Wikiprogress Africa

This blog is written and maintained by the Wikiprogress Africa Network. This network, hosted by the OECD, aims to provide a platform for knowledge sharing on measuring progress and well-being in an African context.

Ce blog est administré et mis à jour par le réseau Wikiprogress Africa. Ce réseau, hébergé par l'OCDE, est une plateforme axée sur le partage de connaissances dans le domaine de la mesure du progrès et du bien-être des sociétés africaines.

vendredi 18 octobre 2013

Slavery is not a thing of the past in Africa

This blog by Ousmane Aly DIALLO, is part of Wikiprogress Series on Personal Security. It resumes the recent Global Slavery Index from an Africa-centred perspective.


The Global Slavery Index is a new initiative by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation, which ranks 160 countries of the world according to three factors: estimated prevalence of modern slavery by population, a measure of child marriage, and a measure of human trafficking in and out of a country. The aggregate measure is weighted in order to reflect the first dimension of the index: the estimated prevalence of modern slavery by population (95% weighting).

World Map of Slavery, Source: Global Slavery Index/Walk Free Foundation
Slavery often appears as a phenomenon of the past, reminiscent of raids during the 18th century, the transatlantic trade and recently, as glamourized in Hollywood productions. But the reality is there, apparent and stark: nearly 30 million of the world populations are enslaved under different forms varying from debt bondage, forced begging to hereditary chattel slavery.
Of the 10 first countries of the ranking (which hosts the highest prevalence of slavery out of the 160 countries), 5 are in Africa: Mauritania (#1), Benin (#7), Côte d’Ivoire(#8), Gambia (#9) and Gabon (#10). 16.36% of the estimated total 29.8 million people in modern slavery are in Sub-Saharan Afric which is the likeliest place to risk enslavement in the world.

The report defines slavery  the possession and control of a person in such a way as to significantly deprive that person of his or her individual liberty, with the intent of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer or disposal. Usually this exercise will be achieved through means such as violence or threats of violence, deception and/or coercion. It takes many forms in 2013 and may be known by many names. Human trafficking, forced labour,  slavery-like situations (debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, sale or exploitation of children, including in armed conflitct), all these phenomenons falls into the operational definition.


Definition of modern day slavery by the Global Slavery Index


Trafficking                                                                                       Slavery
1    Recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons.
2    By means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person (these means are not required in the case of children).
3    With the intent of exploiting that person through:
  •     Prostitution of others;
  •   Sexual exploitation;
  •   Forced labour;
  •   Slavery (or similar practices);
  •   Servitude; and
  •     Removal of organs.

(UN Trafficking Protocol, 2000)
The status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.
Includes slavery-like practices: debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, sale or exploitation of children (including in armed conflict) and descent-based slavery.
(The Slavery Convention (1926) and Supplementary Slavery Convention (1956)
Forced Labour
All work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.
(ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29)


Mauritania, is ranked number 1 in the Index. Slavery is prevalent in this country and a large part of its population (abid and to a lesser extent the Haratine[1], populations of black ancestry but of Moorish-Berber culture) is deprived of basic rights due to this institution. The report estimates that between 140,000 – 160,000 people are enslaved in Mauritania, a country with a population of just 3.8 million. This ranking also reflects high levels of child marriage, and to a lesser extent, human trafficking. The phenomenon takes the form of chattel slavery, meaning that adults and children in slavery are the full property of their masters who exercise total ownership over them and their descendants.
The high prevalence measured for such countries as  Mauritania reflect centuries-old patterns of enslavement, often based on colonial conflicts and injustice exacerbated by contemporary armed conflict.

Benin is the second worst performing African country. Informal domestic service- child labour in most cases- is its most prevalent form, as it is in the rest of West Africa. With the Vidomegon institution, girls as young as seven years old, are engaged as domestic workers in exchange for accommodation and subsistence. In a practice which runs parallel to the Trokosi system, Vudusi, or ‘shrine slavery’ affects young girls in Benin, who are offered as sacrifices to religious shrines, and subsequently forced to live in and care for the shrine, and often being habitually sexually abused 

The report shows also that women and children are trafficked within Benin from rural areas to the cities, and children are trafficked into countries in the region like Togo, Nigeria, Ghana, Gabon, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon and Guinea. But the establishment of an ILO-backed agreement between Nigeria and Benin is a positive step towards the eradication of this form of exploitation.

At the 143rd place, Mauritius was the best performing country in Africa. The estimated enslaved population revolves around 510-560 for a population of 1,291,416 habitants. The Island is also performing very well on other government issues as apparent in the recent Ibrahim Index of African Governance, where it stands as the best performing country of the continent. Mauritius leads the region in stability and the protection of human and worker rights, but is eclipsed by South Africa and Gabon in terms of the extent of policies on modern slavery.

Laws and the persistence of slavery
Most of the African countries with a high prevalence of people under slavery has in their judicial system, a set of laws that makes slavery illegal. In Mauritania, slavery was first recognized in 1980 following the emergence of the Haratine movement “El Hor” (“The Free Man” in Hassanya) and further outlawed in 2007 by the first government of the post-Taya period. But criminal prosecution rarely occurs despite the extant laws.  Since the implementation of the law in 2007, and though several victims had tried to take action against their masters, only one conviction has been handed down, according to the report. 

The lack of a special law enforcement unit and solid data on slavery are among Mauritania’s main obstacles to make these practices a negative reminiscence of the past.
Also in Benin, despite the existence of an enforcement unit against child labour and a legislature criminalizing this phenomenon, there has been little effect on this institution. 

One of the reasons suggested is that the 126 Labour inspectors investigates only on the formal sector while the Vudusi system is present only on the informal sector. The creation of the Central Office for the Protection of Minors (OCPM) is part of the government’s response to child labour but the lack of any long term plan for the care of these vulnerable children diminishes the positive reach of these measures.

Interesting trends are apparent in this Global Slavery Index. Slavery is mostly a cultural trait of these afflicted countries, and it may not be considered as such by the victims and the abusers. 

Furthermore, women are the most affected by this practice. They are disproportionately represented in this population. One explanation is that they thrive more often in the domestic sphere of their masters which are likelier to be in remote areas, far from the reach on national justice systems.

Without access to education or alternative means of subsistence, many believe that it is God’s wish for them to be slaves. In Mauritania, as most people in slavery are kept illiterate and uneducated, they are unaware of the fact that according to Islamic law, a Muslim cannot enslave a fellow Muslim. The lack of education is thus a means to perpetuate these practices. 

Conflicts, extremes of poverty, high levels of corruption, and the impact of resource exploitation to feed global markets all increase the risk of enslavement in various African countries. Child and forced marriages are still tolerated in the context of informal or ‘traditional’ legal systems in many countries.

In many African countries, there are laws punishing slavery and slavery-like conditions. The perpetuation of the practice is mainly due to the lack of enforcement by the governments. Political will will be a critical factor in the eradication of these practices



Global Slavery Index 2013 by Ryan M. Baillargeon



[1] Haratine designates the manumitted slaves. It’s different from abid which is the hassanya term to designate slaves but in the common political discourse, the difference between the two terms has become blurred. See here for more information, http://thinkafricapress.com/mauritania/alive-and-well-mauritania-slavery-and-its-stubborn-vestiges?utm_content=buffer583c9&utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=Buffer

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