For all the government’s denials, slavery persists in Mauritania. In a rare insight into the lives of the tens of thousands of people affected, photojournalist Seif Kousmate spent a month photographing and interviewing current and former slaves. While there, he was arrested and imprisoned by police, who confiscated his memory cards, phone and laptop
In 1981, Mauritania made slavery illegal, the last country in the world to do so. Nonetheless, tens of thousands of people – mostly from the minority Haratine or Afro-Mauritanian groups – still live as bonded labourers, domestic servants or child brides. Local rights groups estimate that up to 20% of the population is enslaved, with one in two Haratinesforced to work on farms or in homes with no possibility of freedom, education or pay.
Slavery has a long history in this north African desert nation. For centuries, Arabic-speaking Moors raided African villages, resulting in a rigid caste system that still exists to this day, with darker-skinned inhabitants beholden to their lighter-skinned “masters”. Slave status is passed down from mother to child, and anti-slavery activists are regularly tortured and detained. Yet the government routinely denies that slavery exists in Mauritania, instead praising itself for eradicating the practice.
Members of Mauritania’s leading anti-slavery organisation, the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA), hope to oust the majority Arab-Berber government in national elections next year. The IRA leader, Biram Ould Abeid – a former slave who was imprisoned for years before coming second in 2014’s national elections – has vowed to remove President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who came to power in a 2008 coup and has since dismantled the Senate in what critics see as a bid to broaden his powers… read more and see photos: