Liberty in Mauritania

In the West African country of Mauritania, though slavery was abolished in 1981 and a 2007 law was passed that criminalizes owning a slave, much of the population remains in bondage.

The Global Slavery Index reported that there were up to 47,000 slaves remaining in Mauritania. The size of this human rights violation and recent crimes against activists warrant American attention and aid for those longing for liberty in Mauritania.

History of Slavery in Mauritania

Slavery has a long and storied history in Mauritania. As in other parts of the world, it is often based on skin color and ethnic background. Most enslaved people in Mauritania are darker skinned and Harantine/Afro-Mauritanian. This is especially relevant considering that the government is overwhelmingly run by the lighter skinned Arab-Berbers, under an administration that has done little to ease the plight of slaves.

Stories of Slaves

Even when Mauritania’s minority peoples live as freedmen, they tend to occupy lower positions in the social hierarchy than the Arab-Berbers. This colorist system is deeply ingrained throughout Mauritanian culture. One Harantine slave testified that her mother used to tell her every night that she must respect the masters because their caste is higher and they are considered to be the saints. Despite the horrors of slavery, ingrained biases often block the way to liberty in Mauritania.

Those who remain enslaved in Mauritania live in abhorrent conditions. Stories of cruelty and barbarism abound. Fatimatou, a former slave that was freed by the nongovernmental organization SOS Slaves, testifies: “I lost two babies to this family because they prevented me from taking care of my own children. I was forced to work when I had just given birth.” Aichetou, another former slave, escaped in 2010, assisted by her sister. The older sibling had escaped after witnessing her captor murder her child using hot coals.

Unfair System

Despite the frequency and brutality of these incidents, only five people have been punished in the past three years for practicing slavery. In comparison, at least 168 human rights activists that are fighting against slavery have been arrested in the past four years.

This institutional disregard for anti-slavery efforts has become apparent leading up to the country’s September elections. On August 7, former presidential candidate and human rights activist, Biram Dah Abeid, was arrested because of an “order from above.” Most likely, he has been detained because he and several colleagues planned to run for legislative positions. His vow to defeat the authoritarian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has made him a focus of much controversy and state persecution.  Throughout the most recent detainment, Biram Dah Abeid and other arrested opposition members have not been given access to a lawyer during the prosecution.

How Can People Help?

People around the world who feel sympathy for the plight of those seeking liberty in Mauritania have several ways in which they can assist.

  1. First, they can learn all they can about the subject and spread the word to their friends and family on social media.
  2. Second, they can donate to anti-slavery organizations like the Abolition Institute that uses the proceeds to rescue people from bondage.
  3. Finally, they can write a letter or email to the U.S. government to prevent the deportation of Mauritian asylum seekers. Amnesty International has warned that if deported, these people face the threat of slavery, torture and death. One of the easiest ways to contact influential people is through the Borgen Project, specifically through this link.

Only with the support of compassionate and aware citizens can enslaved victims find liberty in Mauritania.

– Lydia Cardwell
Photo: Flickr

US Benefits from Foreign Aid to Mauritania
Nestled between Senegal, Mali, and Western Sahara, Mauritania is a mostly desert country. The population is roughly 4.3 million people, making Mauritania the fourth least densely populated country in Africa. Half the population lives at or around the coastal capital of Nouakchott. The country faces the challenge that only 0.5 percent of its land is measured as arable. It suffers an extremely hot and dry climate, leading to dust-laden wind and occasional droughts.

The History of U.S.-Mauritania Relations

The U.S. was the first country to recognize Mauritania’s independence when it became independent from France in 1960. The U.S. had excellent relations with Mauritania from 1960 to 1967 and aided the country with a small amount of economic assistance. In 1989, U.S.-Mauritanian relations were disturbed by the Mauritanian governments expulsion of Senegalese citizens. Ties were further deteriorated by Mauritania’s supposed support of the 1991 Gulf War.

At the end of the 1990s, the Mauritania government began to adopt new policies, which were higher regarded by the U.S. As a result, U.S.-Mauritanian relations grew significantly, and military cooperation and training programs soon followed.

The U.S. condemned Mauritania’s military coups in 2005 and 2008. However, the U.S. supported the nations transition to democracy after the coup d’état in 2005. Furthermore, the U.S. assisted in election-related business, such as voter education and election support in 2007.

