Could harsh prison sentences annihilate slave-owning societies in Mauritania?


Slavery is widespread in the northwestern African country of Mauritania where black individuals and families are bought by light-skinned Mauritanians who subject them to slavery.

Despite years of caution and legislation by the government, United Nations and other international bodies and agencies, the practice is ongoing.

For the first time in the history of the country, a court sentenced two slave-owners to 20 years in prison, the toughest conviction ever in the country where a conviction for owning slaves is rare.

The slave owner Hamoudi Ould Saleck will serve the same sentence as his father who will serve posthumously after his death before the end of the trial. They held a family with their two children as slaves for many years.

The case was filed in court by former slaves who also ensured the sentencing of a woman, Revea Mint Mohamed, who was jailed for 10 years for keeping three slaves including a 29-year-old who had been kept since she was a small girl, reports the BBC.

Mauritania outlawed slavery in 1981 but a small fraction of the population is still living in slavery, Amnesty International said. It estimates that 43,000 people were still living in slavery despite the country’s decision to criminalize the act in 2015.

More anti-slavery activists have been sentenced in Mauritania than slave-owners after continuous denial of the existence of slavery by the government in the past.

Majority of slaves in the country are descendants of black Africans who were captured during the ancient slave raids. The slaves are commonly referred to as “black moors” or “haratin”.

Their masters are light skinned Arabs of the Berber ethnic group, who are the descendants of traditional slave owners locally known as “al-beydan”.

In Mauritania, slavery mainly takes the form of “chattel slavery”, in which the slaves and their descendants are considered the full property of their masters. This means a slave owner can sell, rent out or give away their slaves without a question.

Slavery is also ongoing in Sudan, Libya, Egypt and South Africa. Experts believe that tougher sanctions like the 20-year prison term will end slavery in Mauritania.

This article by Ismail Akwei was first published on

Published by Ismail Akwei

Ismail Akwei is an international journalist, digital media and communications professional, editor, writer, arts, culture and tourism advocate, human rights activist, pan-Africanist, tech enthusiast and history buff. He has worked with multinational media companies across Africa and has over a decade’s experience in journalism.

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