Arabs and Muslims Own Black Slaves in Five African Countries
Today, there could be more people enslaved than at any time in human history.
According to the International Labour Organization, as of 2016, around 40.3 million people around the world perform involuntary servitude of some kind.
Slavery exists on every continent, and there are several forms of slavery, including debt bondage, forced labor, sex slavery, and so on. But the sort of human bondage most familiar to Americans is chattel slavery — where a person is the wholly-owned, voiceless property of another.
Unlike in debt bondage, the slave cannot pay a debt and be freed; unlike in sex slavery, a chattel slave, even after his or her most “useful” years, is typically not set free. One can be beaten, bought, inherited, sold, raped, even rented. It is the worst type of slavery.
And just like the other forms slavery can take, chattel bondage still happens in the world today — particularly in Africa.
Today, between 1.8 and 2.1 million black men, women, and children are still bought, owned, sold, and traded by Arab and Muslim masters in five African countries.
In Algeria, Sub-Saharan Africans fleeing violence and poverty for Europe are enslaved by Algerian Arabs as they try to cross the Mediterranean. Today, according to the Global Slavery Index, around 106,000 black Africans are estimated to be enslaved.
Migrant women, but also children (both male and female), risk being forced into sexual slavery, while men perform unskilled labor for little or no pay. Such enslavement of black migrants is generally a surprise condition for being smuggled to Europe — though, unlike typical debt bondage, traffickers are not obliged to release the enslaved once their debt is somehow paid. Those who avoid slavery are also subjected to virulent Arab racism, further marginalizing the already destitute.
As in Algeria, black Africans hoping for a better life in Europe travel to Libya to be trafficked across the Mediterranean, often to Italy. Once there, some are enslaved by local Arabs and traffickers. As of 2016, according to the U.N., there are between 700,000 and 1 million black African migrants currently in Libya; of these, the Global Slavery Index estimates as many as 48,000 of them live as slaves of some nature. Survivors report torture and sexual slavery — some even forced to become prostitutes only after they have reached their destinations.
The slave trade in Libya became international news when CNN obtained video of an actual slave auction in 2017.
Watch CNN’s viral footage of black men being sold in Libya.
In Mauritania, the very structure of society reinforces slavery. Over the centuries a cruel class system has evolved in which the lighter-skinned Arabs (beydanes) and Arabized Berbers rule over the black former slaves who have been forcibly Arabized over time (haratin), those free blacks in the south who refuse Arabization calling themselves “Negro-Africans,” and the black chattel slave class (abid) at the bottom. Though the country is entirely Muslim, and Islam theoretically forbids the enslavement of one Muslim by another, the severity of Arab racism even supersedes adherence to the Shari‘ah (Islamic law).
In 1993, a U.S. State Department report estimated that between 30,000 and 90,000 blacks lived as slaves owned by private masters. In 2012, a CNN investigation estimated that the number could be as high as between 340,000 and 680,000.
No slave markets exist in Mauritania. All slaves are born in masters’ households from the master raping black slave women, or ordering necessary episodes of sexual activity (“breeding”) between couples of slaves. In the absence of open markets, slaves change hands quietly in individual sales, are traded as substitutes for money in the settling of gambling debts, or can even be rented.
Watch footage from a groundbreaking 1996 investigation into Mauritanian slavery.
Watch the accompanying video to CNN’s 2012 investigation.
Today, Nigeria has the largest number of people enslaved in the entirety of Sub-Saharan Africa. As of 2018, the Global Slavery Index estimates that more than 1.3 million are enslaved.
Much of the slavery results from the recent rise of jihad organizations like Boko Haram, who are the main source of contemporary slave raids. The most infamous recent incident of a slave raid was Boko Haram’s abduction of 276 Christian schoolgirls in the town of Chibok in 2014 which inspired Michelle Obama’s “#BringBackOurGirls” hashtag. Most slaves are young girls, kidnapped and kept as the concubines of the Islamic soldiers, in whose captivity they endure horrendous treatment. Most slaves come from the persecuted 40% Christian minority.
In Sudan, slavery remains as a painful vestige of the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983 – 2005), during which the Arab Muslim government in the north of the country declared a jihad upon the black, largely Christian south, killing perhaps 2.5 million people and enslaving as many as 200,000.
Though the war ended in 2005 and black South Sudan became the world’s newest nation on July 9, 2011, many black slaves remain as the property of Arab masters across the new border in the north. The exact number is not known, but as of 2006, James Aguer Alic, a former Sudanese government minister, estimated that it could be as high as 35,000.
The slaves CSI liberates — mostly women — tell hideous stories of abduction, beatings, forced conversion to Islam, grueling labor, malnutrition, and rape.
Witness the freeing of 175 black slaves in Sudan, which took place on Passover, the Jewish festival of freedom.
Listen to a black Sudanese former slave tell the story of how he was kidnapped during a brutal slave raid, enslaved for 10 years, and then escaped from his Arab master.