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Thread: CANDIDATE WILL END SLAVERY in MAURITANIA

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    Registered Member VINCYPOWA's Avatar VINCYPOWA is offline
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    CANDIDATE WILL END SLAVERY in MAURITANIA

    Objet: [PAOC-USA] Slavery in Mauritania, 2009

    Slavery in Mauritania

    More than half a million slaves are at the heart of a presidential
    election battle in the former French colony of Mauritania.

    By Nick Meo in Nouakchott, Mauritania

    Published: 8:30AM BST 12 Jul 2009

    A year after she ran away from her master, Barakatu Mint Sayed prays
    that the election on July 18 will mark the beginning of the end of
    slavery in Mauritania.

    Her nation is one of the last places on Earth where large numbers of
    humans are still kept as property.

    And like thousands of other slaves and freed slaves across the Saharan
    country, her hopes are fixed on an inspirational candidate, a man born to slave parents who has sworn to put an end to the practice of "owning" humans if he is elected president.

    That candidate is Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, a 66-year-old former civil
    servant with a strong resemblance to the film actor Morgan Freeman. Mr
    Boulkheir has vowed that in power he would punish slave owners and do
    everything he can to free their human property.

    His prospects of winning power are growing by the day - and he is being
    hailed as Mauritania's brightest star by his supporters.

    "He is the Obama of Mauritania," said Boubacar Messaoud, an architect
    and veteran anti-slavery campaigner in the northwest African desert
    state. "He is going to bring change, and he represents social justice
    and equality."

    Officially, slavery has long been abolished in Mauritania, but the law
    has never been enforced and there are an estimated 600,000 slaves,
    almost one in five of the country's 3.2 million people, almost 150
    years since the American civil war.

    Change will come too late to heal Mrs Sayed's ruined life. But she
    knows that victory for Mr Boulkheir could transform the future for the
    daughter and grandchildren whom she had to leave behind in captivity
    when she finally summoned the courage to escape.

    A black African of Mauritania's Haratine caste, she was born into
    slavery about 40 years ago - she is illiterate and has only a hazy idea
    of time - and grew up as the property of an Arabic-speaking Berber family, in an oasis town deep in the
    desert.

    While her master's children went to school, she was cooking, cleaning
    and washing from dawn to dusk. She slept on the floor, and suffered
    beatings.

    "Sometimes I was too tired by the end of the day to eat my food," Mrs
    Sayed said at her new home in the capital, Nouakchott, where she now
    works as a paid housekeeper.

    Aged about 10, she was separated from her mother by being given to a
    cousin of the master as a wedding gift. She remembers crying
    uncontrollably when they moved to a different town, where she was
    forbidden from leaving the master's house.

    Another 20 years later she was separated from her own daughter,
    Mulkheir, when the girl was given away as a teenager a common trauma
    for slave families.

    Mrs Sayed has never seen her three young grandchildren or met her
    daughter's husband. In fact she is not sure whether her daughter even
    has a husband, or whether Mulkheir's children were fathered by her
    master.

    It is the kind of life that has been endured for centuries by
    Mauritania's slaves, since the first marauding Berber raiders rode out
    of the desert from the north in the 3rd century to carry off African
    villagers.

    The former slave who would be president believes he can finally bring
    such suffering to an end.

    "All that is needed to free the slaves is willpower," Mr Boulkheir told The Sunday Telegraph at his modest home in the capital.

    A quietly spoken man with a commanding presence, he has a clean reputation in an Islamic nation which has suffered years of corrupt rulers.

    The acting president and head of the senate, Ba Mamadou Mbare, is not
    contesting the election. Of his nine rival candidates, the man Mr
    Boulkheir has to beat is the self-appointed president of the Higher
    State Council, General Mohammed Ould Abdelaziz, who led a military coup
    last year and is the most powerful man in the country. He is the
    Arabic-speaking former head of security for Ould Taya - the deposed
    dictator who was driven out by an earlier coup in 2005 and now lives in
    exile.

    Gen Abdelaziz - who has removed his uniform to contest the election in
    line with the constitution - and his political opponents including Sidi
    Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, the president he deposed last year, agreed to
    the polls in a deal brokered by Senegal.

