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Mali slavery problem persists after French invasion

Clare Morgana Gillis, Special for USA TODAY1:32a.m. EST February 15, 2013

TOYA, Mali — The insurgents who have fled from invading French troops in Mali have been taking with them some of their most important possessions — slaves.

The Tuareg tribes that overran Mali's military with the help of Arab extremist groups aligned with al-Qaeda have long held slaves and many of the captives are from families that have been enslaved for generations.

"It's no way to live, without your freedom," said Mohammed Yattara, a former slave who ran away from his Tuareg masters years ago.

"You depend on them for everything. If they tell you to do something, you have to do it, or they will beat you," he said as he sat with the chief of the village of Toya and among men and women who were descendants of slaves or former slaves.

"You can marry, but if the master wants to have sex with your wife, he will. Everything that's yours is theirs," Yattara said.

Tuaregs are a semi-nomadic people of North Africa's Sahara desert whose traditional land was divided into several nations, the borders of which were drawn by European colonialist powers.

They predate the Arab tribes that moved into the region centuries ago and in Mali, a former French colony, Tuaregs lived primarily in the north part of the country.

But in March, armed Tuaregs took control of the north from the Mali government and marched south with Islamists aligned with al-Qaeda. They took over the city of Timbuktu and threatened the capital of Bamako. The Islamists imposed strict shariah, or Islamic law, on inhabitants it controlled.

Some Tuaregs took advantage of their newly won control to reclaim freed or runaway slaves, mostly black Africans.

The French military arrived in January and retook Timbuktu from the Tuaregs, who fled into the desert or refugee camps in neighboring Burkina Faso and Mauritania, some taking slaves with them. Tuaregs and Arabs who failed to escape have been summarily killed, activist groups have said.

Human Rights Watch said the Malian army and black African civilians are holding all Tuaregs and Arabs responsible for the recent months of terror and human rights abuses, whether or not they participated in the crimes.

Yattara is one of the few accessible witnesses who was willing to discuss slavery under the Tuaregs.

Like many other residents of his village, Yattara is a farmer in the rice and hay fields in the river's surrounding wetlands.

Each of Mali's dozens of ethnic groups has a traditional occupation, and Yattara is one of the Bella ("slave" in the Tuareg language), the black Africans who have inherited their slave status.

Though slavery was outlawed in 1960, Mali is one of the countries in the world where the practice of human servitude flourishes, with as many as 200,000 Bella living a life of hereditary enslavement.

Not all Tuaregs own slaves, and not all slave owners are Tuareg. There are also black Malian ethnic groups who own Bella slaves.

But in the Timbuktu region, only Tuaregs own slaves. Not only were the Tuareg seen as supporters for the Islamist rebels' harsh rule over the last 10 months, but their slave-owning ways fanned racial animosity in northern Mali.

Like all other slave children, Yattara never went to school, and to this day he is unable to read and write. "But my son is in school now," he said proudly.

Yattara said he believes he is in his early 40s but is not certain of his exact age because Tuareg masters do not file birth certificates. He fled his masters as a young man and during his travels to Senegal and Ivory Coast he discovered that slave-owning was in fact illegal.

"In my father's generation, slaves weren't thinking to be free," Yattara said. "But now there are many slaves who want to be free, and they try to find a way, but they are afraid."

In the Timbuktu region, slaves work on farms or as household servants or shepherds. Deeper in the vast desert of the north, inhabited by Tuaregs and Arabs, the slaves mine salt, a back-breaking task done under the Saharan sun.

Salt is the north's main economic product and black slaves deliver the giant grayish slabs by boat or truck to the black Africans, who then take it to markets in the south.

Yattara and his companions agreed that Tuaregs were the worst slave-masters in Mali.

Yakuba Mohammed Touré, the white-robed village chief of Toya, said the village had always been mixed between Tuareg and other ethnic groups and before the rebels took over Timbuktu they lived and did business together in peace.

"But when the rebels came, we didn't get along with them. They made the women cover their faces and did many things we don't agree with," he said.

"They destroyed everything, even the electricity which brings water to the farms, and the Tuareg worked with the rebels because they are the same ethnic group," Touré said. "If they didn't agree with (the rebels), they would have left."

Yattara lives with his wife Fatimata, herself a descendant of former slaves, and their four children near the Niger River on the outskirts of Timbuktu. His feelings about the Tuareg Malians show that the fighting unleashed last year may have a way to go once the French depart.

"In my life I will never forget what it feels like to be a slave," Yattara said. "Whenever I see Tuaregs I will be angry."

Tags: -, Keep, Mali, Northern, Slaves, Their, Today, Tuaregs, USA, Want, More…from, in, to

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The report I heard on this on From Our Own Correspondent, said it was "the white Malians" (Arabs/Tuaregs) who were enslaving "the black Malians".   And islam isn't racist....

Timbuktu’s slaves liberated as Islamic supremacists flee

Muhammad owned slaves, and the Qur'an takes the existence of slavery for granted, even as it enjoins the freeing of slaves under certain circumstances, such as the breaking of an oath: “Allah will not call you to account for what is futile in your oaths, but He will call you to account for your deliberate oaths: for expiation, feed ten indigent persons, on a scale of the average for the food of your families; or clothe them; or give a slave his freedom” (5:89).

