Mauritania: A good time was had by none

Mauritania desert

If one does any bit of traveling it becomes apparent that most any region of the world has its positives and negatives. Your perspective often, but not always, depends on your financial wherewithal.

It’s usually the case that the more money you have at your disposal, the more you’re able to enjoy that which a foreign country has to offer.

However, there ain’t enough lipstick in the world to pretty up some pigs. Case in point is Mauritania, which seems like an utterly miserable locale.

Among other selling points, the West Africa nation has the world’s highest proportion of people in slavery.

An estimated 140,000 to 160,000 of the nation’s 3.8 million people live in slavery, according to the Walk Free Foundation.

Many of the enslaved inherited that status from their ancestors, according to the charity’s Global Slavery Index.

Other estimates are higher: Up to as much as 20 percent of the nation’s population, or nearly 700,000 people, are enslaved, according to CNN.

Perhaps this is not surprising given that Mauritania didn’t even abolish slavery until 1981 – the last nation to do so – and didn’t make slavery a crime until just six years ago.

Mauritania, a huge and largely empty country in the Sahara Desert, is a renegade’s dream.

Mauritania: In green in the upper left. Not on the beaten path.

Mauritania: In green in the upper left. Not on the beaten path.

For one thing, it’s politically turbulent. Its last coup occurred less than five years ago, when General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz overthrew the existing government.

That revolution came barely a year after the first fully democratic presidential election in Mauritania’s history.

Aziz resigned from the military in 2009 to run for the presidency, which, not surprisingly, he won.

The county’s size, extreme poverty and political instability make it difficult to enforce laws, including those against slavery.

Mauritania’s vastness also means that rural and nomadic slave owners are largely hidden from view, according to CNN.

As if all that weren’t bad enough (and it is), nearly half of the nation’s citizens live on less than $2 per day. Both slave owners and slaves are often extremely poor, uneducated and illiterate, making a life outside of slavery appear extremely difficult or impossible.

In fairness to the nation’s current despot, Mauritania’s has had a long line of heavy-handed leaders.

Amnesty International has said that the Mauritanian government has practiced institutionalized and continuous use of torture throughout its post-independence history, which dates to 1960, under all its leaders.

Amnesty has accused the Mauritanian legal system, both before and after the 2008 coup, of functioning with complete disregard for legal procedure, fair trial or humane imprisonment.

Some other issues that won’t be touted by the Mauritania Tourism Board include serious problems with female genital mutilation, child labor and human trafficking.

And, to top off this living embodiment of one of Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell, Mauritania is now attempting to fight a plague of locusts that threaten to devastate its crops.

The government has already dispatched exterminators to the northern part of the nation to fight large swarms of winged locusts and larvae, according to Agence France-Presse.

Mauritania suffered a large locust attack in 2004 that covered more than 6,000 square miles and ravaged a vast quantity of crops and threatened nearly a million people with starvation, the wire service added.

Locusts, which can move in swarms of millions and even tens of millions, can move nearly 100 miles a day, stripping whole fields of crops.

Slavery, poverty and human rights abuses ad infinitum: I don’t know what the national airline of Mauritania is – probably Air Mauritania or Mauritania Airlines; I’m too lazy to look it up – but they must just do a swimming business with the Jet-Set Crowd.


7 thoughts on “Mauritania: A good time was had by none

    • It’s astounding how awful life can be, isn’t it? I’d say it puts things in perspective, but I’m sure I’ll be grumbling the next time some idjit yammering on his cell phone nearly drives me off the road.

      Instead of school-sponsored trips to DC, they ought to take every suburban US teenager and let them spend a week in a place like this. Then they the latter might show a little gratitude for their myriad blessings.

    • But one can certainly understand why people from some parts of Africa would want to escape to Europe, just as its no surprise that many from Mexico and Central America would try to make it to the US.

      • I certainly understand that. What I don’t understand is the lack of a good immigration policy in Europe to deal with the problem. The EU is delaying a reform on this issue despite so many people risking their lives in the sea each year.

      • I suppose they’re simply putting their heads in the sand, as many US politicians are doing. Of course, over here we have many politicians who choose to demonize immigrants who come into the country through extralegal means. While I am a proponent of the rule of law, I have a hard time getting too worked up about people who come here to better their lives, escape dire poverty, etc. And I have no stomach for individuals who make whip up anti-immigrant frenzy because it suits their political agenda.

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