Since 2009, funding has returned to Mauritania. The U.S. continues to support the Mauritania government and to encourage political leaders to continue democracy. The U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Mauritania because of key issues the nations fight for together: food security, counterterrorism, strengthening of human rights, and the promotion of trade. This is most evident through the growth of trade and counterterrorism movements.

Trade Growth

Although it is slow, the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Mauritania by growing trade and investment relations within this country. The two countries are linked through the U.S.-North Africa Partnership for Economic Opportunity (NAPEO), a regional public-private partnership that improves the network of businesspersons in the U.S. with the five Magherb countries, including Mauritania.


Mauritania is among five other nations (G5) that work with the Multinational Joint Task Force to end terrorism. They are an important member in creating African-led solutions to counter instability and terrorism. The G5, Mauritanian authorities, and the U.N. have worked closely together to implement solutions of counterterrorism. The representatives set out plans that aim to:

  1. Increase education
  2. Support the role of women in reforming security
  3. Bettering investigative abilities
  4. Reintegrating previous offenders
  5. Strengthening border security

In October 2017, the U.S. government pledged up to $60 million toward the G5’s counterterrorism initiatives. The funding was to be used to train and equip members of the Joint Task Force. The goal of this funding is to entrust nations, like Mauritania, to provide their own safety.

Terrorist organizations are still active in this region and had launched a series of attacks through Mauritanian from 2005 to 2011. Foreign aid workers and tourists were targeted during this time. Although the threat of terrorism in Mauritania remains high, it is on its way toward improvement because of the counterterrorism actions being taken in 2017, made possible by foreign aid.

– Stefanie Babb
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in Mauritania

Mauritania is a deeply divided and struggling country. Slavery has only recently been legally abolished, about 20 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day and over half of adults are illiterate. Although one of the biggest threats to Mauritania remains the increasing influence of Al Qaeda, poverty and lack of female educational opportunities are some of the worst perils facing Mauritanians in their daily lives. To understand the current reality of girls’ education in Mauritania, it is first necessary to know where the country has been.

Mauritania’s History

Initially settled by Berbers and Arabs in the 3rd century A.D., Mauritania was a trading and transport hub for connecting West Africa to the Maghreb. In the 1850s, France came to control the territory militarily, leading a brutal regime of oppression. This regime left those living in the area profoundly divided between Arabs and Berbers and subjugated to subhuman conditions. By 1904, France formally established Mauritania as a colony, and in 1920, Mauritania became part of French West Africa and was subsequently administered by Senegal. Mauritania became an overseas territory in 1946; by 1958, the country was self-governing and became independent in 1960. 

Shortly after Mauritania gained independence, a series of elections, coups and race riots took place through much of the latter 20th century. The elections and coups slowed to a considerably slower pace in the 2000s and the subsequent decade, providing Mauritania with some semblance of stability. This stability was vital; it allowed outside organizations such as the U.N. and UNICEF to offer much-needed assistance to the battered nation of 3.7 million. Between 2000 and 2007, for example, literacy declined nearly 8 points. This was primarily due to the Mauritanian government’s failure to dedicate any time, money or resources to education.

Successes in Education

While Mauritania has had significant struggles with education, there have been signs of improvement and cases of success. For example, the NGO Global Partnership for Education (GPE) began funding the Mauritania Basic Education Sector Support Project. Over the course of this program, gross enrollment rates increased from 88 percent to 97 percent and completion rates rose from 53 percent to 71 percent between 2001 and 2012. Girls’ education in Mauritania also improved significantly; 21,168 adolescent females have been enrolled in lower secondary education in 2016, as opposed to 7,400 in 2014. 

UNICEF has also forged a partnership with the Mauritanian government to promote education and provide resources for schools. This national partnership was reached following the success of UNICEF’s initial mission in the country. The new goal of UNICEF and the Mauritanian government is to achieve universal access and completion of secondary education for all Mauritanian children.

The Importance of Female Education

It is critical to recognize why female education in Mauritania is so important beyond the educational aspects. Girls’ education has been shown to lead to female empowerment. In a country so bitterly divided and struggling with social progress, support for women’s empowerment is a vital aspect. Improving education in Mauritania also improves poverty in the country. The United Nations Girls Education Initiative reports that many young girls in Mauritania face dire poverty. Since only 53 percent of households have access to clean water, disease is common, and there is insufficient access to vaccinations. Girls’ education provides access to schools, which in turn provides access to the water and medicine many desperately need.