    The junta and its opponents had come under intense pressure from the
    international community to re-establish a democratic government, with
    the United Nations, European Union and African Union co-sponsoring the
    mediation.

    Gen Abdelaziz's enemies stop short of claiming that he owns slaves he
    was in fact born in poverty and inherited nothing. But they insist that
    there are slave-owning masters among the ranks of his wealthy
    supporters.

    The two candidates despise each other. Their electoral battle, a novelty in a ramshackle capital which is more used to coups, has enthused its residents, as much as anyone can be enthused in temperatures of 43 degrees centigrade.

    Its streets, where sand drifts across the tarmac, are plastered with
    posters, and nomadic-style tents have been erected in every suburb.
    Blaring loudspeakers praise the rival candidates at such volume that
    passing camels and donkeys pulling carts are sent into a panic. With
    six days to go, diplomats consider the race too close to call.

    The votes of slaves who have been registered by their masters may make
    a critical difference. But campaigners fear that in the great swathes
    of the country's dusty hinterland where most of the slaves are kept,
    thousands will be compelled to cast their votes for Gen Abdelaziz.

    Mr Boulkheir's camp hopes it can pull ahead by energising the freed
    Haratine the slave caste which has grown in size and clout in recent
    years, especially in the cities, as slaves have gradually been freed or
    run away. Once free, they can join the workforce. Fishing, desert
    agriculture and iron and gold mining and are the main sources of income
    for Mauritanians, who on average earn little more than $2 a day,
    although that could rise if offshore oil exploration ever proves
    fruitful.

    Mr Boulkheir also enjoys the kudos of having being jailed three times
    by Mauritania's former military dictatorship for advocating democracy
    when that looked impossible in the 1990s.

    Arabic-speakers as well as black Africans back his bid for power,
    attracted by his promise of building democracy after years of economic
    stagnation under military misrule and a chaotic series of coups. He is
    regarded as the candidate with the best chance of ending conflict
    between the black majority and the Berber ruling elite. Slave-holding
    has been abolished three times, first by the country's former French
    overlords and then twice by different rulers of the independent state,
    most recently in 2007. But the law has never been enforced and no slave
    owner has ever been prosecuted.

    "Many slaves have been freed in Mauritania now, and if I am elected I
    will speed up the process," Mr Boulkheir said. "Slave owners will be
    punished, for the first time in our history. Justice will be implemented.

    "I will do everything in my power to end this curse of slavery."

    In this, he has a deeply personal motivation. Soon after he was born
    his mother was beaten almost to death by the master from whom his
    parents had run away. They only managed to escape to freedom because of
    help from the French authorities.

    Their son overcame the handicap of his birth to find a job as a civil
    servant and rise to a senior rank.

    He knows that ending slavery will not prove easy, especially in the
    vastness of the Sahara where pastoralists and nomads endure a harsh
    existence which has barely been touched by the modern world.

    Not all slaves suffer abuse. If they are lucky, masters feed and care
    for them as if they are family members, albeit inferior ones, and they
    will eat and pray with their slaves.

    In bondage, the Haratine work as labourers: herding animals; working in
    date groves; or doing the household chores while the master's family
    laze around.

    Centuries of indoctrination have persuaded the Sahara's captives that
    slavery is religiously ordained - slaves are taught that if they run
    away they will be barred from heaven. As a local saying puts it:
    "Paradise is under your master's foot." In some remote places a runaway
    will still be hunted down by nomad masters.

    If they are brave enough, boys do often escape when they reach their
    late teens, but for women and children it is much harder. They know
    that with no skills or education a life of hunger or prostitution is
    the realistic alternative to captivity, and many escaped slaves return
    to their masters to beg forgiveness.

    In the oasis towns of the desert masters are still powerful, but after
    20 years of international pressure - and encouraged by such Western
    organisations as Anti-Slavery International, which help local
    campaigners to challenge the entrenched culture - few are prepared to
    discuss slavery openly.

    A Berber driver, who would only give his first name, Mohammed, defended
    slavery. "It is our religion and custom," he said.


    "Why does the international community try to stop it? The 20 slaves are better off with their masters. This is their fate. When they leave, they starve."

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