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The Haratin, also known as “black Moors”, are the descendants of the black African slaves. Most of them live in Mauritania, but there are also members of this ethnic groups living in Western Sahara, Morocco, Senegal, Algeria, and Mali.
The term “Haratin” is derived from the Arabic word for “freedom” and can be translated as “newly freed“, a reference to the origin of the population group, which was formed in 1905 after the first official abolition of slavery in Mauritania. There, the term is also still in use to distinguish the Haratin from the more light-skinned “white Moors”, the Beidan, who control the economy and who form the majority in the state administration, including the government, the military, and the police.
Although slavery in Mauritania was officially abolished in 1981, it continues to exist in practice – and many Haratin are still living there in serfdom today. According to estimates, this applies to up to 500,000 people across the country, 90 per cent of whom are women and children. The Haratin are exposed to discrimination and marginalization because they belong to a “slave caste”. In many cases, freed Haratin decide not to leave their former “masters” because they are still dependent on them –economically, culturally, and psychologically – and because they don’t see any possible alternatives for their lives.
Between 2007 and 2008, the situation of the Haratin had improved for a short while, after the Mauritanian government under the newly elected President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi had passed a law according to which slavery should be treated as a criminal offence. However, Abdallahi was overthrown in a military coup in August 2008. The new government lacks political will to enforce the existing laws effectively and, thus, to fight slavery in the country. To date, the current government is denying that there is still slavery in the country, calling it a phenomenon of the past.
Further information about the Haratin
Header photo: © Tobias Mandt via Flickr