Rethinking Mauritania Policy Over Human Rights Abuses

After some deliberation, I’m moving links off of the main page. While I have added a menu option for links that is more prominent and they will still appear in the RSS feed, I removed them for a couple reasons. They are usually not directly related to the photos or journal posts and they are often extended quotes with a bit of my own commentary.

But that won’t stop me from sharing what I read. With reduced time in the my own vampire castle, I prefer the open spaces of the independent web even more.

I might occasionally bundle some diverse links together without any relation to each other, which is pretty in-character for me. But not today.

Amandla Thomas-Johnson, a Dakar-based journalist for Middle East Eye, is very reliable for Mauritania news in English. His piece about five Republican congressmen’s letter to the Secretary of State Pompeo warning of the human rights situation could be a good place to start for people unfamiliar to the country’s issues.

These efforts to lobby what are two of the country’s most stalwart allies come as Mauritanian activists make renewed calls for the government to address racial injustices amid a global groundswell of Black Lives Matter protests.

Mauritania is a key ally for the United States in its ’war on terror’ and hosts the second-largest diaspora community for Mauritanians, despite Trump’s ICE going after some of them.

Mauritania has a deep racism problem embedded into the fabric of society, so much so that even well-meaning people who are not subjected to second-class citizenship often fail to see the problem. Does this remind you of another country? I should hope so.

The congressmen’s letter said: “Mauritania has a long history of hereditary slavery based on ethnic and racial discrimination against Black Mauritanians.” The country formally abolished the practice in 1981 but criminalised it only in 2007, and in 2018 the Global Slavery Index estimated that 90,000 people in Mauritania were living under modern slavery.

On top of the vestiges of slavery that does not look like the chattel plantation slavery system of the America, Mauritania

The congressmen also criticised the lack of accountability for purges by state forces of Black African Mauritanians between 1989-1991, in which tens of thousands – about eight percent of the community – were deported or forced to flee to neighbouring countries. “Mauritania has not provided accountability for mass murders, repression and unwarranted deportations,” their letter said.

Most of those purged from the country were subsistence farmers working on the little arable land Mauritania has, which lies along the Senegal River valley in the south. Others were intellectuals, businesspeople and professionals, members of the thriving urban elites who were pushed out as the government pursued a sectarian Arab-nationalist ideology.

Black Africans make up about a third of the country’s population, as do Arab-Berbers, the dominant group. Haratin, the Black descendants of slaves once owned by Arab-Berbers, account for the rest.

Despite the violence, a law was passed to shield the perpetrators from justice and an amnesty was granted to the security forces involved.

Mauritania has been described as the other apartheid for its treatment of Afro-Mauritanians. As many in the the United States wake up to our own failings, it’s a small but positive step that some in Congress, from the own president’s party no less, are speaking up.

Khaïma

This photo is from 2015. It’s of a khaïma, a Mauritanian tent, that Patricia and I would use to go camping on the weekends outside Nouakchott. This spot is about 100 km north and has a beautiful dune right next to the ocean. I’m unsure of when I’ll be able to return.

Six Seventy Four

It has been almost two years since leaving my life in Mauritania. Since then, my wife and I attended my brother’s wedding in California, backpacked for a year from Mexico to Peru, spent the summer visiting family and friends in the United States, took a road trip with a Prius and a tent from California to Oklahoma and back, wintered outside Madrid, bought and converted a campervan, and took two three-week trips before finally reaching in Cologne yesterday. We had been planning this move for months but we wanted to wait for the winter. And the extra months in Spain gave me the opportunity to really improve my Spanish comprehension.

And now, a new chapter emerges; living in a city, navigating life in a new language, project-based work with friends, and another region to explore.

The Reformation Within Myself Will Not Be Televised

Note: This is the first time I’ve written anything about me and Islam and shared it. I am hesitant to write this even now, mostly because I’m scatterbrained and a terrible writer. I linked to blog posts from others who are more knowledgeable in certain topics to keep this short. You might not know I’m Muslim. Or you might consider me too recent a convert, not informed enough. It should be obvious, but these are just my thoughts and I speak for myself. In some stricter circles, it might be considered inappropriate to do so without having some type of qualification. I don’t speak Arabic and I wasn’t raised in a Muslim household. But these are blessings and my reality. I am a Muslim by choice. I have unique perspective and a voice. As the Qur’an commands of us, we must come to know one another [49:13]. Here is a part of me.