While the freeing of a few slaves here and there is encouraged, however, the institution itself is never questioned. Slavery was taken for granted throughout Islamic history, as it was, of course, in the West up until relatively recent times. Yet the impetus to end slavery moved from Christendom into Islam, not the other way around. Because the Qur'anic word cannot be questioned, and the book does not contain the Biblical principles that led to the abolition of slavery in the West, there has never been a Muslim abolitionist movement. Slavery ended in Islamic lands under pressure from the West.

In fact, when the British government began pressuring other regimes to abolish slavery in the nineteenth century, the Sultan of Morocco was incredulous. “The traffic in slaves,” he noted, “is a matter on which all sects and nations have agreed from the time of the sons of Adam...up to this day.” He said that he was “not aware of its being prohibited by the laws of any sect” and that the very idea that anyone would question its morality was absurd: “No one need ask this question, the same being manifest to both high and low and requires no more demonstration than the light of day.”

Sadiq al-Mahdi, former prime minister of Sudan, would agree. On March 24, 1999, he wrote to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, that “the traditional concept of JIHAD does allow slavery as a by-product.” And so slavery persists in some areas of the Islamic world. The BBC reported in December 2008 that “strong evidence has emerged of children and adults being used as slaves in Sudan’s Darfur region.”

Mauritanian human rights crusader Boubakar Messaoud asserted that in that country, people are born and bred as slaves: “A Mauritanian slave, whose parents and grandparents before him were slaves, doesn’t need chains. He has been brought up as a domesticated animal.” Three years later, nothing had changed. Messaoud explained in March 2007: “It’s like having sheep or goats. If a woman is a slave, her descendants are slaves.” Likewise in Niger, which formally abolished slavery only in 2003, slavery is a long-standing practice. Journalist and anti-slavery activist Souleymane Cisse explained that even Western colonial governments did nothing to halt the practice: “The colonial rulers preferred to ignore it because they wanted to co-operate with the aristocracy who kept these slaves.”

Islamic slavery has not been unknown even in the United States. When the Saudi national Homaidan Al-Turki was imprisoned for holding a woman as a slave in Colorado, he complained that “the state has criminalized these basic Muslim behaviors. Attacking traditional Muslim behaviors was the focal point of the prosecution.” Where did he get the idea that slavery was a “traditional Muslim behavior”? From the Qur'an.

"Timbuktu’s slaves liberated as Islamists flee," by Sudarsan Raghavan for The Washington Post, June 1 (thanks to Pamela Geller):

TIMBUKTU, Mali — Her light-skinned master no longer beats her with a camel whip. He no longer makes her work from dawn to night without pay. He fled with his family four months ago, along with the Islamists who briefly ruled this historic city.

“I am free,” said Aminaya Traore, a 50-year-old woman who was born into slavery. “I can do whatever I want.”

Across this sand-swept city, hundreds of modern-day slaves are experiencing a sense of liberation, many for the first time. Nearly all the lighter-skinned Tuaregs and Arab Moors who for generations exploited them have fled the city, fearing reprisal attacks for supporting supporting the Islamists or the Tuareg separatists whose rebellion helped ignite the Islamist takeover of Mali’s north last year.

Under the Islamists, blacks were exploited even more by the pink-skinned people,” said Roukiatou Cisse, a social worker with Temedt, a human rights group, referring to the Tuaregs and Arab Moors. “They told them, ‘We are with the Islamists. We are in power. We are the masters and you are our slaves. We will do what we want.’ ”

“Now, the slaves have profited by the pink-skinned people leaving.”

The jubilation underscores how deeply divided Mali’s northern communities became during the 10-month rule of the Islamists, who included homegrown jihadists, such as the Tuaregs and Arab Moors, as well as foreigners with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the terror network’s West and North Africa branch. A French-led military intervention that began in January ousted the Islamists from towns in the north, though a guerrilla war continues.

Under the Islamists, many Tuaregs and Arab Moors took advantage of their shared ethnic backgrounds with the jihadists and asserted themselves over their black neighbors. The widened rift between the communities could take years, if not decades, to close, residents say....

Slavery was abolished in 1960 after the West African nation gained independence, and all people are considered equal under Mali’s constitution. Yet there’s no law that criminalizes slavery, making it hard to seek legal action. And there’s little political will to address the problem: Many government officials deny the practice exists.

Today, an estimated 200,000 people live as slaves or in slavelike conditions in Mali, mostly in rural areas, according to Temedt, which means “solidarity.” The advocacy group Anti-Slavery International says that “descent-based slavery” exists in other West African countries as well, including Mauritania and Niger.

Those who have been freed, often by running away, still face discrimination because of their family’s historical status as slaves. Most of the people who have slaves are Tuareg, though some black ethnic groups in northern Mali have also been known to have slaves, who are known as Bella, which means both “black” and “slave.”


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