Malians attacked for opposing caste system and “ancestry-based slavery”

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A group of people celebrating Mali’s Independence Day was brutally attacked on September 28 in the western region of Kayes. These people were part of an association which fights for the abolition of “slavery by descent”, a vestige of the old system of slavery in Mali. A group of people belonging to the upper class of “nobles” dispersed the party, capturing and brutally beating a dozen people, killing one in the process.

Although forced labor and servitude were abolished in Mali in 1905, traditional social castes based on slavery still exist, especially in the western region of Kayes. Although the “noble” class does not own the “slaves”, they are still discriminated against.

The so-called “slaves” are the descendants of former slaves in Mali, and they often live apart from others. They are not allowed to marry outside of their caste, cannot hold managerial positions, and are expected to cook and slaughter animals for nobles during festivals.

There are many associations dedicated to ending this practice, but those who dare to oppose ancestry-based slavery regularly face violent attacks, humiliation and abuse.

This is what happened in Souroubiré, Mali, on September 28, when an anti-slavery association organized an independence day. Despite obtaining permission from the local authorities to organize the party, the group was attacked by a group of nobles, who arrived armed.

In this episode of The Observers, you can hear the account of a witness to the attack, who luckily was able to escape. We also spoke to Mahamadi Kanouté, a representative of the Association Against Domination and Slavery, who told us that such attacks were not new. Tension has existed between slaves and nobles for years, even more since 2019, when people started forming anti-slavery associations.

According to Kanouté, his association is calling for legal proceedings against the attackers, in the hope that – unlike previous attacks of this nature – the perpetrators will be held responsible.

>> You can also watch our report on ancestry-based slavery in Mali from 2019 below:

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