Sunday, September 29, 2013

2013 Slavery in our time. Families in Mali splintered by slavery

The Guardian

Families in Mali splintered by slavery as culture and conflict converge

Tuareg rebels are capitalising on fighting in Mali to reacquire former captives whom they regard as their property from birth
• Mali's lax laws make an anti-slavery activism tough
MDG : Slavery : A child (slave) washes dishes in a crowded a slum in Bamako, Mali
A child in Bamako. The collapse of the state in Mali makes slavery hard to combat. Photograph: Jake Lyell/Alamy
"I haven't heard anything about my brother for more than a year," says Raichatou Walet Touka. She's been living at a safehouse in Bamako, Mali's capital, after fleeing the northern town of Gao following an attack by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a Tuareg rebel group that briefly took over northern Mali in early 2012.
Thousands were displaced by the fighting, and the subsequent battle for control of northern Mali between Islamist rebels and the MNLA. But the situation facing Raichatou has been particularly perilous, for she comes from a family considered by many in the MNLA leadership as slaves.
"I can't sleep at night," she says, wiping away tears. "I wake up feeling bad and thinking about my family who are still there."
In 2008, Raichatou escaped slavery in the northern desert town of Menaka, heading for the relative safety of Gao. But when the MNLA took control, she fled, fearing her old Tuareg slave masters might try to recapture her.
Anti-slavery groups say the conflict and ensuing political chaos in Mali has worsened the situation facing the 250,000 people who live in conditions of slavery in the west African state. The MNLA leadership and parts of the Ansar Dine Islamist group, which fought for control of the north last year, come from Tuareg noble families, some of whom are responsible for continuing the practice of slavery in Mali.
Malian anti-slavery organisation Temedt has reported cases of slave masters profiting from the chaos of the past year to recapture former slaves, including at least 18 children seized from one village last September. Raichatou believes this is the fate that may have befallen her brother, Ismagir Ag Touka.
Although slavery is a crime against humanity in Mali's constitution, it remains deeply ingrained in the culture. For centuries, descent-based slavery – where slavery is passed down through the bloodline – has resulted in "black Tamasheq" (the Tuareg's language) families in Mali's north being used as slaves by nomadic Tuareg communities. Generations of children have been considered the property of the Tuaregs from birth.
Despite the constitution, slavery is still not illegal in Mali, making it difficult for anti-slavery groups to launch criminal prosecutions.
Raichatou became a slave at the age of seven when her mother, also a slave, died. "My father could only watch on helplessly as my mother's master came to claim me and my brothers," she says. She worked as a servant for the family without pay for nearly 20 years, and was forced into a marriage with another slave whom she didn't know.
"My master only wanted me to have children so that he would have more slaves in the future. My opinion did not count. I had to live with a man I had not chosen for three years. They told me that the only way I would get to heaven was to obey my master."
In 2008, she heard about Temedt and made her bid for freedom; finally, she was reunited with her father.
"My instinct for liberty was telling me to grab every opportunity to be free, but my slave mentality was telling me the opposite" she says.
Now, Temedt's work helping liberate people has been severely restricted. Its activists cannot travel safely and security is volatile.
Efforts to bring civil compensation cases to court on behalf of escaped slaves have stalled with the collapse of Malian state institutions across the north. At least 17 slavery compensation cases that were going through the courts remain unresolved. There has been no progress on Raichatou's case. "I feel like everything we achieved has come to nothing. I have no hope," she says.
"The absence of the state has left people without recourse or protection," says Sarah Mathewson, Africa programme co-ordinator at Anti-Slavery International.
Funding for Temedt has been drying up, as donors pulled out of Mali following the coup in March 2012. A microcredit scheme for women of slave descent and a legal clinic offering advice to escapees have closed.
"Our work has ground to a halt," says Intamat Ag Inkadewane, a community organiser for Temedt, who also fled Gao. "I'm just sitting here in Bamako; I'm not working, I'm not getting paid. There are things I want to do in the north, but we have no way of knowing when we can get back there."
The recent French intervention in Mali does seem to be paying some security dividends with most of the Islamist fighters driven out of the main urban areas. But many slaves and ex-slaves say they still do not feel safe, since a new Tuareg group, the Islamic Movement for Azawad, is in control of the remote town of Kidal.
Temedt's president, Ibrahim Ag Idbaltanat, says he hopes its work can soon resume. Elections due in July could provide a rare window of opportunity, according to Mathewson: "People of slave descent should be consulted and represented in national and international efforts to address the crisis so this issue is not forgotten."