While the challenges to girls’ education in Mauritania are plentiful and can seem immense, much headway has been made in recent years. With organizations like the U.N., UNICEF, and GPE working with the government, there is significant improvement on the horizon for girls’ education in Mauritania.

– Sam Kennedy
Photo: Flickr

humanitarian aid to MauritaniaMauritania is an impoverished country located on the west coast of Sub-Saharan Africa in the Sahel region. Of its 4.1 million people, 42 percent live below the poverty line. The population faces additional challenges of high youth unemployment rates and low levels of formal education. However, a huge decline in the poverty rate during the 2010s and successful projects in humanitarian aid to Mauritania place the country in a position to grow economically.

Mauritania gained independence from France in 1960 but has since seen two coups creating some political instability. The first occurred in 1978 and the second 30 years later in 2008. The second coup coincided with a time of poverty reduction, and the 2000s, in general, brought GDP growth for Mauritania. The mining industry is large in Mauritania and was a big factor in that growth due to an increased global value of minerals.

Humanitarian aid to Mauritania can help further boost the growth of the country and benefit the people. Below are four areas in which humanitarian aid has been a success.

  1. Finance – The World Bank has been involved with humanitarian aid projects in Mauritania since 1963 and is working on financial projects that benefit the people. There are currently eight projects that total over $370 million in aid to Mauritania. The projects align with the goal of creating jobs, as well as provide analytical work and technical assistance. Also, in 2012 the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) invested $12 million in commercial banks to provide a $127 million two-year credit line so that Mauritania would have a stable source of energy products.
  2. Education – The World Bank is also involved in two educational projects in Mauritania. Mauritania’s population suffers from a lack of formal education and a 44% youth unemployment rate. These World Bank projects (totaling over $30 million) educate the population and increase the relevance and efficiency of vocational training in Mauritania. The projects are also working with training institutions to modernize them and improve their programs. Seven of these institutions already have performance contracts and three will be internationally certified to best prepare the workforce.
  3. Climate – Located in the Sahel region in Africa, Mauritania has a semi-arid climate. Additionally, as a coastal country, Mauritania faces challenges from sea level rise and erosion. Up to 30 meters of coastline is lost in any given year. To combat this, Mauritania is working with other countries, regional alliances and international partners. Mauritania is developing an investment plan based on environmental analysis that will be part of a foundation for its future sustainable development. Also, Britain’s Oxfam is working to help the population affected by recurrent climate crises.
  4. Food – A large portion of humanitarian aid to Mauritania focuses on food security and nutrition. The European Commission is working to prevent malnutrition of those most vulnerable in the population. Additionally, USAID is working with Action Contre la Faim (ACF or Action Against Hunger in English) to prevent malnutrition through cooking demonstrations and nutrition education. Further, they conduct screenings to identify children most at risk of malnutrition so they can be treated. They have contributed over $200 million to ensure food availability in Mauritania.

Despite the improvements in Mauritania in the 2000s, there are still many people living in poverty and the country faces development challenges. Humanitarian aid to Mauritania has been essential to helping the people of the country and will continue to help grow the economy.

– Hayley Herzog

Photo: Flickr

Mauritania is a country located in West Africa that gained independence from France in 1960. In 2007, Mauritania saw the election of its first independent and freely elected president. However, his term in office ended abruptly when he was deposed by the military in 2008. General Abdel Aziz was then sworn into the presidency in August 2009 and was again re-elected in 2014.

Mauritania continues to experience tensions between ethnic groups, and suffered serious threats to its security through activities from various terrorist organizations. However, since 2011 strategies and development projects in Mauritania have been implemented that use dialogue and military actions, which have stopped terrorist attacks from occurring thus far.

After years of insecurity and instability, the situation in Mauritania is improving politically. Various international and national organizations are working in Mauritania to improve the lives of citizens and increase economic growth and decrease food insecurity. Here are five development projects in Mauritania that are currently active or have recently concluded.

