Uncovering Mali's hidden slavery
By Celeste Hicks
BBC News, Mali
Iddar Ag Ogazide is taking a break from digging and shovelling in 40C Malian Sahel heat. He is happy just to be working.
"Today I am a free man, I am longer a slave. I am among men who are the same colour as me who consider me as a man. I earn 1,000 CFA ($2, £1) a day, and that covers my needs," he says.
I said we would both return the next day, but we never went back
Former slave Iddar Ag Ogazide
The idea of a salary is something Iddar is just getting used to, having dramatically escaped from his life in the hamlet of Intakabarte, outside Gao, in February this year.
According to Iddar, his grandmother was bought as a slave by the Tuareg Ag Baye family, and from then on she was listed as taxable property on the Ag Baye's religious tax form.
Iddar says he was inherited by his master, beaten several times, and never received pay or an education.
The final straw for Iddar came when his three-year-old son Ahmed was taken away to work for a niece of the Ag Baye family.
"I decided I would have to go and get him so I hatched a plan. I told my master that I needed to take Ahmed to his grandparents," he says.
"I said we would both return the next day, but we never went back."
Iddar was fortunate to find members of the Bamako-based human rights organisation Temedt to help him when he fled to Gao, about 1,200km north-east from the capital, Bamako.
According to Temedt, there may be thousands of people still living either in slavery or slavery-like conditions in modern Mali.
"The situation has not changed with the arrival of democracy," says Mohammed Ag Akeratane, the president of Temedt.
Although the government formally ended slavery in the 1960s after independence, Temedt says it is still practised in the far north of the country between Berber-descended Tuareg nomads and darker-skinned Bella or Black Tamasheq people.
It is also believed to exist in other groups such as Songhai and Peul.
But many argue that the situation cannot truly be described as slavery.
Life is harsh in the Sahara's hinterland - in towns such as Ansongo and Menaka much property and livestock remains in Tuareg hands.
They help us with rearing the animals and general work. But this is not slavery like you would find in the Koran
Mahmoud Ag Hattabo
Some argue that with few jobs and opportunities, it may be easier for some Bella to live within what is regarded as the protection of a Tuareg family.
"For example, I have an encampment and many people have come to live with us, seeking refuge from war and famine," says Mahmoud Ag Hattabo, the Tuareg mayor of Tinahamma near Gao.
"They help us with rearing the animals and general work.
"But this is not slavery like you would find in the Koran."
'Free to leave'
The Malian authorities seem to agree.
"The Bella people are free to leave their masters if they wish," said a source, who asked not to be named, in Mali's Territorial Administration department.
"If people came out to declare openly that they are slaves then of course the state would do something."
But for Temedt, which means solidarity in the Tamasheq language of the north, it is time for Mali to face reality.
"Slavery is taboo, no-one wants to talk about it," says Mr Ag Akeratane. "Particularly at the level of the authorities they will not accept that it persists."
The case of Iddar Ag Ogazide, and several other escapees in Gao, is clear-cut for Anti-Slavery International, a London-based human rights organisation and campaign group which supports Temedt.
"Like his parents before him, Iddar was born a slave, a status ascribed to him at birth, and grew up under the total control of a master who exacted labour from him for no remuneration", says Anti-Slavery International's Romana Cacchioli.
"In my view Iddar's case is a clear case of slavery."
Temedt has instructed a lawyer to work with Iddar to see if he has a case for compensation.
But this is difficult because although Mali has signed international conventions against slavery and the nation's constitution states that all men are born equal, there is no domestic law banning the practice.
"The difficulty of constructing a case for Iddar demonstrates the need for a law criminalising slavery in Mali," says Mr Cacchioli.
To hear more about slavery and identity in Mali listen to
on the BBC World Service on Sunday 24 August 2008 at 1106 GMT and 2106 GMT. The programme will be available for a week on the website.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/08/22 11:52:39 GMT
© BBC MMVIII
No return for Sudan's forgotten slaves
By Joseph Winter
BBC News, southern Sudan
Akech Arol Deng has not seen his wife and son since they were seized by Arab militias from their home in south Sudan 19 years ago.
His son, Deng, was just three years old at the time but Mr Arol is sure they are still alive, being used as slaves in the north.
"I miss them so much. I really hope that one day they come back," Mr Arol told the BBC News website mournfully in his home of Malualbai, just a few hours' on horseback from the Bahr el-Arab river which divides Muslim northern Sudan from the Christian and Animist south.