International: GABON. Wildlife Crimes. Illegal Poaching and arrests of Chinese Nationals

Agence Nationale des parcs nationaux

For the five Chinese wood buyers recently arrived in Gabon it must have seemed like an exotic treat when workers of the EBS (Emirates Bois Sarl) logging company operating east of Makokou in NE Gabon invited them to sit down for a meal of freshly butchered roasted elephant trunk. But acting on a tip off from a Gabonese citizen who was shocked to see this behavior, a team from Gabon’s National Parks Service arrived before they could savour their meal. The five visitors and a further nine resident Chinese workers are in custody and a criminal investigation is underway.

Senior Conservator, Dr. Joseph Okouyi, described how his team found fresh and smoked meat from several elephants in the kitchen, as well as ivory trinkets and chop sticks carved by the forestry workers in their spare time from ivory purchased from local poachers. They also had a stash of giant pangolin scales, used in traditional Chinese medicine, a pair of horns from the rare Bongo antelope, and a Winchester rifle.

National parks staff subsequently arrested one of the hunters who had provided elephant meat and ivory to the Chinese buyers, confiscating an illegal elephant gun and a large tusk. A fresh carcass was subsequently discovered in the forest. The investigation is ongoing and Dr. Okouyi expects to prosecute on Monday morning.

Professor Lee White CBE, head of Gabon’s National Parks Agency was in New York to attend a special event at the Clinton Global Initiative hosted by Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and her daughter Chelsea when he received news of the arrest. “This incident is not an isolated one” he stated. “Unfortunately these guests in our country have abused our hospitality and rather than contributing to the sustainable development of Gabon through their forestry operations they are driving the destruction of our natural heritage”. Professor White went on to stress the fact that elephant and rhino poaching are out of control across most of Africa and that 75% of all forest elephants have been slaughtered in the last decade by poachers who are more and more aggressive and who have developed links to organized crime”.

Speaking at the United Nations President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon stressed that: “The magnitude of illicit gains from rhino horn, ivory and other wildlife products, has made organized criminal networks more and more aggressive. Today, many of our wildlife rangers are involved in combat situations similar to that seen by Special Forces in armed conflicts. Illicit wildlife trade is destabilizing entire countries, and is negatively impacting the growth of national economies”. He stressed the need for “concerted action from the international community as a whole to tackle this issue”, saying that “source, transit and market countries all need to work together”, calling for the UN Secretary General “to appoint a Special Envoy for Wildlife Crime, who should be charged with spearheading a global response to this pressing issue”.

The Gabonese Ambassador to the United States, Michael Moussa-Adamo, who was present at the Clinton Global Initiative ceremony, stated that “for many years, our country has taken seriously the responsibility to preserve and protect the natural environment.  Gabon's people recognize the threats that put our flora and fauna in danger – whether it is the threat of poaching or the threat of climate change, which alters the precarious balance among plants, animals, and people.  We welcome this opportunity to cooperate with the Clinton Global Initiative on this significant new effort to conserve the lives and habitat of the African forest elephant.”

Prof. Lee White CBE, Executive Secretary, Gabonese National Parks Agency, Tel. +24107840063; Email:

Joseph Mayombo, Communications officer, ANPN. Tel. +24107840015; Email:

Ref. photo library on website

11 Chinese forestry workers arrested for ivory poaching in Makokou, NE Gabon, 25 September 2013

Chinese forestry workers had been working ivory provided by local poachers. Also in picture two horns from the rare Bongo antelope and an elephant gun seized by national parks staff

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