Sometimes, I have the feeling I’ve lived two separate lifetimes. In some way, I have. It started when I woke up one morning after the doctors pulled a tube out of my throat in the ICU. That tube helped me breathe while my body and a drug cocktail dealt with inflamed membranes in my spine and brain, poisoned blood, and renal failure. It was a year after high school and I was hospitalized with meningococcemia. Before then, I was a very average teenager in the suburban sprawl of the San Gabriel Valley playing in a band, hanging out with friends, and going to shows. I lived in my bubble. But after that morning, something changed. I no longer desired to stay close to home and play video games on my free time. I wanted to use my brain. I needed to see and feel all life.

Continue reading “The Reformation Within Myself Will Not Be Televised”

Afro-Mauritanian Exiles in Ohio and Trump’s ICE

What do you do when you might be deported back to a country that wants you dead? That’s the problem many Afro-Mauritanian immigrants face now, due to increased attention by ICE and a complex relationship with the Mauritanian regime back home.

Ann McDougall wrote a piece for Africa is a Country to correct some assumptions. Mauritania is known to the world as one of the few countries that still practice slavery. Technically, the practice has been illegal since 1981. Abolitionists like Biram Dah Abeid are routinely imprisoned at home while receiving awards abroad. A few bidani Moor friends describe abolitionists as highlighting a situation that doesn’t actually exist.

But the immigrants in Ohio and Kentucky weren’t fleeing slavery. They escaped an ethnic cleansing perpetrated during a border war between Mauritania and Senegal a generation ago. The Mauritanian regime interrogated, imprisoned, killed, raped, and expelled Afro-Mauritanians en masse who lived near the river into Senegal to make way for bidani Moor land speculators during the late 80s. These were some dark times.

The fall-out from these initial évenements continued through the end of 1991; thousands more were detained and tortured. At least 500 mysteriously disappeared in the process. On National Independence Day, (November 28) in 1991, 28 African (Halpulaar) Mauritanian soldiers were publicly, symbolically hanged outside the northern town of Inal where they had been imprisoned. The “Martyrs of Inal” are still remembered—both in Mauritania and in Ohio.

McDougall gives a few reasons why forcing Afro-Mauritanians back home will put them in danger. Either the Trump administration doesn’t listen enough to experts and could not actually know the intricacies of their plight or they just don’t care. It is worrying either way.

She also references Franklin Foer in The Atlantic in a bigger article about a reinvigorated ICE under President Trump. ICE has been in the news a lot lately. But I found this anecdote particularly heartbreaking to such a small and insular expatriate community and one often overlooked in Immigrant America.

When [the Afro-Mauritanian refugees from Senegal] had arrived in New York, many of them had paid an English-speaking compatriot to fill out their application for asylum. But instead of recording their individual stories in specific detail, the man simply cut and pasted together generic narratives. (It is not uncommon for new arrivals to the United States, desperate and naive, to fall prey to such scams.) A year or two after the refugees arrived in the country, judges reviewed their cases and, noticing the suspicious repetitions, accused a number of them of fraud and ordered them deported.

But those deportation orders never amounted to more than paper pronouncements. Where would Immigration and Customs Enforcement even send them? The Mauritanian government had erased the refugees from its databases and refused to issue them travel documents. It had no interest in taking back the villagers it had so violently removed. So ICE let their cases slide.

Now, the the United States under Trump wants nothing more than to rid the country of anyone who came here desperately seeking shelter. A friend in Nouakchott told me her brother was detained for two days by ICE in Ohio.

The Mauritanian deportees will not be sent into slavery. But they will be made stateless—an internationally recognized crime.

Update: I found the book Mauritania: The Other Apartheid? (PDF) by Garba Diallo from 1993. There is more information about FLAM, racism, and land rights.