.
But for Anti-Slavery International the situation is more clear-cut.
his parents before him, Iddar was born a slave, a status ascribed to
him at birth, and [he] grew up under the total control of a master who
exacted labour from him for no remuneration", said Romana Cacchioli,
Africa programme coordinator with Anti-Slavery International. "In my
view Iddar's case is a clear case of slavery."
Murky legal framework
is not clear what the state could do in cases such as Iddar’s, as Mali
has no law formally forbidding slavery. Although Mali's constitution
states all people are equal, and the country has signed up to the major
international conventions banning slavery, including the UN
supplementary convention on abolishing slavery (1956), officially the
practice was never criminalised in Mali, which makes it difficult to
seek legal redress in cases such as Iddar Ag Ogazide's.
Temedt has instructed a lawyer to work with Iddar and another escaped
female slave in Gao. “We would like to see if they can take a case to
court for compensation,” said Temedt’s Akeratane. At the time of
writing Temedt was also exploring the possibility of bringing forward a
case for child abduction for his son, Ahmed.
of constructing a case for Iddar demonstrates the need for a law
criminalising slavery in Mali," said Romana Cacchioli from Anti-Slavery
International, a London-based human rights organisation which is
supporting Temedt’s efforts.
But according to Akeratane, when
interviewed in April in Malian paper Nouvelle Republique, there are
currently many cases awaiting judgement and going nowhere fast, which
sets an unpromising precedent for future ex-slaves who wish to pursue
Temedt’s principal goals is to instil a sense of pride in ex-slaves for
their ethnic and cultural identity, which Akeratane hopes will help
them to demand equal rights. The organisation runs human rights
awareness sessions for groups vulnerable to slavery to make them aware
they do not have to accept the tradition.
Support for the
organisation is growing. Temedt has been in operation for just over two
years and now has 18,000 members across eight regions of the country.
It has also started to work with anti-slavery groups across the borders
in Niger and Mauritania. Akeratane believes this is the first time the
sensitive issue of continuing slavery is being tackled head -on in the
He is confident that attitudes will shift and slavery
will one day be eradicated in Mali. Gamer Dicko, a Bamako-based
journalist who comes from a black Tamasheq family, agrees: “Things are
changing today, but very slowly. There are some black Tamasheq who say
OK, our fathers were slaves but we are not. They are proud of their
dress and speaking their own language.”
Source: IRIN NEWS http://irinnews.org