  1. Skills Development Support Project
    This project was initiated by the World Bank and implemented by the Directions des Projets Education et Formation. The project ran from April 2011 to December 2017. Carrying a total cost of $17.6 million, this project’s objectives were to improve the efficiency as well as quality of training institutions in Mauritania and to foster a more “market driven technical and vocational education training system.”
  2. Programme de développement durables des oasis
    This project was approved in 2003 and ran until 2012, and was financed by IFAD. Costing a total of $33.9 million, its major objective was to reduce the poverty rate in five provinces in Mauritania. The project promoted sustainable farming solutions through the spread of technology and supported the financing of economic as well as social infrastructures, which reached 50,000 households.
  3. Poverty Reduction Project in Aftout South & Karakoro Phase II
    This is another project financed by IFAD, but one that is currently active. Costing a total of $28.9 million, this project aims to improve livelihoods and incomes for women and young people in 21,000 rural households in three moughataas (departments), which include M’Bout, Ould-Yengé and Kankossa. This will be achieved by fostering an increase in the economy through sustainable resource management, specifically by developing systems of crop and livestock management, soil restoration and water management and support for local project development.
  4. Construction of the Rosso-Boghé road
    This project is funded by the African Development Bank (ADB), the Nigeria Trust Fund (NTF) and the Mauritanian government, with loans of $11.69 million and a grant of $720,000 from the ADB and a loan of $8.6 million from the NTF. The construction of this road will help develop the right bank of Senegal River and will have an enormous impact in promoting the development of agriculture, fishing industries and transportation services. It will affect 100,000 people in 67 localities.
  5. Integrating disadvantaged young people into the building sector
    This project, started in 2006, will conclude in 2020 and will affect regions of Gorgol, Guidimakha and Brakna in Mauritania. Implemented by the International Labour Organization, and costing a total of €3.2 million, this project’s primary objective is to help improve the living conditions of youth through improving access to professional training and employment. The goal of the results are to improve the quality of work in construction through training and enlarge the scope of professional training programs.

Although only five development projects in Mauritania are mentioned here, there are numerous other organizations working within the country to improve the lives of Mauritanians. Through collaborative and inclusive effort, the livelihoods, economy and food security of many are sure to improve.

– Miho Kitamura

Photo: Flickr

Women's empowerment in MauritaniaThe World Bank and the Competitiveness Industries and Innovation Program (CIIP) aim to strengthen women’s empowerment in Mauritania through the country’s leading industry: fishing. Women constitute 30 percent of the workforce within the fishing sector, and therefore participate in the growth of the country’s economy, as the industry contributes 25 percent of public revenue and up to 5 percent of Mauritania’s GDP.

However, in the northern city of Nouadhibou, women face a lack of access to capital and land, thus being driven to work in the fishing industry out of economic necessity. Despite their contributions to the economy, women in Mauritania work in poor conditions. They often have no choice other than to sell their goods outside of the fisheries market, isolated from the saturated Nouadhibou market. As a result of selling their products in smaller markets, women are forced to sell their products at lower prices and will attract only a few buyers.

To avoid a drop in women working in the fishing industry, the Nouadhibou Eco-Seafood Cluster Project was created in March 2016 by the World Bank and the CIIP. The project will strengthen Nouadhibou’s port infrastructure while expanding its onshore fish processing activities, in order to develop a seafood cluster within the region. Targeted training will also be part of the project, reinforcing women’s skills in fishing and helping them grow their businesses and to generate value.

The innovative Personal Initiative (PI) Training is one such project, with the goal of building entrepreneurial success within the community by introducing women entrepreneurs to new products and services.

All these initiatives offer hope for women’s empowerment in Mauritania as they help women develop the entrepreneurship skills they need to become financially and economically stable. In addition to supporting women’s empowerment in Mauritania, these projects have also significantly addressed two urgent development challenges, poverty and unemployment.

 – Sarah Soutoul

Photo: Flickr

Education in MauritaniaTerrorism, corruption, slavery and poverty. These are some of the significant issues that plague most of the African continent. Some of the lowest education and literacy rates can be found in Africa. One of the primary ways a country can help its citizens and begin to climb out of poverty is by providing education. Despite enormous political and economic challenges, one nation is doing this: Mauritania.

Mauritania is a country of about 3.7 million people in the northwest corner of the continent, sharing borders with places such as Mali and Algeria. Given its geographical location and proximity to unstable countries, Mauritania faces egregious challenges both outside its borders and within them. This has undoubtedly made the pursuit of education expansion and overall poverty alleviation measures difficult to implement effectively.

The overall literacy rate in the country suffered a decline between 2000 and 2015. This is clearly a result of failed policies by the government to provide education for its people. When compared to its neighbors, Mauritania spends the least amount of GDP per pupil. The fact that its neighbors suffer from similar if not worse conditions than Mauritania makes this even more absurd.

However, in 2014, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), a nonprofit fund dedicated to improving education systems in developing countries, began funding a new program in Mauritania. This new program is designated the Mauritania Basic Education Sector Support Project.