It's like I was still in the camp, it's the same situation as in the north
Arek Anyiel Deng
Some 8,000 people are believed to be living in slavery in Sudan, 200 years after Britain banned the Atlantic slave trade and 153 years after it also tried to abolish slavery in Sudan.
But rows about money mean no-one is doing anything to free them.
In the same year that Mr Arol's family was kidnapped, Arek Anyiel Deng, aged about 10, was seized from her home, not far from Malualbai.
Arab militias rode in to her village on horseback, firing their guns. When the adults fled, the children and cattle were rounded up and made to walk north for five days before they were divided between members of the raiding party.
Ms Anyiel returned home under a government scheme last year.
"My abductor told me that I was his slave and I had to do all the work he told me to - fetching water and firewood, looking after animals and farming," she said.
"When I was 12, he said he wanted to sleep with me. I could not refuse because I was a slave, I had to do everything he wanted, or he could have killed me."
Such raids were a common feature of Sudan's 21-year north-south war, which ended in 2005.
The northern government is widely believed to have armed the Arab militias in order to terrorise the southern population and distract rebel forces from attacking government targets.
According to a study by the Kenya-based Rift Valley Institute, some 11,000 young boys and girls were seized and taken across the internal border - many to the states of South Darfur and West Kordofan.
The boys generally looked after cattle, while the girls mostly did domestic chores before being "married", often as young as 12.
Most were forcibly converted to Islam, given Muslim names and told not to speak their mother tongue.
War of words
Sudan's government has always rejected claims that people are living in slavery but admits that thousands were abducted during the war. It says this is an ancient tradition of hostage-taking by rival ethnic groups.
One senior government official strenuously denied there was any slavery in Sudan but bizarrely acknowledged: "It was the same as when people were taken from West Africa to America."
The United Nations defines slavery as: "The status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised."
Ms Anyiel and several others we spoke to certainly seemed to have been living in conditions of slavery - having been abducted, subjected to forced labour and often beaten.
To be able to work with the return programme the government set up in 1999 under intense international pressure, donors agreed to use the euphemism "abductee".
About 3,000 were taken back home before the programme ran out of money in 2005.
Donors pulled out, saying some were not genuine slaves, some had been returned against their will and had been left to fend for themselves in the desolate, under-developed south.
The government then funded the return for a while but strangely, the end of the war seems to have taken the urgency out of the project.
The governments in both north and the autonomous south seem more interested in spending their new oil wealth.
Officials from both administrations say they are still working out their new policy on the "abductee file".
Ahmed Mufti from the government's Committee for the Eradication of Abduction of Women and Children (CEAWC) says the Arab tribal leaders are now more than happy to release the "abductees" but his group does not have the $3m he estimates it would need to arrange transport and pay officials to organise the operation.
Faced with this lack of progress, James Aguer, the man at the forefront of the campaign to free Sudan's slaves, is becoming increasingly disillusioned after spending some 20 years risking his life for the cause.
"With peace, I thought they would be freed by now," he says bitterly.
He says he has the names and location of 8,000 people, who could easily be freed from the Arab cattle camps, as soon as the political will is there.
He says the true number of those being forced to work against their will without pay in Sudan is more than 200,000, although most donors believe that is an exaggeration.
Sitting on the dusty ground outside the abandoned mud hut where she and her five children now live, Ms Anyiel is delighted to have finally gained her freedom and to be able to make decisions about her own life.
But freedom is not necessarily easy - she now has to support the children on her own, with no assistance from donors or the government.
Her only income comes from collecting firewood in the bush to sell in the local market.
"It's like I was still in the camp, it's the same situation as in the north," she complains.
Ghada Kachachi, from United Nations' children's agency Unicef, uses Ms Anyiel's case to explain why funding was stopped for CEAWC's return programme.
She says those who are freed must be helped when they get back home - both economically and socially, as they move from an Arabic society to the Dinka community some left 20 years ago.
But campaigners say the first priority must be to free them from slavery and then sort out the details of their return.
Ms Kachachi also points out that it can be difficult to trace the parents of children abducted in a war zone up to 20 years ago.
Some have forgotten their real names and where they come from, although they can sometimes be identified by the marks cut into their faces as children - a part of Dinka traditions.
Save the Children UK is still helping foster parents look after some children several years after they returned "home".
While officials debate the best way to organise the return, Mr Arol and many others are just desperate to see their loved ones again.
He has gone to meet four different convoys of returned abductees in the hope of being reunited with his family, only to be disappointed each time.
"I always ask God, why other children come back but not mine. What have I done to deserve this?" he asks.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/03/16 14:45:37 GMT
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