Mauritania: A racist country with a dark history


By Abdoulaye Bah and Maysun Hassanaly


On November 28, 1990, 28 men in Inal, Mauritania, were hanged by fellow soldiers in a prison in the middle of the night, meticulously selected one by one to be killed, after being accused of plotting a coup against the government.



The date, which also marks Mauritania’s independence from France in 1960, continues to haunt some Mauritanians who seek justice for the brutal killings of these 28 men, all of whom were black.



The West African nation of Mauritania is a mix of Arab-Berber and black Africans and human rights groups say black Africans have long suffered discrimination and exploitation.



The president of the Inal-France Committee, Youba Dianka, explains, “I want to make it clear that Inal is just an example; there were many ‘Inals’ in Mauritania. Horrific events happened in Azlatt, Sory Malé, Wothie, Walata, Jreida and in the valley. Inside the military compound in Inal and its surroundings, soldiers were quartered,  buried alive, shot, and hung in celebration of the country’s independence in 1990.”



On Independence Day this year, Mauritanians paid more attention to the nomination of their national football team to the Africa Cup of Nations (CAF) finals than they did to the forgotten “soldiers [who] lay in solitude in anonymous pits … still waiting for a decent burial,” writes Kaaw Elimane Bilbassi Touré, news editor of the Mauritanian news site Le Flambeau.



Kiné-Fatim Diop, campaign director for Western Africa at Amnesty International, remarked this year on the contradictions between what should be a celebratory day and what most victims’ families actually feel, “Each year, while the officials celebrate the ascension to sovereignty with joy, the victims’ families cry and protest in sadness for justice and reparations. The authorities are only trying to bury this hideous side of independence, just like when they secretly voted an amnesty law in 1993 affirming the state’s amnesia concerning the soldiers’ killings 30 years ago.”

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The Forum Against Impunity and Injustice in Mauritania expressed sorrow over the tragedy of two brothers in particular who were hanged on that tragic night, “Absolutely, a curse fell on the 28 soldiers that night. Like the two brothers, Diallo Oumar Demba and his brother Diallo Ibrahima, who were hanged wearing consecutive numbers written on them with a pen. What makes this sadder is having to witness your older brother’s death. The executioners did their work with accuracy, and were actually not stopping at the hanging part, but also dragging the dead and sitting on their corpses.”

Survivors speak out

Testimonies from survivors continue to pour in after 30 years. Mamadou Sy was a squadron commander in the Mauritanian army, then a deputy commander and finally a base commander before he was arrested that night.



In his book “Hell in Inal“, published in 2000, he describes the torture he suffered, when military commanders blindfolded him, tied him up, and threw him in dirty, stinking water.



Another soldier who survived that dreadful night managed to go to France for treatment after his time in prison with the help of the Christian Association Against Torture (ACAT in French). He testifies on the condition of anonymity on the racism he experienced in his 24 years of military service, “As far as I can remember, since I have started to understand, I have always noticed that black people never had any rights, and that the white Mauritanians were privileged. Here, out of twenty ministers in the government, only a quarter are black and in the army, there is only one black person out of ten officers. During an internship, if a white Mauritanian wouldn’t perform well, they would still win over any other black person. And don’t even dare protesting …”

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He describes the methods of torture he and other soldiers experienced, “For example, they dug holes in the sand, buried us up to the neck, with the head fixed, our naked face turned toward the sun. If we ever tried to close our eyes, the guards would throw sand. And then put the blindfolds back on.”



Maimouna Alpha Sy, general secretary of the Widow and Humanitarian Issues Association, was once married to Ba Baïdy Alassane, a former customs controller. Alpha Sy says her late husband was among the victims killed in 1990.



“We spent three months and ten days looking for my husband, but in vain … Customs told us he died from a cardiac arrest, which is not true. Witnesses were arrested, tied and tortured with him. He was killed in front of them.”

‘Never again’

This year on November 28, Mauritanian immigrants protested in front of the Mauritanian embassy in Paris, France, against the state’s disregard for this tragic episode.



Kardiata Malick Diallo, a deputy, gave a remarkable speech at the Mauritanian parliament to prevent people from forgetting, accusing the current prime minister of protecting the perpetrators, who still hold high offices in the state while victims rights’ have not been properly addressed, “Even if you are not directly responsible for the action that definitely stained every November 28, you still however were responsible for finding an adequate solution for the victims’ rights to the truth and justice … Great nations and great people never try to erase a dark episode out of their history but instead they show it to the world for everyone to remember and say ‘NEVER AGAIN’. Mister prime minister, your power has preferred policies of marginalization and exclusion.”

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As of October 2018, out of 24 ministerial functions, only five are occupied by black or mixed people, who represent up to 70 percent of society. The majority of the population are still under-represented among the elected representatives, members of the security forces, officials and local administrators.



Mauritania is the last country in the world to officially abolish slavery in 1981 but it wasn’t enforced until 2007 and an estimated 20 percent still live in some form of enslaved servitude, most of whom are black or mixed.



Because this historic racism persists in present-day Mauritania, justice for the survivors and their families remains out of reach.

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