There has been a myriad of successes since implementation, most notably the 101 teachers certified under the Teacher Training Initiative curricula and the construction of 10 middle schools in rural areas. This project is continuing to provide training for administrative support staff as well as distributing pedagogical kits to students and schools.

In 2017, The Underrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization teamed up with the Association of Volunteers Against Illiteracy to improve education in Mauritania. This partnership sought to target specifically the Haratin minority by constructing two schools in the city of Nouakchott.

The project was a success, having provided education to over 70 women and children in just under four months. In addition to the school buildings themselves, the Education Spells Freedom project provided a bathroom facility, rugs and school supplies in order to improve the experience of attendees.

The challenges facing Mauritania will not be overcome quickly or easily. Education in Mauritania is a key starting point in the process of improving the lives of Mauritanians. The Education Spells Freedom project and the GPE program in the country should serve as a guide for future nonprofit organization initiatives regarding education in Mauritania and beyond.

Daniel Cavins

Photo: Flickr

How to Help People in MauritaniaAs a vast but very sparsely populated nation of less than 4 million, Mauritania is a country that rarely finds itself in the media spotlight. However, the nation has all of the classic signs of a developing nation: over half the population lives in or around the country’s capital of Nouakchott, over two-thirds of Mauritanians are younger than 15 years of age, less than half of the nation has access to improved sanitation facilities and only about half of the population can read and write. The nation’s dire situation raises the question of how to help people in Mauritania.

The first and perhaps most urgent situation when understanding how to help people in Mauritania is that of Mauritania’s food security crisis. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), Mauritania depends on cereal imports to cover over 70 percent of its needs for the country’s 3.8 million people, and nearly 10 percent of the nation’s children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition. With 80 percent of the country’s landscape a desert, and less than 4 percent of it arable, this is a difficult issue to solve.

As for the economy, Mauritania’s main exports include fish, as well as raw minerals such as iron, copper and gold ore. While these resources are in constant demand across the world, their prices are very rarely, if ever, constant. Fluctuations in the global market leave the nation’s economy completely unprotected from unpredictable and uncontrollable economic factors that directly impact Mauritania itself.

The final factor in studying how to help people in Mauritania is that of a very difficult to solve socioeconomic issue found in many other developing nations, though rarely on the same scale: slavery. In fact, Mauritania did not fully abolish slavery until as late as 2007. In Mauritania today, over 1 percent of the population lives in modern slavery. While at first glance that figure may seem rather low, that equates to roughly 40,000 people experiencing life in slavery, a proportion that has granted Mauritania the alarmingly high rank of 7th out of 167 countries in slavery prevalence.

Therefore, the best answer to the question of how to help people in Mauritania can be split into two categories: short-term and long-term solutions. In the short term, donations to NGOs should focus on the most pressing issues Mauritania faces, such as food and water security. Perhaps the most well-established and wide-reaching NGO in this area is the World Food Programme, which operates in 80 countries. Specifically, in Mauritania, the WFP focuses on food security, nutrition and school meal provisions, as well as adaptation to climate change.

In the long term, countries and large corporations must do more to provide foreign direct investment into practices more sustainable than mineral and oil extraction. In particular, foreign finance agencies would be wise to invest in providing solar panels across the country, as well as train locals in their setup, maintenance, and repair in order to provide valuable skills and a reliable income to local tradesmen. In fact, a 15-megawatt solar panel facility has been established in Nouakchott, providing over 10,000 homes with a clean source of electricity. Establishing similar plants across the country will ensure access to electricity without damaging the local environment.

With NGOs stabilizing the present, and foreign direct investment establishing a bright future, the question of how to help people in Mauritania largely comes down to two key aspects: solving the most immediate problems while setting up an environment to avoid such issues in the future. Mauritania may face dire problems today, but is in an excellent position to implement a brighter tomorrow.

Brad Tait

Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in MauritaniaMauritania is a sparsely populated and enormous nation stretching across a vast area of Northwest Africa. It is also cripplingly poor; about 21 percent of children under five are chronically malnourished and recent climatic changes have worsened the situation.

The causes of poverty in Mauritania are linked to both geographical inevitabilities and the immense corruption taking place at the government level. The country has experienced a dramatic 20-year drought, which has caused widespread desertification. Approximately 90 percent of the nation is now considered desert land, which has inevitably caused major problems for the small rural population that is scattered across it.

Nomadic communities have declined in population as they struggle to adjust to the new environment they find themselves in. New shantytowns have arisen as a result, which offer poor sanitation and a lack of basic water needs. Donkeys carrying containers are the main method of water transportation and failed sewage systems frequently contaminate the ground supply.

Corruption is another one of the major causes of poverty in Mauritania, which has prevented the country from exploiting its resources – these include fish, minerals and livestock. Economic policy is unstable and inconsistent, preventing any major investment from Europe or the Arab world. Educated Mauritanians mostly leave the country to work in the Gulf States, where opportunities abound by comparison.

Despite 170,000 hectares of agricultural land, Mauritania is food insecure as a result of this corruption. Public officials almost never face recrimination for usurping public money; as a result, the country starves. About 26 percent of Mauritanians in the lean season – where rainfall is scattered – do not get the basic foodstuffs they need to survive.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are working to improve the situation. The World Food Programme has implemented a distribution system where they provide two meals a day in rural areas, focusing on areas where malnutrition is high and children are unable to attend school. The changing climate is also being addressed. Supplementary feeding is being provided for pregnant women and young mothers in areas enduring the shock of a climate shift.

The causes of poverty in Mauritania are both manmade and natural. The nation’s shifting geography and desertification have devastated rural communities and worsened hunger and child mortality. Corruption acts in tandem with this to worsen the situation and has left Mauritania unable to fully exploit is significant natural resources to dig itself out of its poverty trap. The work of NGOs like the World Food Programme offer a glimmer of hope for the nation to begin to raise itself out of poverty.

Jonathan Riddick

Photo: Flickr

Slavery in Mauritania
On an April afternoon in 2012, Biram Dah Abeid held up books of Islamic legal interpretations. A large crowd in front of him watched as he dropped the books into a large box and set them on fire. As the books disintegrated, a tiny part of the legacy of slavery in Mauritania seemed to turn to ash along with them.

The books that Biram Dah Abeid burned contained interpretations of Islamic law that justified slavery. In the North African country of Mauritania, an estimated four percent of the population is currently enslaved.

The origins of slavery in Mauritania are complex. Over 2,000 years ago, Arab slave traders began capturing and enslaving dark-skinned people in the region. Now, slaves in Mauritania are called Haratines. Their owners are light-skinned and are called White Moors.

Slavery in Mauritania was officially banned by the Mauritanian constitution in 1981, but the government made no effort to enforce this. Because large swaths of Mauritania are rural and spread out, many White Moors continued to own slaves. The government did virtually nothing to stop them. Finally, in 2007, Mauritania passed a law making owning slaves a criminal offense. However, as of 2017, only three slave owners have been prosecuted. One of the owners was let out months after his arrest. The other two were sentenced to only a year in prison.

Biram Dah Abeid is fighting against this. In 2008, he started an organization called the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA). The IRA rescues enslaved Mauritanians and engages in large, nonviolent protests to publicize their cause. But Abeid’s protest does not come without cost. In recent years, the Mauritanian government cracked down on IRA activists. After the book burning incident, the President called for Abeid’s execution. Abeid was eventually arrested and detained for months. Three years later, he was arrested again for simply being a member of the IRA. According to the government, it was an “unauthorized organization.” He spent nearly two years in prison before being released.

Being an abolitionist in Mauritania is difficult. Slavery is incredibly entrenched in Mauritanian culture. Most slaves have no concept of who they are, outside of being slaves. And, on top of that, forty-four percent of Mauritanians are impoverished. No matter how much their masters dehumanize them, slaves are hard-pressed to imagine better alternatives. So, for the IRA, ending slavery in Mauritania is not really about removing physical chains. It’s about constructing a new culture—one that doesn’t have slavery as a foundation.

International organizations are now taking note of the vital work the IRA and Biram Dah Abeid are doing. In 2013, Abeid received the U.N. Human Rights Prize. In 2016, he was awarded the Trafficking in Persons Report Heroes Awards.

Ending slavery in Mauritania will be a lengthy process. Changing the mindset of an entire nation does not happen overnight. But the voices of people like Biram Dah Abeid are impossible to drown out. Abeid’s vision is inescapably expansive—in 2019, he plans to run for the Mauritanian presidency. His message is clear: Mauritania needs to become the type of place where anyone can do anything, regardless of how dark their skin is.

Adesuwa Agbonile

Photo: Flickr